Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Oiling the machinery of fracking technology: we see where the patents lie

A recent study on avoidable oil spillages caused by fracking in the United States was the trigger for this blogpost, compiled with the assistance of Cipher, on the state of the fracking industry in terms of patent ownership and control.

The first thing we did was to look at fracking patents in terms of time.  The table below offers a time-chart from the year 2000.  

Active Fracking Patent Families over time

• Fracking is not actually a brand-new concept.  The first experiment on hydraulic fracturing was carried out as long ago as July 1947 in Hugoton, Kansas by Stanolind Oil & Gas company, according to this article in the Michigan Telecommunicaions and Technology Law Review;
• The first fracking patent was filed in 1948 by Stanolind which, around the same time, granted Halliburton a licence. Halliburton is today the biggest fracking player in terms of patents, as can be seen from the activity chart for the five biggest fracking actors (in terms of patents), below;
• There has been a steady growth of patents for fracking since the turn of the century.

Let us now take a look at the historical filing activity for the five biggest actors of 2017.

Historical filing activity for the 5 biggest actors of 2017

• Halliburton and Schlumberger have led the field since the early years of the ’00s
• The Chinese actors have been picking up on the leaders since the late ’00s
• This chart highlights interesting areas for further analysis and invites the question: is the increased competition from Chinese actors itself a reason behind the increased patent activity from Halliburton?

Now let's look at the biggest fracking companies. In the chart below, the size of the box represents the number of fracking patents owned by the company in relation to the whole technology field in 2017, while the colour of the box represents the positive or negative change in the proportion of patents held between 2012-2017

The biggest fracking companies

• As can be seen, this field is almost exclusively populated by energy giants;
• The winners in terms of share gains are clearly Chinese companies. In contrast, the actors from US and EMEA appear to be losing ground.

Taking a nationalistic view, we now consider control of fracking technology on a country-by-country basis. The chart below shows an overview of the geographical distribution of granted fracking patent families.
Fracking technology by country

• It can be seen that the United States and China are again dominant. 
Russia, not usually among the leaders in patent-owning charts, is strongly represented here, with the United Kingdom heading the rest of the European contingent.

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