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Legaltech Operations & The Necessity of Interoperability
By Ann McCrackin
Black Hills IP was borne out of industry as modernization and automation of legal operations was needed on various fronts for Intellectual Property Law. Growth in IP firms require efficiency, productivity, speed and accuracy in the operations of the firm, while battling continuous pressure from corporate clients demanding more for less every year. Technologies such as OCR, cloud, hybrid-cloud, machine learning, artificial intelligence and DevOps are driving plenty of innovation, speed and agility in our field. However, there are other bottlenecks we can alleviate to automate the entire docketing process – the IP industry needs to create rules of engagement, API access and standardization for the interoperability and integration of systems.
Traditionally, the business of law has lagged in the adoption of technology, inhibiting modernization of the firm. Today, we are witnessing new product launches under Natural Language Processing and powerful machine learning tools across various industries, including law. In IP Law, BHIP has an ETL (extract, transform, load) process to enable fully-automated or auto-docketing. In computing, extract, transform, load (ETL) is the general procedure of copying data from one or more sources into a destination system which represents the data differently from the source(s) or in a different context than the source(s). BHIP considers the various documentation and actions that must be taken and broken those elements into an ETL process in each constituent layer.
In the first layer, base layer, backbone or extract layer, BHIP retrieves data from the USPTO patent office, U.S. patent attorneys, foreign agents or foreign patent offices and presents it to the docketer in the most efficient way. We recognized the inefficiencies with each docketer going to each patent office, downloading hundreds of PDF files and opening them up one at a time. That process, which many law firms still use today, creates inefficiencies as the individual docketer loses track of that volume of documentation, leading to repeat work or mistakes under this fatiguing workflow. BHIP has created the right infrastructure to rigorously download and track the disposition of every file in order to speed up the pipeline and corresponding throughput of documentation to the docketer.
The transform layer requires interpretation of the document, appropriately coding it and actioning that document (report out, communicate to, file, etc.) to its next logical step and presenting to the load layer. Prior to OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software, this transform process for years was done manually by the docketer, taking action and loading into the end-user system. At this time, we are leveraging OCR software to recognize the document, and other data obtained from the various patent offices around the world and utilize rules-based machine learning classification with contextual data to automate that process.
The last layer is the “L” of ETL: load. One could think of it as uploading the relevant action in the docketing system and uploading the associated letter or document to the clients’ IP management system or document management system. BHIP has automated this layer or portion of the technology stack to allow an efficient flow of data in and out of the firm’s databases. This, in conjunction with enough training data for machine learning, has allowed BHIP to automate 90% of all its docketing in the US and large portions of foreign docketing.
BHIP’s auto-docketing has created massive improvements in legal operations. This system automatically dockets, updates an IP database and reports out all in the same day. Most law firms require 3 to 4 days to report out and update their database through two teams or operational procedures.
Those process improvements are monumental, resulting in big savings and eliminating a lot of overhead, while improving the process, speed and efficiency. BHIP can automate it’s ETL process but can only push the needle so far, as only so many of these various systems can “talk” to each other. Many existing IP management systems do not have an open API that allows other vendor’s systems to connect with them to facilitate interoperability, or these vendors sometimes refuse to allow any other players in the IP ecosystem to connect to their API’s, in an attempt to lock customers into the manual docketing solutions that they offer, which are slow, costly and error prone.
Accordingly, the industry must push farther in the “last mile” to ensure data is provided to the right person at the right time, without the undue expense required to enter data manually. In order to accomplish this, all tools must have communication protocols and ways to integrate data at its various touch points and transformations to its ultimate destination, which requires technology vendors to work well with one another. In Paul Dominick’s article Playing Nicely in the Sandbox: A Call to Integrate Legal Technologies Into Existing Workflows, too many offerings either are not integrated with common workflows or don’t work well with other technologies. He continues by articulating that law firms are realizing that improving the core work of lawyers needs to be a joined-up experience not a disjointed tour around all the applications and services available to them.
In order to provide an integrated system and workflow, BHIP is both leading and calling upon the industry to create a unified ecosystem or “commonly accepted rules” in regard to system integration, specifically API data interchange between various technology solutions. BHIP is spearheading consensus under what we call the OpenLegalAPI mandate. If we look at the recent evolution of software engineering workflows and tools, big data containerization in things like Docker were specifically created to move code and data sets, re-purpose them without massive rework from legacy systems to other systems. This container, open source tools and micro-services need a way to integrate into other systems, and that is through standard APIs (application programming interface). According to Wikipedia, API is a set of clearly defined methods of communication among various components. A good API makes it easier to develop a computer program by providing all the building blocks, which are then put together by the programmer.
The reasons for the open API’s are clear.
1. API accessibility – on demand or real-time data sharing and speed up the entire automation technology stack from beginning to end. This allows data integration between docketing systems and vendor; the ability to make “real-time” calls to pull and push data between docketing systems and vendor platforms; the ability to upload documents into docketing systems via automation.
2. API standardization – reduce custom integration work as interoperability and communication standards are in place.
3. Integrated products and services benefit firms – maximizing efficiencies through artificial intelligence and automation minimized costly delays and speed up legal services for a step change in productivity.
4. Avoid vendor lock-in or lock-out – proprietary solutions that do not standardize integration with other systems are trying to bundle and stack their preferred solution. Customers have legacy systems and existing workflows, they require modular, decouled systems and an ecosystem of choice to benefit all.
This will alleviate bottlenecks and transform data into actionable insight, benefiting technology providers as well as clients.
Ann McCrackin is a patent attorney, former law professor, and the President of Black Hills IP (BHIP). Ann is passionate about both innovation and education in the legal profession. Ann frequently speaks and writes on legal operations and automation. Follow her on LinkedIn or @LegalOpsAI on Twitter for regular posts on legal technology, automation and artificial intelligence.