By Jonna Treble ‑ January 28, 2020
Since 2018 Jonna Treble has been Managing IP Counsel at National Oilwell Varco (NOV), and working for a company which embraces new digital ideas that disrupt traditional processes, has been a critical part of how she has looked at using technology in the IP department.
As technology continues to evolve, pressure is growing on the IP industry to embrace digitisation. Traditionally the legal sector has taken a relatively analogue approach to its processes, risking inhibiting the pace of global innovation. However, some companies are leading the march for digital transformation in IP, inspired by other parts of their businesses that have seen a step change in productivity driven by technology.
National Oilwell Varco is a great example. Based in Houston, Texas, the company is a worldwide provider of equipment and components used for drilling and production across the oil and gas industry. The company operates in more than 600 locations globally.
NOV has recently been deploying digital technology across its exploration services. The company uses a process automation platform that allows algorithm-driven software to orchestrate rig equipment and execute drilling operation according to a specified well plan and predetermined parameters. The system is driven by a complex network of sensors – both downhole and on the surface –that collect data which is then processed by powerful computers. The system has been deployed on 18 rigs in North America, according to Drilling Contractor. NOV compared the five best consecutive bottom-to-bottom cycles for conventional drilling to five cycles that were managed by the digital technology. The average drilling time was reduced from 7.91 to 4.67 minutes.
Jonna was no stranger to the world of IP at a young age. Her mother was the secretary to esteemed patent attorney, Eric Meyertons, and she would often visit the office over summer when she was home from college. On one visit, Jonna was given a piece of advice that later inspired her to go into IP law.
“Mr Meyertons encouraged me to consider law and opened my eyes to the parallels that run between engineering and the legal sector. I never thought about this before, but it wasn’t a career I wanted to pursue at the time” Jonna says.
Jonna attended Rice University in Texas and set her sights on a career in engineering. Landing a highly competitive internship at Texaco whilst still studying for her degree, she was responsible for ensuring payments were not going to be impacted by Year 2000 (Y2K) computer issues, a common concern at the time.
“Going to law school was never part of the plan for me but I knew I needed a bigger challenge” Jonna explains. Thinking back to the advice Eric Meyertons had given her, she took a leap of faith – after graduating in 2000 – and took her entrance exams for law school.
Jonna joined NOV after a career where she held IP roles in several law firms. Moving to an in-house IP department felt like a much better fit to her – particularly in a company where innovation and disruption is celebrated.
Jonna believes digital technologies are transforming the oil industry. She says: “Everybody is looking around saying ‘how do we adapt?’ and knows that we need make processes more efficient. We have to make maximum use of resources to gain an edge in the industry.”
She adds: “I see the oil industry heading towards making use of more technology. Our company and all the companies in our space are looking for ways to automate processes and take away the issue of human error.”
Jonna and just one other IP lawyer are responsible for processing the patents for the 10,000 employee-strong company. With a portfolio of more than 4,000 patents, Jonna believes this is only made manageable through automation and embracing digital processes.
CPA Global was brought in at the beginning of 2014 to streamline the company’s processes with IP management software, and in the last year, National Oilwell Varco’s IP department has undergone a huge transformation.
“Before CPA Global was introduced, National Oilwell Varco never had a docketing system to track payments. We had to rely on the outside counsel not to miss deadlines. That can cost a lot of money if they’re missed!” explains Jonna.
Working in-house as a patent attorney, Jonna can see things from concept level all the way through to commercial product. She has witnessed the drastic improvement in efficiency of the IP department.
"Being that the oil industry is in a deep downturn, every dollar counts; the new process has enabled us to change and truly manage our portfolio rather than just being on autopay.” she adds.
Digital technologies are transforming the IP industry. Vast amounts of data are collected, collated and analysed in Intellectual Property, making it an ideal sector to utilise technology.
Digital systems are not intended to replace people, but to empower them with insight from the data. National Oilwell Varco has been able to reduce administration, streamline processes and regain full control over its portfolio.
Jonna says: “This is a really interesting space for us as lawyers. The business model is changing as we employ technology to aggregate and manage data.”
“It has taken a long time for IP law to embrace technology, but the future of the industry is exciting. As lawyers we can now spend time strategically advising our clients and make the most efficient use of resources.”