Legal Tech start-ups need to beware of the Thomson Reuters competition

The Truth is out there - Legal Tech Start-Ups and Thomson Reuters
The Truth is Out There

This week Artificial Lawyer republished a press release from Thomson Reuters about a competition that they have launched:-

Global legal publisher and tech company, Thomson Reuters (TR), is launching a new prize for RegTech and legal tech companies that could see the winner bag up to a $250,000 investment, partnership with the business, plus $15,000 in additional prize money, and $100,000 in Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing credits.

The maximum total pot could therefore be up to $365,000 in value for the winning company that can show significant innovation through technology in the area of regulation and compliance. Winners may also gain a formal partnership with TR. That said, the competition will also allow those that don’t win to make a pitch for the investment money as long as they are considered to have formally qualified as participants.

Twitter was quick to draw out the issues that Artificial Lawyer had failed to highlight.

Dan Rubins in a thread pointed out, amongst other things, that:-

Wow, this is depraved, even for Thomson Reuters. They are preying on young startups hungry for capital. Everyone needs to steer clear of this “prize.” Here’s why:-

Thomson Reuters gets “an irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, transferable, royalty-free” license to “all intellectual property rights… without prior review, payment, compensation, or additional consent.” Yep, you license all your IP, forever, for free.

Oh Thomson Reuters may “develop… similar or identical” products and participants “[agree] not to sue… for any actual or alleged infringement or misappropriation by ANY [TR] product, service, technology.” TR can copy your product. Also, you can never sue… for anything.

In exchange… a *chance* at “One (1) First Place Prize: $15,000.” There’s no mention of $250k investment, just an opportunity to pitch, and certainly no definition of the financial terms of any “investment.”

Hey, Thomson Reuters, this is barely short of outright IP theft from startups. You’re abusing your market position and weaponizing the imbalance of power. Care to comment?

Dan Rubins went on to compare the TR competition with others by Clio, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Nesta Challenges that don’t have such restrictive terms and conditions.

Dan thinks “Thomson Reuters is bad and they should feel bad”.

Before seeing Dan Rubin’s thread, Gordan Cassie tweeted:-

Kind of disingenuous for the headline to say $250,000 in prizes

Based on the small print there are 3 prizes totaling $30k plus totally discretionary “investment or partnership” of an undisclosed amount

More abusive accelerators/competitions are just what #legaltech needs!

Artificial Lawyer, ignoring all the points raised by Dan Rubins, replied:-

Hi Gordon Cassie – not really, entering the competition to win the prize opens the possibility to pitch for the big money, and the sum is set out by additional info from TR. As explained in the story. Hope that helps.

No it didn’t help.

Meanwhile Jason Morris (@RoundTableLaw) tweeted:-

I’m really glad someone took the time to lay this all out. Thomson Reuters should be ashamed of it, and Artificial Lawyer should be ashamed of promoting it in such a blithely uncritical way.

Artificial Lawyer attempted to counter this attack with:-

Hi @RoundTableLaw – the AL article specifically highlights problems with the TR competition and specifically points out the imbalance of power. Have a read.

Artificial Lawyer highlighted this particular paragraph from his article:-

Whether any partnership and/or investment following the prize would then result in the winning company being acquired by TR is not set out, although that could be an eventual and logical outcome, at least over the medium to long term. After all, why would a large legal tech company get so close to a startup if the goal is not to eventually acquire it, or if not, to study it in detail and then be inspired to build something very similar?

But Jason Morris countered:-

It does. It also credulously says $365k. The opportunity for TR to invest in your company is something every start up already has. Entering the contest may actually devalue your company. The prize is $15k and maybe AWS credits.

Michael Edelman tweeted:-

That bit about devaluation is an interesting observation!

And Dan Rubins commented on the paragraph highlighted by Artificial Lawyer thus:-

I should mention that Artificial Lawyer’s story (and a deep mistrust of Wexis) clued me into something fishy here. I believe the words that fell out of my mouth hole when I read this were “aw hell nah.”

Legal Tech Live commented:-

Yes, we fully support Dan’s analysis. Dan, did the deep analysis and we’re going to follow his non-legal advice. Not every deal is a good deal.

