We spoke with Dusty Sonnier, McCoy’s Director of Engineering & Technology
Can you tell us more about your role at McCoy Global?
“I’m the Director of Engineering and Technology at McCoy Global, leading our design, engineering, and quality teams. My team is responsible for all our products, and all technical aspects from cradle to grave during the product life cycle. We design the products and then a group of engineers focuses on sustaining the products through their lifecycle.
“Our work on products is fairly evenly split between the cradle and grave activity, slightly heavier on the cradle.
“In the last year, we’ve done over 100 development projects. Roughly 90% of those projects were customized solutions of an existing product, customized for a certain application. We divide our projects into three categories, tier one, two, and three. Our ‘tier ones’ are the larger development projects, they’re pure white-sheet designs. These are the projects that require more time investment with regard to IP. We have more ‘tier two’ projects active than tier 1, these are new technology but build upon an existing product, and at any time, we have 10 or 15 active ‘tier three’ projects, which are our customized solutions modified to fit a customer’s immediate needs.”
Does the price of oil have an impact on your innovation strategy?
“It has had an impact on our project selection, but not on our commitment to innovate. We have made some decisions over the last few years to focus on more ‘quick-to-market’, immediate needs/solutions. The market is very dynamic and has changed a lot in the last several years. For example, projects for the deep-water market are less in demand than they were four or five years ago while land activity has seen a more robust return in North America. This has had some impact on our targets for development.”
Now that the price of oil is increasing again, has it begun to stimulate more innovation and IP?
“We have seen a steady improvement in the market over the last six months – not to where the market was, but it’s definitely improving. With regard to taking on new development projects, we have not really stopped, just fine-tuned our selection process. I think this fine-tuning will remain as it is an efficiency improvement overall – a positive evolution that was driven by necessity.
“Our primary market has always been oil and gas, and there has been a major change in that market segment with smart technology on what was conventionally hydraulic, mechanical, “dumb iron” equipment. A lot of these items are now digitized – collecting data and performing analytics with an intent to drive efficiencies. A lot of that is driven from the market downturn and along with that innovation has come a pretty massive rash of IP being introduced in this space.”
Has smart technology entering the industry presented new challenges for your team and the projects you’re working on?
“Yes, because there’s so much IP activity in this landscape. Every project meets its challenges when identifying whitespace. Some of the interesting technologies present a virtual minefield of IP to navigate through when we’re considering new development projects.
“I would not say that projects were overlooked because of these minefields, but we’ve had to spend a lot more time understanding the landscape during the ideation phase of the project to make sure that we’re in a clear whitespace. We haven’t gotten to a point where it has killed a project, but the challenge is that we’re putting a lot more time and effort to try to find that whitespace around an early concept.”
Has PatSnap been able to help you address some of these challenges?
“Yes absolutely. Before PatSnap, we would summarise the conceptual invention and send it straight to our attorney. However now, we have the ability to do that initial work ourselves.
“PatSnap’s semantic search has been a high value-add for McCoy because it allows an engineer who’s not technically trained in patent processes to perform a level of initial exploration. That’s probably where we’re using PatSnap the most and getting the most immediate value out of it. At a high level, we’re using PatSnap to identify existing IP, and now we are able to send these results over to legal counsel with an element of the work done. This means they’re not starting from scratch, which in turn impacts the amount that we must spend and the time to results.
“I’d say the number of attorney fees we’ve saved per pursuit, since using PatSnap would be around $5,000 to $10,000. But I think more important than direct cash is the time that we’ve saved. It’s now a much faster process for us to get an initial understanding of the landscape, and because of that, we can act faster. That’s a much more valuable return for us.
“Prior to PatSnap, the restraint was primarily time. It took a long time to find the classifications, the IP, go to Google patents, the USPTO, or different jurisdictions to find information. It may have taken a few days to do what we are able to do in a few hours or so using PatSnap.”
Has PatSnap been involved in more of your products toward the cradle, or the grave?
“PatSnap has been involved in roughly 15 projects at McCoy, which varied in scope – some were a quick one hour in PatSnap, and some of them were a few days. For example, we maintain some IP that’s no longer relevant to our current products. The IP is still alive, and we’re paying maintenance on it, but our decisions, in the last few years have often been simply to abandon the patent, let it expire, and go into the public domain.
“Something that we’d like to explore more with PatSnap is the analytics element. If that scenario reoccurs, we could potentially find licensees for the patent that are outside of our industry. We understand our market segment and industry very well, but there could be other industries where the stale IP would be very valuable. We have not pursued this yet, but that is the plan, to at least investigate that path to potentially finding licensees or someone who wants to purchase that patent from us instead of just abandoning the value.”
Were you involved in the buying process of PatSnap? Did anything stand out when making that decision?
“We really weren’t hunting or searching at the time. We’d identified that we weren’t quite as diligent early in the concept phase as we should have been because of the initial cost and time it took to perform this kind of investigation on a project that was only at the concept phase. The risk was finding unfavorable insight later in the development cycle.
“At the same time, we were contacted by someone at PatSnap, and we looked at it and it filled the gap that had been recently identified. We said, “Well, we can do some of this early on, reduce some of that lost effort/time by avoiding finding IP concerns later in the game.” – it just lined up at the right time.
“The landscape and semantic search features were really attractive early on. I was recently traveling when the new upgrade to semantic search was released, I’ve only sampled it once or twice, and, with the results we got back, I’m excited to use it in the future. The workspace was also attractive, having the ability to consolidate a workspace halfway through the work, and then being able to return to that later and pick up where I left off is something that I couldn’t do before with conventional search tools. It sounds pretty simple, but it’s a big value when your activity is dynamic with a smaller team.”