Patent activity in the seabed mining industry
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Patent issues are one way to observe the behavior of private firms and government agencies at a formative stage in an industry's development when, for strategic reasons, these participants are careful about disclosing details of their activities. The seabed mining industry is a good example of an industry in its formative stages. This industry has been characterized in large part by the research and development (R&D) of technology to recover minerals from deep ocean polymetallic nodules and to process them metallurgically into metal products. The nearly 400 seabed mining patents that have been granted worldwide are a rough measure of this R&D activity. Patent issues can reveal several interesting aspects of an industry: (a) the identity of participants; (b) the generic type of technology; (c) the technological concentration of patent holders; (d) the technological integration of patent holders; and (e) the timing of inventive activity. In some cases, industrial motivations and strategies may be inferred from these aspects . Moreover, seabed mining might be subject to the cyclical fluctuations of markets for the metals contained in polymetallic nodules. Patent activity could provide some insight into the nature of a possible seabed mining industry cycle.