Aron Solomon tweeted:-

It doesn’t take a verdant imagination to understand why startups are scared to death of dealing with megacorps.

and later added:-

We encourage your entries into our pizza competition. Understand that we may or may not already be inventing the same pizza you show us. So if we later make it ourselves, it’s because it was and is ours.

Joanna Goodman tweeted:-

This is worth a look. Strong words from my friend Dan Rubins and food for thought for anyone involved in #legaltech #startups #funding #legalinnovation #readthesmallprint #readthethread

Following all the backlash Thomson Reuters appears to have capitulated with Dave Moran, their communications guy, tweeting:-

We have clarified on the site that IP of all submissions is owned by the startups. Sorry for the confusion.

Hardly a clarification but a huge u-turn! Other concerns raised by Dan Rubins would still appear to apply [N.B. and have not really been answered/clarified – see LinkedIn/Twitter comments reproduced below].

There is also still a 10 page set of Terms and Conditions [PDF]. Any Legal Tech Start-up would be wise to read those carefully and perhaps even take legal advice on the terms thereof before committing themselves to the ‘competition’.

This is yet another example of a failure to properly analyse and report on press releases that drop through  inboxes before publishing them. A problem that was particularly highlighted nearly a year ago at Legal Geek. Looks like it is a problem that is not likely to change anytime soon. However, thankfully we have non-journalists (or should that be proper investigative journalists?) out there, like Dan Rubins, doing a better job to set the record straight. That is what this blog will also continue to strive to do. The truth is out there.

Update – 23 August 2019

Thomson Reuters held a webinar today to clarify any questions that anyone had on the competition. Given that they had not properly answered the questions put to them online concerning IP rights (see ‘Reactions on Social Media’ below) I joined the webinar to ask the same questions again.

Representatives from both Thomson Reuters and Quesnay Inc (who are running the competition for Thomson Reuters and wrote the Official Rules) were on hand to answer the questions.

I asked again why they needed such far reaching rights over the IP rights of those participating in the contest.

The main reason given appears to be to protect Thomson Reuters against frivolous law suits as it is apparently quite likely that they will already be developing something that is pitched to them! But on the other hand it is highly unlikely that they would ever take and develop an idea pitched to them without entering into a formal partnership with the pitcher.

Also apparently “once the toothpaste is out of the tube you can’t put it back in”. Participants will therefore have to be careful as to what they reveal. CEO’s of start-ups are apparently always very smart people (really?) who will maximise their chances of winning but not put their businesses at risk by what they share. Surely if the Official Rules were less one sided they wouldn’t have to worry at all about what they shared?

Thomson Reuters have seen what has been said on social media. Counsel for Thomson Reuters and Quesnay Inc have looked at the Official Rules and consider them to be reasonable. They don’t want to introduce risk by simplicity.

The idea is to create a balance to give everyone an element of control. Participants have a significant amount of control. If you want to keep it confidential then don’t submit it.

We ultimately amicably agreed to disagree on the standpoint taken.

So, in my view, the message still remains as per the headline of this blog post: Legal Tech start-ups need to beware of the Thomson Reuters competition. If you enter you will potentially be giving up a lot of your IP rights albeit still retaining ownership.

Reactions on Social Media

In addition to the comments in the comments section below there have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Unfortunately including threats of legal action against me for re-publishing a tweet by a legal journalist. Not something that I believe there to be a law against. On the contrary something the law possibly positively encourages.

On LinkedIn the following comments have been made:-

Dave Moran, MBA, (Head of Communications (Canada) at Thomson Reuters):

Why the misleading headline if the article is really about the state of legal journalism and not the competition or working with TR?

Me:

“As much about” not “really about”. Of course it covers both. The root cause presumably being the press release put out by TR. The headline is accurate and not misleading in the overall context involved.

Nachshon (Sean) Goltz (Law and Technology Expert):

Dave Moran, MBA, is this true? Thomson Reuters gets “an irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, transferable, royalty-free” license to “all intellectual property rights… without prior review, payment, compensation, or additional consent.”

Thomson Reuters may “develop… similar or identical” products and participants “[agree] not to sue… for any actual or alleged infringement or misappropriation by ANY [TR] product, service, technology.”

Dave Moran:

Nachshon (Sean) Goltz no. It’s out of of context.  It refers to the submissions not the IP of their solution. It enables us to talk about the different types of submissions. We clarified it on the site to try to address the confusion: https://innovation.thomsonreuters.com/en/trregtech2019-competition.html?

