Will collaboration drive innovation in IP software?
What next in legal tech? Challenges and opportunities for trade mark software providers
Legal technology is an exciting and rapidly evolving field. In the twenty years since WebTMS first came on the scene we have seen incredible advances in what technology is capable of, both in a wider sense and in the legal industry itself.
Designing software that helps trade mark professionals be more productive, efficient and cost-effective, in a world where the legal commercial model itself is swiftly changing, is a constant and inspiring challenge. Innovating has to be a fundamental part of what we do, but we also recognise that no technology provider is an island – collaboration and integration is key.
Partnerships and consolidation have been a trend in recent months in the trade mark world, with a number of acquisitions and business combinations hitting the headlines. With the backdrop of COVID-19 disruption and the pressure this is putting on both in-house teams and law firms, where should legal tech providers be focusing their efforts and what are clients looking for to help them ride out the challenges they face?
We talked to Tiffany Valeriano, Rachael Ward and David Butler, experts with experience both as legal tech providers and consumers to get their thoughts on some of the key questions and challenges facing the sector:
Where will innovation come from?
While every legal tech provider wants to innovate and bring new solutions to market, creating the right climate to achieve this can be a challenge. Fostering innovation requires speed, resources and agility; typically, companies have one or two out of the three. A large organisation might have plenty of resources but lack agility and freedom to bring products to market quickly. A smaller start-up might have the agility and speed but may be short on resources.
Tiffany Valeriano, newly appointed Chief Commercial Officer at Rightly IP and formerly of CorSearch and Trademarknow, predicts that the real innovation over the next few years will come from smaller players and market entrants: “Innovation will be stimulated at the smaller end of the spectrum as consolidation occurs at the top. Where legacy providers can no longer offer the bespoke service and exceptions to standard terms that they used to be able to offer, start-ups and more flexible smaller companies will sweep in to provide the tailored services and a new perspective.
“There’s a reason that we have start-up culture. Start-ups and small companies are very nimble and ultra-focused on their targets and everything they do relates back to that target. If they have the resources, they have their vision, their product and they are able to put that into the market and they can do that much faster. What they can do in a month can take a legacy provider a year or more.”
David Butler, former Senior Vice-President Business Development, Corsearch, advises that firms need to stay alert to changing customer and market demands or risk falling behind the innovation curve: “There is a great piece by Simon Sinek discussing how Blockbuster dismissed the rise of online streaming and stayed wedded to revenue from stores and late fees, to their ultimate cost. In his view you have to be prepared to challenge established and current business models and adapt to new technologies or there is a chance you will lose relevance.”
What do in-house trademark lawyers and law firms want from providers?
World Trademark Review magazine’s recent survey found that legal professionals most want trade mark tools with high performance and reliability, with price less important than functionality.
Rachael Ward, Chartered Trade Mark Attorney and Director of Ward Trade Marks, agrees: “Lawyers are crying out first and foremost for high performance tech solutions that are easy to use, easy to navigate, reliable and well supported. There should be good built-in automation to streamline routine workflows. It is all about saving time and creating efficiencies. Where different platforms are now all part of the same stable (due to acquisition) the new owners must quickly invest as needed to integrate the platforms properly; for example, to enable single sign-on (SSO) and take away the need for any dual data entry across platform modules.”
Tiffany echoes that sentiment and the need for platform integration and intelligent automation: “In an ideal world I want an integrated solution where I don’t have logins to five or six different platforms, I’m not managing deadlines in a docket and in my inbox. I’d like a system where I can have everything I need in front of me using intelligent workflows and where those things that can be automated are automated, so that we’re not documenting things like a trademark renewal three times. A solution needs to deliver value in terms of workflow productivity, not just functionality.”
Integrating different solutions is an area that Rachael feels needs more attention: “Integration is a huge issue. The tech market, generally, is awash with multiple solutions that cover very niche activities. To a degree the legal tech market seems to be going the same way. This means that you have to subscribe to an increasing number of platforms that are built around particular tasks and work areas, giving you more usernames and passwords to manage and time can be lost through double data entry.”
Providers also need to consider the changing dynamics of the workforce and new workforce entrants. Today’s early career trademark professionals are fully digital native, used to technology that wraps around their workflow automatically. They are less likely to tolerate clunky technology, have less brand loyalty and are open to new solutions – as long as they demonstrate advances over the old. As Tiffany notes, they “won’t do things one way just because their boss has done the same thing for 20 years!”
Where do technologies like AI and blockchain fit into the equation?
David Butler believes that applying blockchain to IP challenges is important: “Data security is paramount, however how the data is analysed and utilised is of similar importance. There are many articles on blockchain and its application to IP. I can see its prominence coming to the fore over the coming months and years.”
When it comes to artificial intelligence he says adoption will depend on users overcoming the “black box” problem: “It’s a case of whether the consumer is convinced that an algorithm can do what it claims to do. There is a strong feeling among experienced professionals that a ‘human touch’ is still needed where issues of judgement and relevance come into play; new innovations can, if allowed, support this.
“As AI-driven solutions prove themselves in the sector, however, there should be a shift towards relying on the technology when there is a lot of heavy data manipulation and analysis to be done. I made a similar point in a presentation at the CITMA national conference 2019 in relation to driverless cars: do you embrace the solution or mistrust it? AI and blockchain solutions are improving all the time, as will trust and, as a result, adoption.”
Tiffany Valeriano adds a note of caution on providers’ pursuit of AI at the expense of sound functionality and automation: “Providers are quick to jump on the AI bandwagon but that’s running before they can walk in terms of logic. Firstly, let’s think about one step before AI, such as implementation of practical automation. Features like intelligent workflows so duplication of work doesn’t happen across different platforms – these are the concepts that add great value for the end user.”
Covid-19 accelerates digital transformation
The legal industry often gets a bad rap over its reticence in adopting digital solutions, but in common with many other sectors, COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation in the sector. Tiffany believes this is an opportunity for legal tech providers to step up and offer solutions, but she cautions that commercial gains may not necessarily result: “IT service providers need to share the burden, to be savvy and come forward with creative solutions to help lawyers do their jobs in more efficient ways.”
Rachael concurs, and adds that while the sector is focusing heavily on new technology such as AI, providers should continue striving to innovate within what they already offer: “I would like to see the legal tech providers focussing first and foremost on ensuring that what they already offer does not fall behind the competition. This means innovating and adding new features or performance upgrades to make existing platforms better.”
This is something Tiffany also feels strongly about, saying: “Providers need to be more transparent with their costs to deliver the services people need. They still need to be timely, still well-delivered and to the service level that clients want. But the real challenge is that providers will have to be innovative and cost-effective, but they will not necessarily get more money for being more innovative. They have to catch up because the industry is behind.”
Crossing this delta between performance and expectations could be one of the defining challenges facing the industry in the coming years, as providers come under increasing pressure to deliver more for less.
Thank you Tiffany, Rachael and David for sharing your insights with us and providing some excellent food for thought as the sector continues to evolve.
At WebTMS we are committed to developing innovative software with a great user experience supported by partnerships that deliver the data and insight our customers need. Arrange a free demo of our award-winning trade mark portfolio management software.