The oil price tumble in the second half of 2014 has hit the drilling part of the industry fastest and hardest. However, the first quarter of 2015 has seen a number of events demonstrating how drilling technology is rapidly evolving and offering up new opportunities for industry players.

The SPE/IADC conference in London in March provided excellent updates on the latest developments in directional and extended reach drilling, managed pressure drilling, automated drilling systems, HP/HT well completions, lost circulations materials and drilling fluids treatment. Advanced drilling technologies was also a key topic at the Subsea Expo Conference in Aberdeen, Middle East Oil Show (MEOS) in Bahrain and Arctic Technology Conference in Copenhagen, where deepwater, sour gas and harsh environment challenges were explored.

Jeff Dodd, who leads Andrews Kurth’s intellectual property and technology transactions group was a key speaker at the International Intellectual Property Law Association (IIPLA) conference held earlier this year in Dubai, during which Jeff and Hugh Fraser sharpened our intelligent energy law initiative’s focus on drilling technologies. In Hugh Fraser’s view “companies such as Churchill Oil Tools, Cubility, Fishbones, Wellcem, Interwell and Welltec have all developed leading-edge and innovative technologies which are supporting the drilling scene and they demonstrate how rapidly technologies are evolving in the oil and gas industry. As international energy companies seek high technology solutions to identify, explore, develop and exploit energy resources, they face major opportunities and challenges, in relation to intellectual property acquisition, transfer and protection across the Middle East region, which need to be addressed if successful business expansion is to lead to optimum corporate valuations on investor exits.”

Jeff Dodd added: “Cooperation in relation to intellectual property is no longer a laudable goal. It is a necessity. The movement of innovation and information across boundaries – if boundaries really exist anymore – is accelerated and a permanent feature. The speed at which information is transmitted and shared and the globalised market for technology means that traditional geographic-based notions of IP ownership and protection are being overtaken. The energy industry has traditionally been heavily invested in technology and innovation as embodied in tangible products, principally equipment or in connection with services, but transactions involving oilfield technology are becoming international and market-driven acquisitions, deconstructing product and service components from IP and technology components. Oil and gas is becoming like the other major, global technology markets.

“The energy industry’s traditional IP value chain now also faces many complicating factors. For example, increasingly mobile innovation employees and consultants across international boundaries create very difficult issues of who owns inventions and how information leakage is contained while collaborations can create problems around co-ownership. The new market dynamics and techniques for decoupling and trading in oil and gas IP may not yet be as publicised as in other technology markets but they are evident and growing. Companies need to take a truly holistic view of protecting and monetising their IP in this era while there will be increasing commercial pressures on policy makers to cooperate across national boundaries on IP legislation to ensure that economic activity, increasingly reliant on IP, is not hindered by increasing levels of dispute and litigation in today’s more complex IP landscape.

“As energy technology continues to evolve and pushes the industry forward, our clients require legal strategies to address the new market dynamics and techniques for transacting intellectual property, information and technology assets. This is especially true in the Middle East, where technology will be core to the success of the region’s energy industries. We call this intelligent energy law,” said Jeff Dodd.