By John Donovan
Marvin Odum, the President of Shell Oil Company, has said that “Royal Dutch Shell is making a significant push into venture capital investing and collaboration with early-stage startups in the energy space.”
See Wall Street Journal article “Shell Looks for Startup, Tech Partnerships Now More than Ever“.
This initiative is designed to find and exploit good ideas created by start-up companies.
But can such companies trust Shell management not to steal their intellectual property?
As far as Odum is concerned, we have already described him as a snake oil salesman. This is the man who tried to downplay the Kulluk drilling rig shipwreck incident involving abandonment of ship and a salvage operation, as a “marine transport issue”. Forbes magazine properly took Odum to task as being “disingenuous” over the same dishonest portrayal of what was in fact a PR disaster for Shell.
Our own long term good relationship with Shell ended when it started stealing intellectual property we had disclosed to the company in strictest confidence. We had to sue Shell repeatedly. All of the claims were eventually settled, but it took years and only after Shell had engaged in corporate espionage and dirty tricks in an attempt to destroy us.
Shell’s IT piracy continues.
The case of Enertag SAS provides a cautionary tale of what happened to one start-up venture backed by Shell.
In July 2009, I received an email from the Chief Executive Officer of the company, a high technology service start-up providing solutions for subsea oil & gas asset management, in which Shell Technology Ventures Fund 1 had acquired a stake.
After becoming suspicious of Shell machinations, the CEO had stumbled across an article authored by me which added to his existing anxiety over Shell’s bonafides: Warning to the new partner in Shell Technology Ventures Fund 1 BV
Basically, Enertag’s CEO was concerned that Shell had engineered an investment stake in his company with the actual intention of sending Enertag bankrupt, so that Shell ended up with valuable company owned patents for a fraction of their true worth. To put in crude terms, the CEO had reached the conclusion that the company was being screwed by Shell.
So our advice to any start-up venture contemplating a partnership with Shell is to proceed with extreme caution, if at all. This is not in our experience a company to be trusted.
It is at least an equal opportunities employer. It even (allegedly) steals ideas from its own employees.
Don’t be distracted by the wedges of money being waved around, while Shell is busy picking your pockets.
And if you do get into bed with Shell, make sure you have adequate protection otherwise, bearing in mind what happened to Enertag, you are likely to end up getting screwed.