Energy Companies Trying To Abuse Intellectual Property Law To Hinder Research Into Impact Of Fracking
from the but-of-course dept
While fracking is quite controversial, you'd think it shouldn't be controversial to want to get data and study the impact of fracking. After all, if there really isn't that much harm to it, then wouldn't that be good for the companies involved in fracking? And if, as some argue, fracking has seriously dangerous consequences, shouldn't we want to find that out as well? Of course, that assumes that companies involved in fracking are actually interested in doing what makes the most sense, rather than what makes the most money (I know, I know... stop laughing). And, here's where intellectual property issues are getting involved. A group of top intellectual property lawyers are pointing out that fracking companies are actively resisting a plan in Alaska to study the potential environmental, health and safety risks of fracking by arguing that it would violate their trade secrets. The professors point out that this is ridiculous:
[W]e remain concerned that the fracking industry has opposed the reasonable efforts of regulators throughout the country to have access to information about the exact chemical composition of fracking fluids. Such access should not only be uncontroversial, as trade secret information is shared with regulators at all levels of government and in a range of industries, but should be standard operating procedure for any regulatory entity charged with stewarding our nation’s natural resources. To deny regulators and the public access to such information is to prevent an evidenced-based analysis of the EHS impacts, if any, of fracking. It is, in sum, an effort to render the regulation of fracking as a game based upon guesswork and supposition rather than hard data. Moreover, we believe that the alleged competitive harm associated with the possible disclosure of these trade secrets (if they qualify, in fact, as trade secrets) to the public is at best overstated, and at worst reflects a skewed placement of commercial interests over the broad interests of the public in transparency, accountability and safe environmental management.
We don't talk that much about trade secret issues around here, usually covering other areas that are often lumped together in the "intellectual property" bucket. However, there's been an increasing push by some big industry players to increasingly rely on and expand trade secret law in all sorts of dangerous ways -- not to actually "protect trade secrets," but to avoid regulations (such as here) and to limit and stifle innovation and competition. Unfortunately, it seems likely that issues around trade secrets are quickly going to be nearly as important as the fights over things like copyright, patents and trademarks in terms of how they're abused by companies.