Nachshon (Sean) Goltz:

Noted and screen shot

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Chuck Henrich (Document Lifecycle Evangelist at Litera Microsystems):

Thanks for highlighting this blog post. It’s a case study for two subjects: 1) the requirement to read
#termsandconditions word by word and fully understand them before committing to anything; 2) the importance for journalists to convey critical details. BTW, just checked the contest rules and simply by entering, “Participant hereby grants Co-Sponsor, its affiliates, subsidiaries, parents, and agents, an irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, transferable, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to Participant Content and all intellectual property rights related thereto to use, copy, publish, modify, distribute, create derivative works of, execute, and publicly display Participant Content (including all ideas, expressions, and other materials) in whole or in part, without prior review, payment, compensation, or additional consent by Participant.” So even without winning anything, by entering you give TR permission to use what you submit for free, forever. All for a *chance to win* chump change first prize of USD 15K?

Dave Moran, MBA:

In terms of IP ownership of the submissions put forward by applicants – the rules state that participants shall retain ownership in and to any content they submit to the Contest including all intellectual property rights related to their submission.

Aron Solomon (President at Mission Watch Company):

Dave Moran, MBA, If you had a startup and read the language highlighted above by Chuck Henrich, would you enter the competition? Honest question.

Dave Moran, MBA:

Of course. The language above only enables us to talk about the various submissions. It has nothing to do with the actual IP of the solutions. If I was a startup I would want someone promoting what I was doing.

Aron Solomon:

Dave Moran, MBA, Okay. Thanks, Dave. I wouldn’t enter, but that’s the beauty of these competitions – the startups get to choose.

Me:

Dave Moran, MBA, are you sure the “language above” only enables you to talk about the various submissions and has nothing to do with the actual IP? Suggest you ask your lawyers for confirmation that the following section is not much wider than that and confirm to us what they say: “an irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, transferable, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to Participant Content and all intellectual property rights related thereto to use, copy, publish, modify, distribute, create derivative works of, execute, and publicly display Participant Content (including all ideas, expressions, and other materials) in whole or in part, without prior review, payment, compensation, or additional consent by Participant”

Dave Moran, MBA:

We did and they are sure that it doesn’t relate to the actual IP.

Me:

Hmm Dave Moran, MBA, I’d get a second opinion if I were you. Leaving the IP with them but giving yourself a license to “use, copy, publish, modify, distribute, create derivative works of..,” is like selling someone a house with a condition that you can use it and modify it whenever you like. Is that really them retaining all property rights? I don’t think so. Thomson Reuters can and should do better than this.

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Jennifer Byrne (President, Quesnay Inc. Board Observer, Vouchr, 2018 Women in FinTech Powerlist):

We/Quesnay have collaborated with many companies to run competitions (including TR for this competition) as a way for sponsors to discover new startups to partner with, invest in, or support in other ways.  If any applicants have questions about the competition or the rules, please join us along with TR tomorrow, August 23, for virtual office hours from 1-2 pm EDT. Details here: http://evt.to/gdiehdhw

Me:

It is to be hoped that some of the questions that remain unanswered on here will be answered in the open for all to see rather than on a call. Main issue remains the interpretation of clause 7.E. of the Official Rules. Appears clear to all but the Co-Sponsor that this allows extensive use of the Participant’s IP rights well beyond the publicity only suggested by the Co-Sponsor. e.g “Participant hereby releases Co-Sponsor for use of Participant’s intellectual property rights related to the Participant Content”. Perhaps you can answer this on here? I’ve tried asking it on Twitter https://twitter.com/TheTimeBlawg/status/1164639736910307343?s=20 but have failed so far to get a straight answer. 

Me:

I asked my question in person during the Thomson Reuters ‘virtual office hours’ today. The response is set out in the updated blog post under the heading ‘Update – 23 August 2019’

The main reason for retaining over reaching rights over the IP appears to be to protect Thomson Reuters against frivolous law suits as it is apparently quite likely that they will already be developing something that is pitched to them!

