At IP Checkups, we developed PatentCAM™, a patent management software tool to spur innovation among R&D, legal and business groups. While many R&D teams have embraced the software, the legal groups, in-house and outside counsel, have been tougher nuts to crack.
It doesn’t make sense. Here, PatentCAM can save companies (clients) millions of dollars simply by mitigating risk around prior art. And still, many law firms don’t seem to care.
The reality is, law firms have been slow to embrace all legal software— not just ours. In a recent article on the Above the Law blog, entitled “Greasing The Gears of Legal Commerce – Automatic, Systematic, Hydromatic (alt.legal) Innovation”, co-authors Joe Borstein and Jae Um outline several barriers that “slow the pace of innovation” thereby inhibiting law firms’ from embracing legal innovation.
Borstein and Um identify two critical barriers (in fact they identify several others that I will address in a future blog post) that must be overcome in order to sell legal software to law firms:
1. Solutions that make legal matters more efficient tend to reduce billable hours.
2. Few firms have chief innovation officers or people to serve as trusted curators of institutional knowledge.
The authors conclude that for long-term success, there needs to be more strategic marketing efforts that don’t blame law firms, but rather, ask smart questions and tell real life stories. The software must demonstrate the potential for law firms to avoid missing opportunities and build strong foundations for success.
With that goal in mind, I will address how we at IP Checkups have attempted to circumvent these two barriers, and get law firms to embrace software solutions like PatentCAM.
1. Law firms argue that efficiencies gained through software reduce billable hours.
By knowing and monitoring the patent landscape in a timely manner, lawyers can guide their clients on an appropriate (and timely) course of action. Which is often far more valuable than the hours saved using software.
For example, if a competitor’s patent publishes, disclosing a new technical solution to a problem, the attorney can review it and make suggestions on possible limitations to the technology. If that information is circulated to in-house counsel, the technical team and even the corporate development group, it may inspire a new patent filing, a technical design around or some type of early licensing/partnership negotiations.
Ultimately, deploying the PatentCAM software results in a more informed view of the world. Less time and money are wasted on filing patents for every idea that comes out of the lab, and more time is spent focused on building a high-quality patent estate that incorporates the knowledge gained from understanding the competitive landscape and having a more informed view of the world.
Our assessment is by focusing on quality rather than quantity, billable hours will remain consistent and law firms will generate additional revenue.
2. Few firms have Chief Innovation Officers who are looking toward the future
This is the more difficult barrier to overcome. For a legal software vendor (or any vendor for that matter), an internal champion on the client side is essential – someone who sees the value in what you are selling and can influence the right people inside the corporation to ultimately buy it.
In our experience, the decision makers within a firm are typically those billing the highest rates and therefore making the most money. They are so focused on the every billable hour, that it is nearly impossible to get them to think about or even worry about the future. So, how do you sell something to someone too busy to step back and see the forest through the trees?
Although this is a difficult barrier to overcome, it isn’t impossible. Thanks in large part to the nature of the internet, and the growth of Software as a Service business platforms, law firms will have no choice but to convert their process.
Law firms should be monitoring publicly available information that is relevant to their clients’ innovation lifecycle. Staying on top of new patent publications and grants that might impact their clients’ products and R&D programs is essential in the internet age where relevant information i.e. prior and concurrent art is available at the click of a button. The old way of willfully ignoring information and hoping that patent examiners will miss relevant prior art during the examination process is a remnant of the olden days when patent information was only available in paper format and lawyers spent hours dictating their ideas to secretaries.
Furthermore, legal software (such as PatentCAM) that empowers inventors — the life-blood of any innovation effort. By directing them to relevant patent information while mitigating traditional legal risks, outside counsel has the opportunity provide proactive solutions that can positively impact inventors.
It’s a win-win. Inventors gain access to information they need to develop novel solutions and avoid developing redundant technologies. Law firms expand their presence with the client, thereby increasing the client’s dependency on the firm.
Things are changing. Younger partners and associates understand the benefits of legal software. There are more and more websites, blogs, conferences and others talking about legal innovation. Some law firms have created entities focused on legal innovation. And there are even a few firms hiring Innovation leaders.
In the not-too-distant future, clients will demand that law firms provide efficient legal software solutions. And law firms will either embrace legal software or disappear.