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.