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Joanna Goodman (Legal Technology Journalist):

I am looking for #legal #advice on the misinterpretation of my tweet in this blog post and the attempt to link it to my LinkedIn profile and therefore associate it with my business. This blog post by someone who is not a journalist casts me as criticising a publisher I have worked for, which I was not. I suggested people read the critical thread – and importantly the small print – not that they should avoid the competition. I’m vendor neutral and a real journalist. I don’t have another job as a lawyer or vendor or consultant. Can a #media #lawyer advise me please?

Me:

Joanna Goodman has claimed that I have misinterpreted her tweet in my blog post. I did not. I merely reproduced it exactly as it originally appeared when tweeted by her. I have written another blog post to remind her about the right to freedom of expression. You would have thought that “a real journalist” would be fully aware of this right. http://thetimeblawg.com/2019/08/23/legal-blogging-and-freedom-of-expression/

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Jonathan Maas (Discovery/disclosure veteran):

Wow! How could I have missed all this?

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And on Twitter:-

Joanna Goodman @JoannaMG22:

Can a #media #lawyer advise me on the misrepresentation of my tweet in this blog post please?

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Michael Edelman @edelman215:

Ah, you missed the part where we dogpile on @DigitalLawyer! 😉

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Nir Golan @lawheroez:

Some of these “journalistic” pieces have the wit and investigation of a SW spec sheet.. just lazy and seemingly biased.

Joanna Goodman @JoannaMG22:

I was tagged and an attempt was made to link to my LinkedIn profile – casting me as criticising a publisher I have worked for. Not in #legaltech – can a #media #lawyer advise me please?

Me:

You clearly have not been quoted by me as “criticising a vendor”. You have been quoted for what you tweeted. Tweet for tweet. Nothing more and nothing less. People can take from that tweet what they want no differently from its original context when you tweeted it on Twitter.

Your tweets this morning unfortunately demonstrate further the problems in #LegalTech journalism where apparently #LawTech journalists think they can write whatever they want but no non-journalists can reference, comment or analyse what they publish in any shape, form or fashion.

Ed Wilson @oliver_twiste (responding to Joanna Goodman):

I think it just quotes what you actually said no? Which isn’t openly criticising TR as you say… aside from which, if TR did do something you thought was not on, would your independence be so compromised as to point it out? I don’t think anyone would hold that against you.

Joanna Goodman @JoannaMG22:

It quotes me under a headline which advises people to avoid the competition. I was not suggesting that at all – rather that it is important to read the terms & conditions. This wasn’t an article it was a tweet.

Me:

The headline does not advise people to “avoid” the competition but to beware of it. Suggest you actually read it.

Joanna Goodman @JoannaMG22:

I don’t read propaganda.

you make me feel physically sick, frankly

Ed Wilson @oliver_twiste:

You’re better than that response. @TheTimeBlawg just reported the facts of a series of events which led to TR clarifying their Ts&Cs for the better. You seem to be picking sides, seemingly because you’re worried (wrongly I think) that they might not give you work. Somewhat ironic

The more important point here is that levelled, fact-based criticism of anyone/thing is met with cries of ‘negativity’. Some are capable of both – TR in this case are doing great things with their platform & recent open API re litigation data. This doesn’t take away from that.

Joanna Goodman @JoannaMG22:

Sorry, do I know you?

Who actually are you? I mean what’s your perspective on this?

I am not looking for work! But I might want to interview them or work with them on something so I don’t want to be cast as criticising. I highlighted the tweet because I agree it is very important to read the Ts&Cs when sharing ideas and IP in a competition.

Me:

And I highlighted your tweet for the very same reason!

Joanna Goodman @JoannaMG22:

Please leave me out of your blog.

Ed Wilson @oliver_twiste:

Joanna I use my real name here, not sure what else you need. I would point out that in this conversation you’ve labelled a widely read blog ‘propaganda’ and just called us all ‘self-styled experts’. Do what you will 👍

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Nir Golan @lawheroez (responding to Joanna Goodman):

I think Brian’s discussion here is an important one. Yes it’s not always comfortable and we don’t always have to agree but that exactly why it’s important. There are so many interest driven discussions and articles out there. We need to be able to openly discuss and criticize.

I personally am more concerned when writers do not think critically and just promote the interests of certain parties.

