Orica wins blasting patent battle

Orica has won its long running battle with Dyno Nobel over patented shotfiring techniques.

In March 2014 Orica, in conjunction with the CSIRO, filed two patents for an unnamed ‘apparatus, system and method’ for blasting technology and techniques.

These methods, which are focused on blasting in differing layers and levels of rock, was then challenged by Dyno Nobel.

According to Dyno Nobel Orica “applied for [a patent] that specifically covers the blasting of multiple layers of overlying rock to a free face in a single blasting cycle where the top layer is fired first and as a cast blast, and the bottom layer is subject to stand up blast conditions”.

“The main claim defines that the bottom layer is buffered in the direction of the cast blast (i.e. essentially restricting movement in the bottom layer during the blasting process), that there is a 500ms delay between layers, and that at least 10% of the cast blast is thrown beyond the free face.”

Dyno Nobel stated that it believes Orica’s “claimed blasting techniques are the standard work of a drill and blast engineer, who is responsible for blast pattern design in the mining operations of mining companies”.

“In particular, Dyno Nobel believes Orica is attempting to claim the mere combination of well-known blasting methods into a single blasting cycle.  However, combining different blasts into a single cycle has been a longstanding approach that has been used in blasting for several decades. Therefore, there is no ‘invention’ in Orica’s claimed blasting techniques, which are an obvious adaptation of well-known prior art blasting methods.”

It went on to say that the combination of these well-known techniques is not patentable, and miners should be free to use these blasting techniques as they have in the past, focusing specifically on the ‘Roseneath blast’, ‘baby decking’, and the Reitz paper on blasting methods at United Minerals Somerville North Pit No. 5 in the U.S. as evidence.

Orica rejected this in court hearings, with Dr. Geoff Brent stating in court documents “that at the priority date conventional practice was to drill, load and fire overburden throw blasts separately to any subsequent blasts, such as in a coal seam underneath the overburden or in interburden”.

“This practice incurred a number of drawbacks.”

Brent pointed out that throw blasting created an ‘unacceptable coal loss problem’ for ‘over 20 years’.

“Various attempts were made unsuccessfully to solve this problem, including baby decking. However, despite these attempts, none of them combined the features of the claimed invention in a single drill, load and blast cycle.

The court documents go on to state that Brent’s evidence is that even his colleagues – including experienced mining engineers – at Orica were doubtful of the merits of the invention when it was first presented to them.

The court has support Orica’s initial patents, dismissing Dyno Nobel’s claims, with the judge stating: “I have found that none of the evidence relied on by Dyno establishes that the claimed invention lacks an inventive step.

“This ground consequently does not succeed.”