Legal Tech & Trademarks - Is The Tipping Point Nigh?

Nadaline Webster,

Trademarks and humanity have a long history together. For as long as people have been able to create, they have wanted to claim the marks of their trade as their own. Despite this long history, the processes for registering and protecting these trademarks have remained remarkably unchanged by the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution until relatively recent times. The internet has provided the biggest changes so far with harmonisation, e-filing and registries available online making the lives of busy professionals easier in many ways.

Outside of these changes though, the availability of a selection of methods with which to manage your workload have been few and far between. Such tools as have been available have been very profitable in their existing models for legacy vendors holding a virtual monopoly for many decades. The lack of incentive for change has required both in-house and private practice professionals to hand build sophisticated processes specifically designed around the needs of their clients and businesses to cope with the limited tools available. For the most part, they are very satisfied with how these processes function but they are also uncomfortably aware that these systems are unlikely to fit future needs.

In the words of D. Casey Flaherty when interviewed by LawGeex on the topic of tech adoption:

"Sticking with what has worked is easy and safe. For a while. But the problem with the easy way is that it eventually is so damn hard." But how far away is 'eventually'?In terms of assessing whether the time is approaching that investigating options and tools may be worthwhile, it is useful to ask "How long do I have before my process no longer functions adequately?"

For the majority of professionals (in-house and in private practice), that point will be reached when a substantial portion of their peers can provide trademark services to their clients and businesses cheaper, faster, more efficiently and delivering more value than they can. This point is known as the 'tipping point' - the moment when adoption of a new tool, idea, brand or process begins to catch fire.

At this stage of our world, innovation is no longer a new idea. We have seen the rise of many new technologies and tools and it is possible to extrapolate some information and answer some questions. How far are we along the road already? Does that 'substantial portion' have a number? Is there any way to predict a possible or likely time frame?

Stephen Turner, founder of Lawyers of Tomorrow takes an in-depth look at the 'tipping point' as it relates to legal technology adoption. He identifies the tipping point as being the moment when 15 - 18% of the marketplace have adopted the new idea, tool or technology. A 2017 report by Altman Weil gives some indication of the rates of adoption of AI by law firms in the US - recognised to be ahead of the curve in this regard. Amongst the law firms surveyed in the US, 7.5% of them have already adopted technological assistance and a further 28.8% are actively investigating available and coming technologies. They break these numbers down further by firm size and the picture shifts dramatically. Of the big law firms surveyed, over 50% of them are already using legal technology tools with much smaller numbers indicating adoption amongst mid-sized and smaller firms. One might usefully argue that amongst the biggest players in the private practice industry, the tipping point has already been long since reached.

What indicators exist then to predict the likely filtering down of legal technology adoption in smaller firms and across regions that have been less progressive in this regard? In February 2016, Deloitte released a report titled 'Developing Legal Talent - Stepping into the Future Law Firm'. This report examined the future of law practice in the UK and plotted some of the steps and developments along the way. They reached the conclusion that, contingent on the rate of change continuing to speed up as predicted, the tipping point for adoption of legal technology would occur sometime in 2020 - or less than 30 months from today.

While the time may not be right to change your trademark processes just yet, it is certainly an auspicious time to re-evaluate them, identifying roadblocks and inefficiencies and perhaps learning a little more about some potential solutions for them.

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