WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical Corp., No. 16-2099 (Fed. Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
WesternGeco’s patents are directed to technologies for controlling the movement and positioning of a series of streamers towed in an array behind a ship, emitting acoustic signals and detecting the returning signals that reflect from the ocean floor. The collected data can be used to map the subsurface geology, helping oil companies analyze underwater natural resource formations and explore for oil and gas beneath the ocean floor. Conventional marine seismic survey systems use long streamers that are towed behind ships in open-water conditions. Vessel movements, weather, and other conditions can cause the streamers to tangle or drift apart. In inter partes review proceeding, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board issued six final written decisions, finding all of the instituted claims in the six proceedings to be unpatentable as anticipated or obvious. It rejected WesternGeco’s arguments that the IPR proceedings were time-barred under 35 U.S.C. 315(b). The Federal Circuit affirmed, as supported by substantial evidence, the Board’s unpatentability determinations, and its conclusion that the proceedings were not time-barred. The relationship at issue is not sufficiently close such that an infringement proceeding would have given an unrelated company a full and fair opportunity to litigate the validity of the claims of the WesternGeco Patents.