Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Digital Transformation Lesson #5: It’s All About the Middleware

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

In previous lessons, I noted the importance of interoperability in achieving digital transformation in the legal industry. This can be said to break down to two major components: 1) API’s for each legal application to allow automated interactions with other applications in the ecosystem such as an IP management system, accounting system, patent offices, or cloud services like automated docketing or analytics; and 2) the middleware that can translate data exchange between the API’s according to the requirements of each individual application and an enterprises’ particular needs. Middleware simply means software that sits “in the middle” between two other systems. Sometimes this middleware performs simple tasks such as a simple relay of information from one system to another, and sometimes middleware can perform additional automation functions, replacing human labor that used to “sit in the middle.” For example, patent docketing personnel receive data from a patent office, and use their knowledge and skills to make an entry in a docketing system that consists of data (such as a mail date) and commands (such as a docketing code) used by the receiving system to add a docket entry. Most of the time, middleware needs to “transform” data as it passes through it from one system to another. For example, if an accounting system sold by a first vendor needs to exchange data with an IP system from a second vendor, it is rarely a simple matter of pulling data from one field and writing it into another. Often this data transfer requires data from the accounting system to be transformed and manipulated before it can be uploaded into the IP system, and furthermore for an API to work it needs to know what to do with the data, which is provided in the form of API instructions and commands. All this manipulation of the source data and instructions and commands to the receiving system’s API is done using middleware. Another form of middleware is a cloud-based service that receives data from a first source such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), transforms it into a format that is compatible with a law firm or legal department docketing system, and also determines which docketing instructions or commands (such as a template or docketing code to launch) to provide to the docketing system’s API. In another example, docketing events can be obtained from the docketing system and reported using e-mail to the appropriate recipients. This is typically accomplished with middleware that sits between the docketing system and the e-mail system, so the reporting can be customized to the needs of the situation. These are just a couple of examples of the tens of thousands of middleware components that glue legal systems from various different vendors together.

What this all boils down to is that while middleware may often be an obscure component of the legal system ecosystem, it is nonetheless essential for connecting up all the various systems that need to talk to each other but cannot do so directly. With an explosion of new software applications from many dozens of new high tech start ups addressing the legal market, API’s and middleware will lead the way to hook up all these systems in our digitally transformed future.

Digital Transformation Lesson #4: Interoperability Requires Predictable and Reliable Data Exchange

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

In my first three lessons of digital transformation you learned about the importance of making it an ongoing effort vs a one-time event, that merely externalizing manual work does nothing to digitally transform your operations, and that system interoperability is critical. Today we will talk about how interoperability greatly increases inter-enterprise dependencies and therefore requires a different process for making system upgrades or changes that may impact downstream consumers of data your organization enters into interoperable data flows.

One good example of this is the critical need for government entities such as the USPTO to provide adequate notice, lead times and testing before rolling out changes to data it produces such as the various PTO actions it generates and the bibliographic data it supplies to its customers or third parties. In times gone by the output of patent offices has been documents read and interpreted by humans. Adjustments or changes in the format of those documents could be easily accommodated by humans who in some cases would barely take notice of such changes, or quickly adapted to them, with no interruption of comprehension or throughput. Now, with PTO output being downloaded and processed through docketing and beyond automatically, even small changes can stop a law department’s processing of incoming PTO documents in its tracks until adjustments can be made. As labor is increasingly replaced by automation, manual processing of documents as a back up option becomes less and less feasible.

This same interoperability dependence holds true at all points in digitally transformed data ecosystems, affecting government agencies, corporations, law firms and vendors.

So the lesson here is in our digitally transformed world we always need to make sure changes we make do not result in downstream disruptions. This means giving plenty of advanced notice to allow customers to make any required changes and to test those changes and therefore avoid costly service interruptions.

Legal Digital Transformation – Lesson #3: Successful Digital Transformation Depends on Excellent Interoperability of All IP Systems

Tuesday, April 20th, 2021

Imagine for a moment you are a bank owner looking for new software to support your international banking customers. Could you even consider for a moment buying software that wasn’t interoperable with the international banking network? Would you consider buying this software if the vendor insisted any outsourced back-office operations had to be done using the vendor’s off-shore team? Of course you couldn’t and wouldn’t. Yet, this is where the IP industry finds itself in 2021 – many large installations of legacy IP management systems are not interoperable with the online IP ecosystem such as patent offices around the world, law firm IP systems, and cloud services. Even worse, some existing vendors who regard themselves as leaders in the industry not only don’t offer serviceable APIs for interoperability, these vendors refuse to allow their customers to connect their systems to cloud services provided by what they regard as competitors.

Anyone who works in the IP industry knows the IP industry requires the daily exchange of large quantities of IP data between the various entities that work in the ecosystem. These exchanges are between patent offices and legal representatives, and between corporate law departments and their law firms, between law departments and outsourced docketing or paralegal services, and between annuity payment services and patent owners.

The lack of interoperability of the various IP management and processing systems in this ecosystem has now become a huge barrier to the digital transformation of the industry. The cost of manually moving data between systems, such as between an automated docketing service and an IP management system, or from an e-mail sent by a corporate law department into a law firm IP management system, now accounts for a large percentage of the cost of these transactions where the rest of the transaction can be automated.

Take for example the cloud-based autonomous docketing services provided by Black Hills IP. Thousands of docketing decisions can now be made in the matter of seconds or minutes. Where interoperability is provided by the target IP system, the docketing transactions can be automatically loaded at lightning speeds. The result is total digital transformation of this IP function, with many advantages including order of magnitude increases in accuracy and speed, and also the benefit of having IP transaction data structured in a “digital transformation” friendly form, allowing more automation downstream like automated reporting.

