Intellectual property plays a big role in your law firm even if you’re not an intellectual property lawyer. In this episode of Law Technology Now, host Monica Bay talks to Nicole Shanahan, CEO of ClearAccessIP, about why intellectual property is important to a law firm and how her company is working to reduce the cost of producing assets like patents. They also discuss some of Nicole’s recent projects, like the Stanford OpenData Initiative, and her trip to the White House.
Nicole Shanahan is the founder and CEO of ClearAccessIP and a 2014-2016 Residential CodeX Fellow.
Law Technology Now
Law Firm Intellectual Property
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Monica Bay: Welcome to another edition of Law Technology Now on Legal Talk Network. I’m Monica Bay and our guest today is Nicole Shanahan. Welcome to the show.
Nicole Shanahan: Thank you.
Monica Bay: Nicole is an attorney in Chicago and a research fellow at CodeX and Founder and CEO of ClearAccessIP.
Nicole, let’s start by talking about ClearAccessIP.
Nicole Shanahan: Sure. Thanks for having me. So I’m here in Palo Alto and ClearAccessIP is a startup that really emerged from my research at Stanford’s CodeX Center for Legal Informatics, and we do a kind of end-to-end data infrastructure for corporations, law firms and universities to assist them in the back office management of their IP as well as their transactional activity. So we really connect what is the legal aspect of IP to the business aspect of IP.
Monica Bay: What made you interested in getting involved with that?
Nicole Shanahan: So, I mean, long story short, it all started when I was 12 and wanted to be an IP attorney, but it’s evolved from about 10 years of working in the IP business for both law firms and corporates, and realizing that there’s a massively disjointed process between the creation of intellectual property assets; particularly, patents and their commercial use.
So today, less than 4% of patents is ever read are ever read for their commercial relevance. And that means that we’re really working sub-optimally and the economics of innovation, really tend to suffer because of this. So ClearAccessIP is a great opportunity for us to kind of revision and rethink what the future of innovation infrastructure is going to look like.
Monica Bay: Nicole, there may be some folks who aren’t familiar with a lot of the stuff we’re talking about, tell us for them what IP is and why is it important in a law firm?
Nicole Shanahan: So intellectual property covers a few practice areas; patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets being the primary formats. So at a law firm, especially here in Silicon Valley, we’re seeing a lot of need to reduce the cost around generating these intellectual property assets for clients.
For instance, the average cost of filing a new patent, just filing it, can range anywhere between $10,000 to — for a more complex filing $50,000. And what we’re noticing among our client base especially is that it’s becoming far more complicated to write a good patent. We just recently had in 2012, the America Invents Act rule out and that just meant that we had a whole new set of statutory requirements around filing and around novelty, and that’s put a lot of pressure on law firms to rethink how they deliver these services.
Monica Bay: Now you’ve been working on this project for quite a while, how has it been for you to have the opportunity to be involved with CodeX on working with this and tell us a little bit about how you were working with that and where you want to be in maybe five years, maybe longer, I mean where is it going?
Nicole Shanahan: Well, CodeX is so unique and you know this, Monica, having yourself been involved with the center, I mean, really at its inception, CodeX aimed to combine computer science with the practice of law, and for me, I looked at CodeX as a place to really sanity check my desire to create this company.
I remember when I first entered the law firm as a paralegal over 11 years ago now, the idea of leaving the paper file behind was unthinkable. And now, fast forward to where we are today, I mean, not only are we digitizing much of the law firm, but we’re also looking at AI, in terms of how to make legal practice more efficient, how to kind of transform client deliverables and how to kind of address kind of a change in culture around legal services.
So CodeX was just an awesome place to go when I decided to leave practice and think about the future of how to apply AI to intellectual property.
Monica Bay: And going backwards for a little bit, tell us about why you went to law school and where you went and what got you in a position to be interested in what you’ve just been talking about with ClearAccessIP?
