For many companies and technical personnel in the petroleum industry, patents are a necessary part of doing business. In this paper, the monopoly provided by patents will be explained. In addition, the legal basics of patents will be explained including the risk of public disclosure prior to patent application filing and the forms of patentable subject matter. The steps to be taken when pursuing patent protection for an invention will also be discussed.
In the petroleum industry, there are companies and personnel at all levels of familiarity with patents. There are those companies that have large, complex patent portfolios and those that have never been involved in obtaining patents. While patents are certainly not of interest to all companies, most technical companies will at some time be involved with seeking patent protection or defending themselves against a patent suit. We will focus, herein on the often more positive aspect of obtaining patent protection, and will save an infringement discussion for another time.
In this review, we begin with a discussion of patent basics and progress to a review of the necessary steps to take when obtaining a patent. Thus, this paper should be of interest to those seeking fundamental, as well as more advanced, patent information.
Patents are a form of intellectual property. Like real property such as land, buildings and machinery, intellectual property can be bought and sold and can have a range of financial value. The three main intellectual properties of interest in the petroleum industry are patents, trademarks and copyrights. Trademarks are words, symbols or designs, or combinations of these, that are used to distinguish the goods or services of one company from those of another company. Copyrights are used to protect creative works, such as a brochure or a technical description, from being copied without permission.
Patents protect inventions, which are new forms of technology. The range of technology that can be protected by patent has been expanded over the last decade. While it is generally known that patents can be used to protect new machines, tools, devices, chemical compositions and industrial processes, patents may also be obtained for less traditional technology such as the logic behind a software program (i.e. a program for analysis of MWD data) or a method of doing business (i.e. a method for targeting customers). In short, it is prudent today to assume that all new ideas, that are of value to your company and that offer an advance over what has been previously known, may be eligible for patent protection.
While an invention must relate to technology that can be protected by patent, an invention must also meet the other requirements for patentability, namely it must be new and not too similar to what has been done before. To determine if it meets these requirements, the invention is compared against all technology that, depending on the law of the country in which a patent is sought, either (i) has been made public before the filing date of the patent application describing the invention, or (ii) was invented before the date the invention was made.