Joanna Goodman @JoannaMG22:

You will have to decide. Obviously I don’t fit because as a woman who has an opinion that’s sometimes controversial, I’m regularly picked on by the ‘gang’ and I have finally had enough. I’m still writing articles but I need a break from #legaltech #socialmedia unpleasantness

Me:

Indeed Nir. Rather bizarre for a #legaltech journalist to seek to silence a blogger regarding views on the past, present and future practice of law. There is a blog post in there about Legal Journalism v Legal Blogging that I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Might now do so.

Joanna Goodman @JoannaMG22:

You have won. I’m not tweeting about #legaltech now

I’m not trying to silence you – just asking you to please leave me alone

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

That’s a real shame but that’s your right, Joanna. If we’re not allowed to express our opinions then what’s the point? How can we make progress/evolve/move the needle?

I think you have an important voice Joanna. It’s great that you (as anyone else man or woman!) have an opinion. Hope to hear more of it in the future. You’ve met me.  you know who I am and that I mean what I say. We all have opinions and the more opinions we have the better.

Joanna Goodman @JoannaMG22:

I#you can still read my articles @TheTimeBlawg has won. I won’t be tweeting about #legaltech now.

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

So relevant at this opportune time. this 👇

Adam Grant @AdamMGrant:

Don’t listen to people because you agree with their answers.

Listen because you respect the intellectual integrity they bring to their questions.

You learn more from people who challenge your thought process than from those who affirm your conclusions.

#SaturdayThoughts

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Michael Edelman @edelman1215:

For the record, I was just joking around.

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Aron Solomon @aronsolomon:

The core issue here, which is endemic to the legaltech vertical, is the danger of bigcorp groupthink.

Please. Carry on, all.

Me:

That core issue was unfortunately somewhat lost in the fog created by a legal journalist with other priorities. However, I’ve got it back on track now and am continuing to ask probing questions of the type that the original journalist who published the article should have asked.

The blog post has been updated with all comments so far made on here and on LinkedIn and I will continue to update it with further comments as they come in.

Aron Solomon @aronsolomon:

Superb update. Thanks.

Several of us have tried to help TR but the core issue remains in the already quoted text and here:

Me:

Which their lawyers apparently say allows them to speak about IP rights but not do anything with them! I await a further response from TR on LinkedIn to my questions on this.

Alex Hamilton @AlexHamiltonRad:

It all comes down to what is “content Participant submits”. Is it the slides… or the code?

Me:

So just do it in PowerPoint and nothing more like they usually do in the Global Legal Hackathon?

Alex Hamilton @AlexHamiltonRad:

I think so. Just don’t give away anything you wouldn’t be comfortable sharing in public

Alex G Smith @alexgsmith:

Most pitch decks say nothing …

Aron Solomon @aronsolomon:

My position is crystal clear:

1. Startups are (rightfully?) hesistant/fearful in dealing with massively powerful corps.

2. The above-referenced clause would allow TR to accept submissions, later release something identical, and say “Sorry – we were building it already.”

Alex Hamilton @AlexHamiltonRad:

This is true

Dave Moran @davemmoran (responding to Alex Hamilton’s “is it the slides… or the code?):

The slides

Me:

That maybe needs to be made clear in the Ts&Cs? At present not clear at all.

Although even if just slides surely “copy, publish, modify, distribute, create derivative works of, execute, and publicly display Participant Content (including all ideas, expressions, and other materials)” would include creating work from the idea even if TR have to write code?

Ed Wilson @oliver_twiste:

All this is sort of besides the point – if it’s not obvious/the meaning is up for dispute on even cursory inspection, it’s not great drafting & needs clarification. Surely one of those ‘for the avoidance of doubt’ paragraphs would help here.

Me:

Correct Ed. TR said they had clarified the IP rights position but in so doing appear to have raised more questions than they have answered. A more thorough revisit by them of the Ts&Cs is required.

They may also want to clarify the intent of the contest if it is not to copy ideas: “Participant acknowledges that the intent of the Contest is to encourage people to suggest their ideas and innovations to Co-Sponsor.”

A “for the avoidance of doubt” sentence there would be helpful.

Alex Hamilton @AlexHamiltonRad:

“Avoidance of doubt” ALWAYS introduces doubt. Don’t make me cc Ken 😂

Me:

What’s the best way to avoid doubt? Make it crystal clear in the first place?

Alex Hamilton @AlexHamiltonRad:

👍

Me:

@thomsonreuters have a lot of re-drafting to do to achieve that! Think they need to start from scratch.