Nicole Shanahan: So I was at a company working in-house called RPX Corporation, the Rational Patent Exchange, and at the time I opened up the Nortel portfolio, which was a huge portfolio of over 4,000 assets, and all those assets were sitting in a data room and needed to be reviewed.
And, even though I had the ability to sit there and review each and every one, it would have taken years to get through all 4,000, and the company needed the report done in a few weeks.
So it was at that time that I realized that even though I had gone to law school, I went to Santa Clara Law School and I had worked on defining these skills for myself. It was — I realized that that law alone wasn’t sufficient. So I had the opportunity to really think about, okay, I’m a lawyer but I think I need to be something in addition to being a lawyer and it was a great chance to rethink what all this means today.
Monica Bay: Okay, to switch the subject a little bit, tell us a little bit about the San Francisco Police Project that you worked on?
Nicole Shanahan: Yeah, so the project was called Smart Prosecution and the goal was to use a big data approach to analyze a number of arrests, there was 3,600 arrests, and these arrests were particularly important to review because they were done by police officers that had been identified as participating in a ring of text messages that were incredibly racist in their nature.
And so, the opportunity was to use computation to look at how incident reports were written, to determine whether or not there was any way to flag biased or unfair policing activity. And so, in that project, we had to take all the actual original incident reports and use data mining to first grab all of the data, relevant data, out of the incident reports into a structured database. And then use certain forms of analytics to see if there were any identifiable trends.
Monica Bay: And tell us about how that all happened, I mean, I don’t know very much about that and who was involved with that and how did you end up being involved with it and tell us a little bit about what you found out and were there any surprises when you did it, and when has that been, is it over now or is it still going on?
Nicole Shanahan: So it’s really evolved. I think the interesting thing with what’s going on in the criminal justice world is that there’s a bunch of tools. The Arnold Foundation, for example, developed a great tool for prosecutor offices. We came up with a tool in this project that we realized really fell short of what we were aiming to do, because of the fact that we needed more data to work with.
So I really looked at this one project as more of an almost — an opportunity to see under the hood of how our criminal justice system works and identifying real pitfalls relating to how these new systems can be used in a way that, well, there’s bias. I mean there’s an incredible amount of bias in the system itself. So training a system to achieve policy goals is very challenging.
We worked with the San Francisco DA’s office and just understanding how far they are today from having all of their data in a format that can be used at scale, and yeah, I mean, overall — and this is something that I feel very passionately about is rethinking data infrastructure at the government level so that we can have better policy.
Monica Bay: How did that get set up? Did they look towards you or how did the project get going and what were the goals in the beginning and where are you now with that, is it still going on?
Nicole Shanahan: The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office created a Blue Ribbon Panel and that Blue Ribbon Panel consisted of retired judges and those judges had to review all 3,600 incident reports.
There was only I think four of them on the Panel and there was no way they would be able to actually go through each and every one of those incident reports and even had they, they had no way to measure whether or not there was any irregularity and bias.
So they got stuck and they were looking for a team that could come in and help them use a computational approach to structure that information to make it easier for those judges to come up with their own opinion. And so, we worked with their chief of staff and their head of data to first grab the data out of the record, structure it and format them in a way that the retired judges on the Blue Ribbon Panel could find useful.
Monica Bay: And when did it start and is it still going?
Nicole Shanahan: So I believe we kicked off that project at the end of 2014 and we continued it for about a year and we had created bar charts and we delivered a report to the Blue Ribbon Panel, which they then used to write their opinion. It was found that there was bias detected and really that kicked off I think a much larger project that has involved since then more experts, professors, data scientists and engineers.
Monica Bay: Very, very interesting. You have told me that you have a new project that is starting.
Nicole Shanahan: Yes. So my partner and I have a foundation that we are looking to contribute to criminal justice reform and I’ve been working with Prof. Sharad Goel at Stanford School of Engineering to come up with a computational public policy lab and we just funded the lab for three years with a $4 million grant, and this lab is going to be leveraged for government policy projects.
