If this story is true it is distressing, nay alarming. If this story is true then let there be general outrage in the mining industry. Let there be retribution of the perpetrators. During a casual lunch with an old friend who is the ultimate industry insider, we touched on the topic of patents in mining. I mentioned that some trivial work I did some while ago was now the subject of a patent. I was just doing what one does: namely trying to find a solution to a new problem.
We measured a few things, used our brains, applied fundamental physical principles, and there was an answer. Of course we were proud of our solution. But we never dreamed it was patentable. In my opinion, it is not patentable. It is just common sense and the proper way to proceed.
Yet now if anybody comes up with the same solution, they will have to pay to apply common sense.
My lunch companion told me that he knows of a large, international mining company that has a division devoted to patenting things mining. They start with what they are doing, and patent the hell out of it. Then they go looking at what other mining companies are doing and rush to the patent office with that idea. Conferences are a great source of things new in mining to go patent.
Then another arm of the patent group watches what other mining companies do, and if they do anything that remotely resembles the patented activity or process, why slap a patent infringement law suite on them.
I am told that even suppliers to the mining industry are on a patent frenzy and a patent infringement law suite hunt. I am sworn to secrecy on one, but believe me it is an affront to decency.
Patents serve an honorable purpose; those who have a good idea should share in the financial rewards of their inspiration and invention. China may not agree, but that is a particular culture we will never, thankfully, understand or admire. And we should not emulate it.
But for common-old-garden western mining companies to go patent mining is an affront to the norms of mining culture. Maybe the ICMM should act on this for it is one of their members who, I am told, is the most venial perpetrator.
I am not sure if patent mining is a damper on mining innovation. I suspect it is. For mining engineers who should be mining are otherwise distracted by lawyers and indignation. And money is diverted from research and development into the coffers of lawyers and litigation.
I know little of the specifics. My challenge as a blogger is to others to tell us what it happening, expose the villains, and stop an unsavory practice that can only sully mining.