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Innovation still strong in Scotland’s energy sector despite downturn

Posted: 5th September 2017

The event brings a network of over 50,000 industry specialists together in some of the most challenging times the sector has faced.

Exhibitor – intellectual property specialist Marks & Clerk – is at the frontline of developing technologies and has seen first-hand how companies are coping with these stormy times.

Here Andrew Docherty, Aberdeen Office Managing Partner and oil and gas expert for Marks & Clerk looks at how the industry is still fighting despite its much publicised challenges:

“In the public sphere we often hear about job losses and sustained low oil prices as a methodology for measuring the health of the industry. And while, on the face of it, we are undoubtedly seeing an unprecedented downturn, we are still seeing key-players investing in innovation, and importantly protecting their investment through the use of the patent system, both domestically and internationally.

“That innovation may not seem obvious as businesses struggle to commit to anything against a backdrop of cutbacks and redundancies, but industry numbers and patent numbers don’t necessarily follow the same trajectory.

“Firstly, the Scottish industry maintains its significant international focus, with much of the Research and Development (R&D) efforts looking to address problems and issues in fields throughout the world. Such issues are diverse, as are the technical solutions.

“Also, while the maturity of the north-sea might hint at a decline in innovation in this region, assets still have significant reserves, and the challenges to access these reserves cost effectively is a key innovation catalyst.

“We are also at the embryonic stages of decommissioning in the north-sea, which will be active whether the industry is on its knees or not. The modern narrative of the energy market dictates that this decommissioning must be done in way that is as environmentally sound as possible, and more often than not the latest technologies are required to do so.

“We are also very aware of the ways in which companies are approaching existing technologies and processes.

“In the past the big players may have been much less risk averse, largely due to the vast sums of money moving through the sector, but now companies are looking at new and innovative ways to maximise their efficiencies.

“One cost effective way of doing this is by returning to designs, products and methods which have worked particularly well and exploring new ways to improve and prolong the life of them. It’s a traditional ‘Scots make do and mend’ kind of mentality.

“Technology driven companies are also becoming far more aware as to what constitutes a patentable invention, which has to some extent changed attitudes on where R&D and patent budgets are focussed.

“Technologies associated with computer implemented processes, such as autonomous systems, and even computational simulation techniques are becoming more and more commonplace, with many companies adopting a gold-rush attitude to protecting their intellectual property (IP) in these types of technologies.

“All of this drives innovation and of course, at its heart, we have the latest buzzword – collaboration – which, by its nature, drives the sector in a strategically forward direction and requires careful thought around shared IP.

“Companies are much more willing to work together as they are acutely aware of the position they are in. Businesses are still very precious about their patents but are more likely to share together.

“Another interesting point is the way companies employ Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

“When times are tough businesses quite often employ KPIs as a way of trying to force the narrative in an upward trajectory. And what we have noticed is that many companies are actually employing patent filings as an important KPI.

“Such a KPI can indeed provide a measure of the output of R&D efforts, but it is still fundamentally important to ensure that any patent filings continue to support business strategies and objectives – otherwise patent KPIs may become a little artificial and a bit of a numbers game.

“Finally, the downturn has made an already fiercely competitive industry even more so, and informed stakeholders in the industry view the IP system as a critical business tool in maintaining competitive advantage. IP protection therefore continues to sit very highly on the business agenda in the current climate.

“Scotland’s oil and gas industry draws from a talented and importantly active pool – despite the downturn – and as OE descends on Aberdeen this year we are sure there will be plenty of others looking to do so also.”

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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