• Avanee Tewari

Wave of Patents in the Maritime Industry


INTRODUCTION

The maritime industry is one of the oldest and most important industries of our society. The maritime industry is the backbone of global trade and is responsible for transportation of large volumes of cargo across the world. Water transportation is economically and environmentally the most efficient way to travel or transport merchandise; and, thus majority of the world trade currently is carried by the international shipping industry.

Keeping in mind the above and the research paper published by Thetius, a UK based marine innovation organization, it is no surprise that the number of patent applications for marine and maritime innovation has rocketed over the last decade. At present, the United States of America, followed by South Korea have the maximum patents in this field.

SCOPE OF PATENTS AND THE MARITIME INDUSTRY

For expansion of the maritime industry, the need of the hour is for faster, environment friendly ships and in view of the same, there is a substantial increase in patents filings providing solutions for the same.

Environment focused patents

As per the European Union Sulphur Directive, from the beginning of 2020, the Sulphur content of marine fuels must not exceed 0.5% in all of the world’s waters, further, the limit for the Baltic Sea is even stricter i.e. 0.1%. As a result of this, ships are being forced to switch to expensive low sulphur fuel or find a way to purify the fuel gases of the high-sulphur heavy fuel oil. In furtherance of this, several patents have been filed for different techniques of purification. One of the most popular one is developed by the Langh Group i.e. Sox scrubber – A scrubber that purifies the fuel gases from the engine combined with a water treatment unit developed by the company which allows dirty cleaning water to be purified on board in a closed loop and waste to be delivered in solid form ashore to hazardous waste disposal plants.


Further, there is also a need to optimize ship fuel efficiency. Norsepower, a company specializing in providing maritime solutions, has patented its technology that allows the main engines to be throttled back, saving fuel and reducing emissions by making use of Rotor Sails, which in turn are powered by a variable electric drive system.

AI based patents for possible autonomous ships

Rolls-Royce in collaboration with Finferries developed a fully autonomous ferry and now, Yara Birkeland, an inland electric container ship is sought to be the first fully autonomous ship by 2022. A fully autonomous ship would be considered a vessel that can operate on its own without a crew but using Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms.

As per a study by Allianz, around 75% to 96% of maritime accidents are caused due to human error and thus, autonomous and semi-autonomous systems shall reduce the dependence on humans and make the oceans safer. Further, it shall lead to a reduction/elimination of crew and in turn, reduction of personnel and auxiliary costs.


Technology patents for ship building

Patent applications/registrations in the field of ship building have consistently doubled throughout the last decade and have tripled in 2018. This is an indication of a rise in innovation in ship building. Further, recent trends show that several companies are using patented robotic technology for ship building as well as ship repairing purposes. Further, companies are also exploring avenues like 3D-scanning, 3D-printing, virtual and augmented reality for the same.

PATENT PROTECTION IN THE MARITIME INDUSTRY

The Paris Convention provides an important exception with respect to the maritime industry. As per the said exception, a patent in a member country cannot be enforced against a visiting ship belonging to another member country when that ship is in international transport. The intention of the lawmakers behind the said exception is to avoid territorial patent rights from hindering international commerce. The said exception takes away the possibility of private citizens interfering in foreign trade by enforcing their national patent rights against patented technology on foreign ships.


In case of absence of such an exception, a shipowner would risk facing different claims of patent infringement in the different ports that it visits, as well as would potentially subject itself to search and seizure of the ship, in furtherance of a national patent owner’s enforcement of his/her patent.


However, it is pertinent to note that only devices used exclusively for the needs of the vessel are exempted from patent infringement and the court would ordinarily consider everything except cargo to fall under this definition.


In accordance with the Paris Convention exception, Section 49 of the Indian Patent Act, 1970, also provides that patent rights are not infringed when used on foreign vessels etc., temporarily or accidentally, in India. Thus, the use of a patented technology on board a vessel registered in a foreign country which comes to India (including the territorial waters thereof) temporarily or accidentally, will not infringe the rights of the Patentee.

CONCLUSION

In view of the above, it is clear that the maritime industry has a lot to offer as it is going through drastic changes. At present, it is at the brink of adopting technologies that will make it one of the most efficient and preferred systems of cargo transportation.








For any questions, please write to the author, Ms. Avanee Tewari, Associate, at avanee.tewari@iprattorneys.com.








The article was originally published on www.lexology.com on November 26, 2020 and can be accessed here.


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