Patent potpourri

Morgan Lewis presentation on patents and other IP protections. USPO awards Equinor ImageFrac patents. Ion vs. WesternGeco ‘Digifin’ tussle update. CISCO and MIT team to combat ‘low quality’ patents. Schneider Electric settles Tatsoft dispute.

Speaking at the 2018 Upstream Intelligence Data-driven production conference, Erik Hawes from Morgan Lewis LLP explained the niceties of IP protection options for data collection and presentation systems. These range from ‘utility’ patents, i.e. the usual kind, for a new apparatus or method. These can be fairly broad, as, for example, APO Offshore’s US Patent No. 8,676,721 for a ‘computer implemented method for predictive analysis of multiple and varying topside equipment or topside systems used on one or more oil and gas field platforms … aggregating sensor data … [performing] … data analysis … [with a] … neural network …’. Such patents may be the best option for protecting IP in data collection and presentation systems. Getting this type of protection has become much more difficult since 2010, when the Supreme Court held that ‘abstract ideas’ are not patentable, even if they are new. To improve chances of obtaining a patent, Hawes suggests patenting the apparatus itself rather than the method and to avoid being ‘greedy’ by making multiple types of claims.

But a utility patent is not the only route to protecting IP. A 'design’ patent, one that covers how a product looks, may be useful to protect a novel GUI. A ‘trade dress’, which is similar to a trademark, also protects non-functional, distinctive design features. Finally,'copyright’, that protects the way an idea is expressed, rather than the idea itself, can cover software code, but only if it does not qualify as a ‘useful article’. As such, copyright might be applicable to labels or elements of a dashboard. Finally, the notion of ‘trade secrets’ can be used to provide a business advantage over competitors who are not supposed to know them and as long as they are kept confidential.

The US patent office has granted two pressure-based fracture map technologies to Equinor (formerly Statoil). US Patent 10,030,497 is for a method of acquiring information on hydraulic fracture geometry for evaluating and optimizing well spacing for multi-well pad and US Patent 9,988,900 is for the geometric evaluation of hydraulic fractures from pressure changes. The technologies underpin Equinor’s Image Frac technology, now licensed exclusively to Reveal Energy Services.

In the latest chapter of the long-drawn-out tussle between Ion Geophysical over the DigiFIN streamer positioning device, the US Supreme Court declined a petition by WesternGeco to rule on the propriety of challenges that led to the patent trial and to the appeal board’s invalidation of the claims. WesternGeco had complained about an ‘incoherent’ Federal Circuit precedent. More on this from the National Law Review.

Cisco and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created an open archiving platformfor prior art related to patents. The Prior art archive sets out to combat ‘low quality patents that waste money as companies fight litigation defending against patents that shouldn’t have been issued’. The patent examination process should stop patents from being issued on old or obvious technology. The partners observe that just because technology is old doesn’t mean it is easy for a patent examiner to find. This is especially true in the computer field, where much ‘prior art' comes in the form of old manuals, documentation and web sites that have, until now, not been readily searchable.

Schneider Electric has paid $1 million to Houston-based Tatsoft to settle a patent dispute over Tatsoft’s FactoryStudio for Industry 4.0. Tatsoft was represented by Gregor Cassidy, PLLC.

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