NeoDrill raises concerns over patent infringement of suction anchor systems
Statoil has hit a legal snag that could affect its recently launched exploration campaign in the Barents Sea. Norwegian offshore contractor NeoDrill has been granted a temporary injunction preventing the state-run E&P giant from using its new Cap-X technology.
The Cap-X seabed foundation system comprises a steel suction anchor with a fibreglass housing fixed on top. This square-based pyramidal superstructure forms a protective casing capable of housing standard subsea equipment. Designed to bring “plug-in-and-play” standardisation to the industry, Statoil said it reduced the subsea footprint by around 75%, and was around 30% cheaper to produce and install than comparable existing solutions. But when the technology was unveiled last year, subsea specialist NeoDrill (which itself is part-owned by Statoil) accused Statoil of using its own suction anchor technology in breach of patents. Statoil eventually conceded it may have infringed patent rights, and the two companies commenced talks to resolve the dispute.
Statoil wants to deploy the technology as part of its push to open up the Barents Sea, and it was also scheduled for use in the Bauge development in the Norwegian Sea. In April, it began drilling the first of five planned wells at the Blaamann prospect in the Barents Sea, and five Cap-X suction anchor systems were installed on the seabed to serve as well foundations, despite the fact that the discussions with NeoDrill were still ongoing.
According to Norwegian business journal Dagens Naeringsliv (DN), NeoDrill decided to apply to the Stavanger District Court for an injunction to stop the work, claiming Statoil had gained access to patent-protected technical information as part of a wider partnership. The court agreed, and ordered Statoil to stop using Cap-X until ownership of the technology rights can be established.
When the court’s ruling came on May 24, Statoil initially sought to have it overturned, claiming it was based on “incorrect information.” However, the company has now agreed to the temporary order, and said it would actively look for short-term alternatives to allow it to continue working.
“We are pleased the court has fully endorsed us, and hope Statoil will respect our patent rights and act as we expect any partner to do. I also hope this will make it possible to establish a sensible and balanced dialogue with Statoil in the interests of both parties,” NeoDrill’s general manager, Jostein Aleksandersen, told DN.