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Energy innovators attracting strong foreign interest - and IP is helping to reward that vision

26th June 2018

Partner at Marks & Clerk’s Aberdeen office, Andrew Docherty discusses the drive for sustained innovation and emerging technologies.

Partner at Marks & Clerk’s Aberdeen office, Andrew Docherty discusses the drive for sustained innovation and emerging technologies.

Andy Docherty, partner at Marks & Clerk's Aberdeen office

Some countries are undoubtedly better than others when it comes to the complex process of attracting and securing meaningful foreign direct investment (FDI).

Every nation can boast of natural and human assets, with policy enhancements often helping to enhance prospects, but balancing them effectively with the development of a winning FDI formula that continues to pay dividends is the real challenge.

It’s pleasing then for those of us in the north-east of Scotland to see Ernst & Young’s latest attractiveness survey revealing that FDI north of the border is up seven per cent, representing a faster rate of growth than the UK as a whole.

The news that FDI into Scotland is at a 10 year high is very welcome, and for many in the country’s burgeoning energy sector, the latest figures will come as no surprise.

Projects such as the Mariner oil field in Shetland and the Pentland Firth tidal project are key to the future of the Scottish economy, and of course to attracting FDI. It’s also great news and testament to Scottish innovation that Aberdeen, as well as Edinburgh and Glasgow, each rank inside the UK’s top 10 investment cities.

The drive for sustained innovation remains key to the fortunes of Scotland’s energy sector. Alongside creating opportunities in new fields like Mariner, new and innovative technologies will also play a central role in coming years in the decommissioning of old fields and wells and the bringing online of new, renewable projects.

Beyond traditional energy production and distribution, any appreciation of the future direction of the energy sector also needs to take account of emerging technologies such as smart grids and the Internet of Things which have the potential to bring significant change for businesses and consumers. Likewise, artificial intelligence and machine learning have an increasing role to play in driving efficiency around well servicing, for example, and streamlining work practices.

This innovative disruption presents huge opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs in Scotland, the UK and beyond. Key to innovation is intellectual property (IP) - and well drafted patents and trade marks will be crucial to ensuring that innovation in this industry is rewarded.

However, IP is about more than just patents and trade marks, it is also about strategy. By asking key questions early on in the innovation cycle – for example: Where are your key markets? When will you be taking your innovation to market? Will you be taking the manufacturing or licensing route? – businesses in the energy sector can ensure that their IP strategy is aligned with wider business strategies.

Alongside aligning with business strategy, IP in the 21st century also needs to anticipate the impact of the data revolution. Increasingly sectors which were once immune to technological disruption are losing market share to nimble, data-driven competitors. IP-wise also, industries that have previously had little to do with data and computing, find themselves facing obstacles which more digitally-focused industries have more experience in – for example, tackling the challenges that exist around patenting computer code and software.

Other technologies, such as 3D printing, also present established players with risk and opportunity in equal measure, threatening to disrupt traditional industries and traditional ways of managing IP. When the design and specifications of a component can be downloaded and printed outside the confines of a manufacturing facility, for example, traditional anti-counterfeiting measures such as customs controls become less effective.

Such technologies can also disrupt existing ways of doing business. I wonder how many operators have taken serious steps to install 3D printing equipment on their rigs for example, to simply print tools and components as they are needed, rather than running through the conventional supply chain route?

A global energy revolution is underway, driven by new and exciting technologies and by the need to grow more sustainable economies. That Scotland and the UK are competing to lead this revolution – against significant competitors such as China and the US – is great news for British industry, jobs and business. Getting the IP right will be crucial, however, and will ensure it is innovators that are rewarded for their hard work and vision – rather than imitators.