And the vision is that we can use a data-driven approach to really help our government leaders think through big policy decisions.
Monica Bay: Are there any specific things is it just starting and or there are some specific things already starting?
Nicole Shanahan: Yeah, so Prof. Goel, who will be leading the lab, he has done quite a bit of work in reviewing police stop data. So he has released a great deal of literature around, for instance, he has collected over 6 million stop and frisk records and analyzed those. He has also done work relating to the North Point Tool, which is a tool that reviews case records to determine whether or not a criminal defendant is likely to re-offend or not.
Monica Bay: It sounds like you have a real passion for what’s going on in these areas, where do you want to be in 5 years, in 10 years, are there any other programs in addition to these two that you are interested in starting to get them going?
Nicole Shanahan: I think in five years I hope to see ClearAccessIP creating a new model around how corporations, universities and law firms manage and disseminate and transact their IP. I see a world in which the IP can be used more efficiently to bring about new innovation and I’d love to be able to continue to be a part of that.
And then in terms of legal-tech more broadly, I really think we’re at the beginning of a renaissance, and I look forward to the Stanford computational policy lab becoming a place where we can really start thinking about solving for a kind of the biggest social ailments, such as access to education and healthcare, and dealing with our overpopulated prison system for one, and that’s to me a low-hanging fruit for this center.
But, yeah, just five years from now I see these projects evolving and growing and I also see a greater understanding and adoption of these approaches.
Monica Bay: To switch to a completely different question, you were in the White House, tell us a little bit about your adventure there and why you got there, how you got there, and what was the biggest surprise there?
Nicole Shanahan: So I took a visit to the White House about a year-and-a-half ago to learn about their police data initiative, which was created under Obama’s administration, and it was just wonderful to see the different groups that grew out of President Obama’s administration and how passionate they were about taking a Federal approach to correcting for weaknesses in the criminal justice system. It was really lovely. Standing on the red carpet and looking out was — it was just, it was wonderful. And I have a lot of hope that we can return to a Federal governance model that really supports people.
Monica Bay: Nicola, I can’t resist to ask you your experiences as mine have been over the last couple of weeks and about a month now of the amazing things that have come out on sexual harassment. I’ve never in my life seen anything go so fast and be so powerful. I’m curious as to what your experience is about what’s been going on recently.
Nicole Shanahan: Yeah, it’s been fascinating and being a female founder in the heart of Silicon Valley, I’m out there fund-raising and talking to venture capitalists, and I can say that having personally experienced discrimination and formats of harassment in my career I’m very pleased that women are feeling safe enough to talk about it in the public.
Previously it would be viewed as career suicide to talk about these issues, and so, I think it’s a good thing. I don’t think this is a bad thing. I just hope that the press has enough responsibility to really investigate before they rush to publish. So long as we maintain a balance I think that overall we all benefit from this.
Monica Bay: I completely agree with you and I’m older than you are and also like many, many, many people have gone through those, and for women to be able to come and able to speak about it, and you’re absolutely right, because in the past nobody would dare do it, because it would just — they’d be out, period. I mean, it is just blowing my mind at how powerful that has become and I’m so happy that that has happened. It’s going to be a difficult time but I think it’s a very, very important one.
Anything else you want to say on that?
Nicole Shanahan: No, I think you said it all. It’s great that these institutions are listening that they are not punishing women for coming out with these issues, so I think it’s — it’s a good thing.
Monica Bay: Well, we’re running out of time; Nicole, is there anything else you wanted to talk about before I ask you to tell our listeners how they can reach you?
Nicole Shanahan: No, that’s all, just if you’d like to get in touch with me, the easiest way is at [email protected].
Monica Bay: Well, it’s always a joy to be with you, Nicole, and thank you so much for your wonderful conversation.
This has been another edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network.
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