How Far Offshore Does U.S. Patent Law Reach? An Offshore Patent Loophole Big Enough to Sail a (Survey) Ship Through

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As the deepwater drilling trend continues, the question of how far offshore U.S. patent law can reach is becoming a significant issue. In a recent case, U.S. Judge Keith Ellison of the Southern District of Texas was asked to rule on whether U.S. patent law extends 100 miles into the Chukchi Sea off the northwestern coast of Alaska to cover marine seismic streamer devices towed behind a survey ship under the Norwegian flag. The issue in Westerngeco required analysis of three different laws concerning the Chukchi Sea - the law of the high seas, the Presidential Proclamation that created the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the United States, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (“OCSLA”). Judge Ellison held that U.S. patent law did not cover the specific seas or activities in the case. Westerngeco L.L.C. v. Ion Geophysical Corp., No. 4:09-cv-182 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 2, 2011).

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