With the ever increasing ubiquity of technologies improving everyday tasks in personal life, it is little wonder that such technologies are also offering efficiencies and advantages in the work context. Phrases such as process automation, data mining, machine learning and actionable intelligence are no longer far-out themes, but instead are being used regularly (and with great benefit) across multiple industries – including those outside of the tech space.
In lawyer language, these concepts translate into one previous seemingly impossible (and very valuable) commodity: the ability to buy-back time. But don't be fooled – introducing technologies into legal firms is not an invitation for lawyers to retire on redundancy packages just yet. Instead, these technologies provide a new opportunity to focus on legal expertise skill sets while relying on computer aids to perform administrative tasks in a more efficient and accurate way than ever before.
In this article, we focus on the benefits available to intellectual property lawyers while both managing global client portfolios and working to commercialise client intellectual property rights.
Managing global intellectual property portfolios
Most intellectual property lawyers will tell you of the professional satisfaction and enjoyment of being provided with the opportunity to strategically advise clients on the management of IP portfolios – from gaining insight into innovative goods and services offerings, to seeing new brands being developed and evolve. But it is the less strategic (and let's face it – more mundane) tasks which don't spark as much joy. Enter technology – to takeover on the mundanity and open up time for the joy!
The three core areas in which new technologies are currently improving the performance of intellectual property portfolio management services include (1) prosecution and maintenance processes, (2) infringement and counterfeit management and (3) globalisation and watching activities.
- IP portfolio prosecution and maintenance processes, including filings, recordals and renewals, are streamlined, with platforms now allowing communication between the managing agent and multiple foreign associates at the click of a button. Foreign associate responses are centralised and data input automated, eliminating the previously experienced inefficiencies and input errors due to multiple data entry steps. Deadlines are automatically monitored and actioned, documents and information are shared easily with authorised recipients, and learnings result from data collected.
- In the context of infringements and counterfeits, while movement towards improved legal structures in "problem jurisdictions" is now being seen (such as the proposed changes in China for "abnormal trade mark applications" discussed here), unless such unauthorised uses/infringements can be easily identified, the legal structures are of little help. Thanks to new technologies however, monitoring for such unauthorised use is easier than ever on a global scale. Platforms are available to monitor market activity and send alerts where individual infringements or counterfeiting networks are identified. Market activities can be automatically monitored in multiple languages across online marketplaces, social media platforms, websites, mobile messaging applications, 3D printing websites and mobile application stores. In certain instances, automated take-down processes are even initiated where computer-monitored technologies identify unauthorised use of intellectual property rights.
- Finally, watching activities on a global scale are streamlined and automated, eliminating the need for junior practitioners to endure the painstaking task of manually reviewing trade mark journals. For firms and clients alike, the resulting cost savings are immense. AI technologies and algorithms enable an automatic comparison of trade marks, reporting of results in order of relevance and altogether removal of results which aren't remotely similar. These technologies even offer watching capabilities across languages, and also across foreign character translations and transliterations.
Commercialising intellectual property rights
Legal work focused on the commercialisation of intellectual property rights are similarly benefiting from the introduction of technologies into the legal space. Tasks such as (1) tracking the creation of IP within companies, (2) drafting commercial documents and (3) managing contractual lifecycles, obligations and liabilities are easier than ever before.
- Tracking the creation of IP within organisations is a notoriously difficult task due to the ubiquity of IP, fast moving nature of IP creation and number of contributing authors. As technologies improve however, so too does the ability to better perform this task. New technological offerings are experiencing great interest as they offer the capacity to create automated registries of IP created and easier exploitation of such IP. Obvious efficiencies are provided to companies which would otherwise need to manually update IP registers or conduct periodic IP audits.
- Drafting efficiencies also continue to be experienced as technologies improve. Precedent documents have always existed as a starting point for contract automation, but with technological development, this has been taken much further. AI technology now exists to collect basic information necessary to create a draft document, to automatically input such information into contractual frameworks and to identify key legal issues. Machine learning continues to improve these technologies, as computers pick up on lawyers' interaction with documents to improve upon future performance. As with the portfolio management efficiencies described above, time is then freed for lawyers to focus on legal expertise skill sets, rather than mundane data input tasks.
- In the context of contract management, technologies now exist which automatically flag legal obligations or liabilities on an ongoing basis, avoiding pitfalls experienced where contracts are simply forgotten about and obligations not actioned. Blockchain contract management solutions may even be a future possible focus for IP rich industries, with the possibility for royalty payments, licence fees, renewals, sublicensing or sample approvals to become part of a ledger for each IP asset's digital ID.
So why do the lawyers need to stick around?
What is clear from these technologies is that they are providing immense improvements to the legal landscape. In addition to the contexts discussed, technologies are also available to mine litigation data and make decisions surrounding available legal avenues, likely performance of legal firms and even predictions for judicial decision outcomes. Automated technologies also exist to provide input for new branding, taking into account branding clearance considerations across multiple languages.
So with all of these automated capabilities, lawyers squirming in their seats and fearing for their continued employment may begin to question, "what I am needed for?". Well do not fear – your jobs are safe (for now)!
The human touch is a commodity which cannot be underrated. Without emotional intelligence and the ability for critical thinking, computer technology can only get so far. Due to the subjectivity often involved in applying the law, the interplaying factual complexities which always exist and the unavoidable need for client management, human involvement cannot yet be discounted. Further, we are not yet equipped to deal with the ethical dilemmas which arise when things go wrong. From an ethical perspective, who is at fault when a computer is performing the legal work? And what regulations exist to keep checks on computer performance?
So as the heart palpitations decrease for lawyers at large, it is clear that human involvement in legal work will be necessary for some time to come. But the advantages which technologies can provide in contributing to legal services is clear, and from these authors' perspectives, should continue to be promoted and exploited as the ever increasing improvements in legal supporting technologies come to light.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.