On the other hand, where interoperability is not supported, and data entry must be done manually, around two-thirds of the benefit of the automation is negated, lost to the delays, labor cost and errors introduced by requiring manual input of the data into the target IP system, and the loss of ability to readily verify the data has been correctly loaded.

Moreover, the lack of interoperability in the industry also hinders many other avenues of digital transformation where so much of what is done on a day in and day out basis is exchanging information that is sourced from structured databases. This data, without interoperability, has to be unstructured in order to be exchanged, and then restructured manually and entered manually on the other end of the exchange. This is clearly a huge problem when digital transformation is a primary goal of law departments, law firms, and back-office operations.

On the plus side, many vendors do support interoperability and are helping firms like ours and companies like Black Hills IP deploy fully autonomous IP services that are revolutionizing the industry. These vendors include: Patrix (Patricia), CPA Global/Clarivate (FoundationIP, IPfolio, Inprotech), Computer Packages, Inc. (CPI), and AppColl. If you have one of these systems, for example, you can enjoy the full benefits of digital transformation in the IP industry. If your vendor or system is not on this list, you should consider switching as your IP system will be a major barrier to your digital transformation journey.

Legal Digital Transformation – Lesson #1: Digital Transformation is a Never-Ending Mode of Operation

Friday, March 5th, 2021

If you are interested in digital transformation in the legal industry, I invite you to read the first of my “Top Ten Lessons” for digital transformation in the legal industry.  Also, if you are interested in learning more about Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner’s digital transformation journey, please listen in on our multi-part webinar series.  Episode 2 is coming up next week:


Often, a law firm or corporation that embarks on a digital transformation effort views it as project that they will complete in a given time frame, check the box on their task list, and then move on. But going forward this is not how digital transformation will work. The scope and scale of the current phase of digital transformation is far more profound than past phases of this journey. Replacing legal professionals with AI is not as easy as digital transformations of old such as buying a facsimile machine, switching from a typewriter to a word processor, getting an e-mail account on the Internet, or scanning paper files into an online database. Instead, this new era of digital transformation involves the infinitely more complex realm of automating legal thought process. Because the legal frameworks these tools must work within, the client requirements they must accommodate, and the data and facts they need to consider are forever changing, their configuration is not a one-time event. Instead, it will be never-ending and is going to require a whole new workforce of automation/AI configuration specialists who will be a permanent presence in the legal workforce of the future and who will never run out of work to do. To get a mental picture of this new future, you can think of current law practices as equivalent to automobile assembly lines before robotics. Yes, there are tools like hoists, winches and wrenches, and the assembly line brings the automobile to each worker as they perform their respective expertise “on the line”, but humans are still operating the tools to perform the work of assembling a vehicle. Already now and more and more into the future, legal practices will look less like assembly lines of old and more like today’s state of the art assembly lines – that is, robots will be performing the work while the workers look on and supervise the work. Already, companies like Black Hills IP ( are using AI to flawlessly docket PTO correspondence in the blink of an eye, with a dozen servers now capable of automatically and virtually doing 80% of the daily work of ALL THE US DOCKETING PARALEGALS IN THE UNITED STATES. This is a profound change to this particular segment of the IP profession – as it is eliminating a large number of jobs that were previously believed immune to automation. These types of changes will continue to come as more and more legal work that involves the application of fixed rules to a finite set of data become commonplace. All of this, however, requires a brand new workforce of legal automation specialists that in many cases can be filled by the very personnel displaced by the automation.

The bottom line is this – successful digital transformation is not just buying new tools for the same people to use to do work faster and better. Instead, it is replacing human personnel with legal robots that do thought work and that will bring a profound change in how legal work is performed. This will require a large investment in legal robots and a large number of automation specialists to continuously tend to and program those robots.

Join Us for Digital Transformation Webinar Series: First Episode February 11

Friday, February 5th, 2021

In 2021, the SLW Institute is examining the digital transformation of the legal industry in a new webinar series. We’ll start by looking at the big picture view, and then focus in on detailed aspects of IP practice. In a series of case studies, we’ll explain specific tools and strategies our firm uses to automate processes and increase precision. Experienced industry innovators will provide their perspective. This series will dig into practical aspects of how digital transformation affects the future of IP law firms and departments.

The kickoff episode is coming up on Thursday, February 11 at 12 p.m. Central: Come join us. Our speakers will provide insights about the transformation taking place in the legal industry, especially with regards to IP practice. Mary O’Malley, Thomas Marlow and Ann McCrackin of Black Hills IP will be presenting, along with Dr. Manjeet Rege of the University of St. Thomas, Dan Yarmoluk, and myself. It’s a complimentary presentation, and we invite you to be there. You can register at the SLW Institute online.

Patent Buddy Releases New Patent Analytics iPhone App

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Patent Buddy has released a new iPhone app that provides an amazing set of patent analytics.   The app lets you check the current portfolio size and patent filing trends based on last three years of issued patents and publications.  One very handy feature is the ability to check on the current status of a patent to make sure it is not expired for failure to pay the maintenance fee, and the ability to check who the currrent owner(s) are.

The app is free.  Here is more information on the app:

For US patents the analytics include –
Current Status (issued, expired — for any reason)
Current Owner (from USPTO assignment database)
Inventor Analytics (Patent Counts)
Prior Art Analytics (Most Mentioned Prior Art)
Citation Analytics / Ratings (Rating based on Citation Rankings)
Patent Abstract / Claims (text of both)

For Patent Owners (with 10 or more patents or applications) –
Portfolio Counts and Composition (Number of issued patents in force; number issued  and number published in last three years.)
Technology Analytics / Ratings (Top patent classification for owner and patent counts)
Top Cited Patents
Top Inventors (for owner)

The official page for the app is found on Apples web site at: