Protecting innovation and AI in mining
The mining world is embracing innovation like never before to keep pace with the demand for minerals from the automobile sector, telecommunications and electronics manufacturers, and many modern industries.
Innovation is rapidly being adopted in a variety of forms across the mining supply chain from digitization of key data, resource extraction, and generative artificial intelligence (AI) to innovation that promotes sustainable practices. So far, the year 2023 has seen a flurry of announcements from global investors and companies in generative AI and machine learning in mining. AI exploration projects are currently underway in Quebec and Ontario, and Canadian technology startups are attracting new international funding.
New innovations and AI in the mining sector
AI-enabled innovation around data analysis is one option for identifying and assisting in more efficient extraction of mineral deposits while minimizing environmental damage. Successful efforts to utilize artificial intelligence for discovering and rediscovering mineral deposits appear only to be limited by available data and the need to digitize historical information. AI is increasingly being used to map more exploration data and streamline the process of discovery.
Additionally, AI-enabled mining innovation for other aspects of the mining supply chain continues to move forward.
Extraction innovation is focusing on remote tunnel monitoring systems which allow monitoring of mining tunnel integrity. This typically relies on the use of sensors to assess the soundness of tunnels, which reduces the risk to human life. Remote monitoring system technology uses AI to determine the viability of digging the tunnels deeper to access additional mineral deposits. These technologies can help propel mining into the future by maximizing the extraction of resources and safety in old and new mines.
Mining innovation is also being fueled by the quest for the zero-carbon mine. This goal can be achieved with the adoption of sustainable innovation that includes improved operational efficiencies, use of sustainable fuels and drivetrains, utilization of green electricity, and the engagement and use sustainable sourcing along the mining supply chain.
Protecting proprietary innovation
The global mining industry is embracing the need to protect these proprietary innovative technological tools and successes, such as AI-enabled extraction detection for locating vital resources. Depending on the innovation, there are a number of ways to protect these relevant core business assets through identifying and protecting them as intellectual property. Intellectual properties, such as patents, trade secrets, trademarks, industrial designs, and copyright protection can all be used to develop and enrich a mining company’s asset pool.
Patenting has been embraced by the mining industry, as it can provide robust protection and the basis for revenue streams through commercialization. Global mining giants have robust global patent portfolios, which has been reflected in the steady increase of patent filings globally since 2005. While global economic uncertainty has slowed the number of patent filings in 2023 to date, AI-enabled mining technologies like remote tunnel monitoring systems, which can significantly improve the global mining industry, are still a focus for the industry.
Trade secrets protection is another option that can provide an economical and viable way to protect AI modeling and systems and processing methodologies. Like other forms of intellectual property, trade secrets can be monetized by licensing or being bought and sold. While a successful trade secret strategy can keep the innovation proprietary indefinitely, it requires robust agreement terms and meticulous security protocols to ensure the trade secret remains secret. Once the trade secret is disclosed to the public, it becomes part of the public domain and is no longer proprietary.
Both industrial design and copyright protection can be used to ensure that software enabled inventions are monetized in a relevant manner, and trademark protection can ensure that a company’s goodwill is not diluted.
All companies need to keep in mind that AI’s regulatory landscape in Canada and around the world is still in its infancy and will continue to change as AI technology and public perception develops.
A curated IP strategy
A curated intellectual property strategy can provide a mining company with a wide variety of assets that can be the foundation for increased revenue, financing, and success. The accelerated adoption of innovation in and by the mining industry will encourage greater investment to maintain the supply for the surging demand for metals and minerals.
LORELEI GRAHAM is a partner who practices intellectual property law at Bennett Jones LLP in Toronto.