mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
New Models in Legal Research

It turns out that computer-assisted review isn’t the only way new technologies are upending the legal profession. A recent article in Slate discusses how for the past few years a small organization has achieved success at fighting “patent trolls” by crowd-sourcing research to entrepreneurial amateurs with the lure of cash rewards.

Patent trolls, organizations that hoard large numbers of patents with the sole intention of suing those who later develop businesses based on similar ideas, have long been a scourge of Silicon Valley, where tech firms have been forced to spend a fortune on legal fees to protect themselves against frivolous lawsuits. Often these suits can take years to settle, as firms need to provide evidence that similar ideas had been developed prior to the patent’s creation (prior art), a process which is time-consuming and expensive.

Article One Partners, the group profiled in the Slate piece, has a novel solution to the problem: Rather than hire experts to scour the world for examples of prior art, the group instead turns the work over to untrained experts who send in their findings—with cash rewards for successful efforts. So far, the strategy has managed to win cases against a number of patent trolls.

As new technologies become cheaper and easier to use, expect to see more businesses organized around similar models. Legacy institutions like large law firms with armies of employees, assistants, and strict work rules may appear powerful, but all of these features come at a heavy price. As more complicated work becomes easier for individuals with nothing more than a laptop and an internet connection, massive overhead will cease to be necessary, and customers will be drawn to businesses that can provide the best results at the lowest price, not the ones with the biggest names.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Lorenz Gude

    Linus’ Law: “Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone.” from Eric S Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar which refers to the first undeniable disruption to well, what WRM calls the 20th century Iron Triangle. Volunteers produce brownies for the PTA, they don’t challenge major industrial corporations like iBM and Microsoft. But that is exactly what Linus Torvalds and his merry band of programmers did. Interestingly, the Linux programmers learned that it was usually NOT the person who was good at spotting the problem who had the skill set to fix it. I don’t think our categories of thought are adequate to understand software. It’s a bit like the wave and particle theories of light. You can both give it away and you can charge a little or a lot for it – and it works either way. So here we have networking harnessed to performing legal research helping fix the bug of patent trolling, but until we understand the implications of a networked world things like this will keep surprising us. It takes time. About 300 years elapsed between the invention of interchangeable type and machines with interchangeable parts because it took that long to construct both the mental and physical infrastructure required.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service