As the no-holds-barred race to advance fracking technology intensifies, Norway’s Statoil finds itself on the front line as it sues its former researcher for allegedly stealing trade secrets in the U.S.
Statoil – which is developing its own hydraulic fracturing technologies in the U.S. – is suing a former chief technology officer of one of its units for allegedly absconding with trade secrets and then trying to patent proprietary Statoil technology.
Statoil claims the inventor breached confidentiality agreements, stole intellectual property, and set up a competing business trying to poach the state-run company’s clients.
The Norwegian oil and gas major was one of the early foreign buyers into U.S. shale plays, striking a strategic partnership with Chesapeake back in 2008. Since then, the Norwegian oil and gas major has been working on developing its hydraulic fracturing technologies in the U.S.
Last year, Statoil’s U.S. unit Statoil Gulf Services LLC set up a subsidiary, Reveal Energy Services Inc, to sell hydraulic fracturing technologies invented by its scientists and engineers.
Statoil had appointed the researcher as chief technology officer at the new unit, but now Statoil’s U.S. units are suing him – who had resigned in January – and his wife for allegedly trying to patent proprietary Statoil technology, breaching confidentiality agreements and trade secrets, and setting up a competing business. Related: EIA Reports Minor Build In Crude Inventories, Draw In Gasoline Stocks
Reveal Energy Services Inc and Statoil Gulf Services LLC filed a lawsuit with the Texas Southern District Court on February 13 against the researcher and his company.
During his time working for Statoil, the researcher invented or co-invented fracking methods patented by Statoil, including the Image Frac technology at issue in the suit, according to Law360, which quotes the complaint. The Image Frac trademark is owned by Statoil Gulf Services LLC.
According to Statoil’s claim, while at the U.S. units of the company, the researcher also developed a technology of proppant mapping, which uses surface pressure gauges to decide where to inject particulates into the rock for raising production efficiency. Statoil also claims that the researcher had fed the technology to his wife, who has filed for a patent in her name. Statoil’s lawsuit also claims that the researcher tried to use the pending patent application as leverage to get a stake in Statoil’s Reveal Energy Services, and promised to assign the patent application to Statoil if the company agreed to give him an interest in Reveal. But Statoil refused, and the researcher allegedly copied trade secrets to an external hard drive, thus breaching intellectual property agreements, the company says in its lawsuit.
According to Law360, Statoil said in the claim:
“[He] is using the stolen confidential information and trade secrets to fuel his ongoing efforts to compete directly against Statoil/Reveal based on their own technology... Moreover, [he] is actively meeting with Statoil/Reveal’s current and potential customers for the purpose of poaching their business and undermining Statoil/Reveal’s strong position in the marketplace for [his] own personal financial gain.” Related: This Is Where Oil Majors Expects The Next Big Efficiency Jump
Statoil chief litigation counsel Thomas Gottsegen told Law360: “As a general rule, Statoil does not comment on pending litigation. Statoil’s complaint speaks for itself.”
According to intellectual property specialists, technology and inventions developed under company payroll would clearly be company property, but the trade secret case is complicated by the fact that the researcher's wife holds a doctorate in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Houston Chronicle reports.
So Statoil has to submit evidence in court that the wife of the researcher could not have invented and did not invent the technology she is seeking a patent for.
“That seems like a difficult thing to prove. It would be different if she were, say, a plumber,” Joe Ahmad, a Houston trial lawyer who handles trade secret cases, told the Houston Chronicle.
The lawsuit is only in its initial stage and it will be months, or probably years, before courts rule on the case, or the parties manage to reach an out-of-court settlement.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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