Ed Wilson @oliver_twiste:

Yeah… and let’s face it though.. tough gig getting your drafting analysed publicly on twitter 😥 I wouldn’t wish that on anybody

Alex G Smith @alexgsmith:

because no-one normal ever reads these legal documents right? 😬 @lawheroez

Me:

They should know that I always read the small print #goldenticketwinner 😉 cc @jandersdean

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

I think that the fact that TR is drafting it this way is sending a negative message on startups and innovation. Drafting should be light and friendly so people would join and trust TR. this says a lot…

Some human-centered design could have really helped here. There’s talking about being “innovative” and there’s doing innovation for participants and startups with an aim of inclusion and promotion of innovation. These are not the same. Such a shame.

Aron Solomon @aronsolomon:

From the perspective of a startup dealing with the TRs of the world, their top two concerns are:

1. You’re going to waste a ton of my time without compensating me;

2. You’re going to steal my shit.

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QuesnayInc. @QuesnayInc:

We run competitions for sponsors (such as TR) to discover new startups to partner with, invest in or support in other ways. If anyone has questions about the competition or rules, please join us & TR tomorrow, 8/23, for Q&A session from 1-2 pm EDT Details: http://evt.to/gdiehdhw

Me:

It is to be hoped that some of the questions that remain unanswered on here will be answered in the open for all to see rather than on a call. Main issue remains the interpretation of clause 7.E. of the Official Rules. Appears clear to all but the Co-Sponsor that this allows extensive use of the Participant’s IP rights well beyond the publicity only suggested by the Co-Sponsor. e.g “Participant hereby releases Co-Sponsor for use of Participant’s intellectual property rights related to the Participant Content”. Perhaps you can answer this?

QuesnayInc. @QuesnayInc:

Section 7(E) defines Participant Content as “any content Participant submits to the Contest”. The application form requires written descriptions of market opportunity, product fit, value proposition, management team, growth plan, why startup a strategic fit for TR, & pitch deck.

And anyone is welcome to join tomorrow’s office hours call, so please feel free.

Me:

It’s what the Co-Sponsor can do with that Participant Content that matters. So far that question keeps being dodged. Is it accepted that the Co-Sponsor can do anything they like with it? A simple “Yes” or “No” will do.

QuesnayInc. @QuesnayInc:

The license is to use Participant Content, and to do so without additional consent or payment. The key purpose of this license is to allow TR to administer the contest. For example…

TR will make the Participant Content available to judges, on the Contest Site, at the Live Pitch event, etc., so it can administer the contest.

To the extent that participants have business information that they would prefer to keep confidential, we suggest they consult with their counsel about how best to protect such information and that they omit any such information from their submissions to the contest.

Any other questions, please feel free to reach out to frank@quesnays.com or join the call tomorrow.

Me:

I’m afraid whilst this may be the intent the Official Rules go way beyond that. If use is limited to the extent that you suggest why not just amend the Official Rules to say so?

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

If legal innovation, understanding, and participation is truly the goal…

Stefania Passera @StewieKee

Some great evidence-based best practices to present T&C’s and privacy notices to consumers online

https://www.bi.team/publications/improving-consumer-understanding-of-contractual-terms-and-privacy-policies-evidence-based-actions-for-businesses/

Ping @cSchmon
#legaldesign

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

“Using a question-and-answer format to present key terms, and summarising key terms and illustrating them with explanatory icons, both increased understanding of T&Cs by more than 30 per cent.”

Stefania Passera @StewieKee:

Or, at least, of the key terms presented in that way. Clickthrough rates to full T&C’s were unchanged. But in the end, does it really matter? In some contexts (e.g. e-commerce) what consumers care about are just some key things

Me:

They don’t want to introduce risk by simplicity: See under ‘Update – 23 August 2019’

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

Hahah. Because there are no risks with complexity:). Such clarity. That’s why we are still discussing what is written there for the past three days…

Me:

Indeed

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

If that’s not the test (where a few lawyers have been debating what the license grant section says) then I don’t  know what the test is. If we can’t understand, imagine what they users/ participants must feel…past three days…

Me:

But apparently TR would never exploit the participants as they could under the licensing terms so start-ups should have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

Start-ups in the legal space have bigger things to worry about than TR

Me:

Maybe not if they lose their IP overnight!

