Technology Stars in Silicon Valley - An Intensely IP Semester at Stanford: A Semester in Osgoode’s IP Intensive Program

If you’re ever in southern California, Starline Tours offers a special “celebrity homes” tour where they take you on a bus to see where movie stars live. But, despite being an ardent film fanatic, I’ve never been particularly interested in celebrity watching* or Hollywood mansions. What would be far more interesting is exploring northern California and the technological equivalent of Jennifer Aniston’s driveway – and this is precisely where the Intellectual Property Law and Technology Intensive Program took me for eleven weeks.

Although we called it the “Stanford” or the “CodeX” placement, it could have just as easily been called the Silicon Valley placement. Truthfully, as some have pointed out, there is little divide between university and industry. Stanford-affiliated entrepreneurs generate revenues of $2.7 trillion annually and have created 39,900 companies and 5.4 million jobs since the 1930s. Many of our favourite companies came out of Stanford – Google, Instagram, Netflix, Paypal just to name a few. Stanford even has what I would call a Mickey Mouse Club for entrepreneurs, a startup accelerator called StartX, where young inventors form a community for sharing, learning, and support. From its conception two years ago, over 650 companies have applied for a spot at StartX with about 60 accepted. These companies have collectively fundraised over $88 million in funding. Among my favourite experiences during my placement was taking a tour of StartX to see inventors hard at work as well as attending the demo day where startups showcased their products.

One of the StartX companies, Law Gives was also a project of the center I was placed at, CodeX. CodeX is a multidisciplinary laboratory between the Law and Computer Science departments at Stanford and focuses on legal technology and informatics. You may be unfamiliar with legal technology despite, perhaps, being well-versed in the law and legal industry generally. Like other kinds of technological innovation, legal technology is beginning to grab a foothold in Silicon Valley but is virtually unheard of elsewhere in the world.

I will explain what legal technology is with an example. Imagine that there was some way of compiling litigation data so that you could predict with some confidence what the outcome of a trial will be based on who the parties are, which law firms are representing them, what the issue is, and which judge is trying the case. Imagine that this information could help you decide whether to settle and if so, how much to settle for. This is exactly what a company founded by Professor Mark Lemley in 2006 is in the business of doing for intellectual property litigation. Lex Machina uses crawlers to extract documents from publically available court records and performs analytics on its collected data to help lawyers and companies to make decisions. Lex Machina also recently released a very interesting paper on the litigation patterns of patent trolls. The study analyzed 500 cases over five years and compared the behaviour of trolls (called “monetizers” in the paper) and operating companies. They plan to release a new paper with a much greater sample (approximately 12,000 cases) for which I have been conducting research for.

Of course, litigation data analysis is just one kind of legal technology. Law Gives focuses on access to justice by providing the public with legal information and connecting potential clients with pro bono lawyers when necessary. AttorneyFee allows users to compare legal fees between attorneys. EasyESI provides quick and cost-efficient e-discovery services. FairDocument generates documents for wills and estate planning. The list goes on – and all of these companies have looked to CodeX and Stanford for mentoring and support. Stanford is more than just a Mickey Mouse Club for entrepreneurs; the flow of people and ideas go both ways.

Stanford is an institution that always has its doors open, whether it’s for public events with speakers from Condoleezza Rice to Ira Glass or taking a class at the famed d.school. Over the course of my internship, I attended a dozen meetings, met incredibly interesting people, many of whom were experts of law, technology, or often, both, analyzed technology transfer policy, learned Javascript, saw the Babbage Engine, took a tour of the Google campus, researched patent cases, wrote a privacy policy article, and got a glimpse of the future of the legal industry. Not only did I gain valuable experience, I learned to view law in a different way.

 

*Oh, and I also ate dinner behind Mark Zuckerberg and his wife so I got in some celebrity watching after all.

 

Nancy Situ is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and was enrolled in Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law Intensive Program. As part of the program requirements, students were asked to write a reflective blog on their internship experience.

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