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

Which would be entirely their own fault, Brian

Me:

Agreed, and hopefully the pitfalls have now been fully aired as they probably wouldn’t have bothered reading the Official Rules thoroughly, properly understanding them or taking legal advice thereon.

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

When you’re partipating in a competition your iP is a huge issue Daniel. This is a big issue. Especially when you’ve got investors conducting DD later. This issue should not be underestimated.

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

If you don’t like the terms, don’t take part

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

Agree!

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

Newcomers in other business spaces tread the same line, surely?

Pieter Gunst @DigitalLawyer (responding to Daniel Hoadley’s tweet on start-ups having bigger things to worry about than TR):

Do tell

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

The most severe obstacle a start up in the legal space faces at this moment in time is finding a way to integrate into an ecosystem that seems hellbent on arranging itself around tribal fault lines

Pieter Gunst @DigitalLawyer:

Right. So this whole thread just a waste of time because everyone reads the TC and its the startups fault. Helpful.

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

Not sure what you expected? Paint by numbers Ts & Cs for the legal startup promising to set your firm’s knowledge on fire with AI?

Pieter Gunst @DigitalLawyer:

?

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

?

Pieter Gunst @DigitalLawyer:

Sorry, not seeing your point. Not worth our time 🙂 It all seemed a bit circular to me. I don’t think most startups would catch this (I hope they come across this discussion) and just saying it would be their fault is not really helpful.

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

And I’m saying that only in the world of legal tech would someone suggest that a new business not bother to read the terms it’s voluntarily agreeing to.

Me:

On discussion this evening TR said that start-ups had not raised the Ts&Cs as an issue with them only a “small group” of others on social media had. Those others, on the whole, are lawyers concerned by the oppressive nature. TR in a strong position and fairness not important.

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

Sounds like the classic dynamics of a market predominated by large, well-established players. I’ll be sure to bring this up tomorrow with my local green grocer

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

I see 2 issues here:

1. The terms aren’t clear and intentionally complex.

2. Even if you did somehow understand what the terms state they seem to be very draconian and unreasonable. I don’t think fault is relevant here. Yes can decide not to participate but this is wrong.

Terms in this sort of competition (of legal innovation- irony isn’t lost on me) at least the reputable ones are simple and reasonable. We can accept it as is and do nothing or we can try to do something. We prefer doing something. That’s the beauty of social media.

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

I’m conscious I sound like a git here, but I’m still not convinced. Yes, the terms aren’t great. But it’s an invitation to treat! The startup that does its homework and doesn’t like what they see can simply do something else.

But the idea that a legal startup needs its arse wiped in relation to terms and conditions attaching to incubation is genuinely frightening

Gavin Sheridan @gavinsblog:

*catches up on thread*. I sympathise with both views!

1. TR shouldn’t be using this terms in the first place. It’s unnecessary and arguably predatory.

2. Startups should certainly pay attention. But early stage, first time/young founders are sometimes vulnerable

3. In other industries, incumbents tried to use T/Cs like these and got pilloried for it, and then stopped.

4. I emailed Quesnay a straight question, having read the poorly written and overly complex IP clause.

Thomson Reuters - E-mail to them from Gavin Sheridan

They replied honestly. Fair enough.

Thomson Reuters - E-mail from them to Gavin Sheridan

Me:

That was a clearer and more straightforward response than any seen from them/TR on social media over the past few days or in the online chat earlier today.

Gavin Sheridan @gavinsblog:

Which is crazy. The clause could have been one sentence.

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

And it would be odd to expect any other response!

Gavin Sheridan @gavinsblog:

BUT.

If you want to encourage development / innovation in a field, don’t start with teams handing over their IP just as a cost of entry. Or, in other words, don’t be dicks.

And *arguably* if a community/incumbents do want open innovation, they would shun stuff like this.

Ecosystems and innovation don’t grow out of stuff like this. It gets killed.

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

This ecosystem has been killing innovation and competition for decades. This is not new

Gavin Sheridan @gavinsblog:

It has. And it should be condemned outright IMHO. Otherwise nothing changes.

Better yet: how about a rival competition that has no IP clause but has similar or better prizes? Now that would be cool (and is how other industries overcame this hurdle)

1. AWS/Azure/Gcloud credits
2. Good sponsors actually interested in innovation / healthy ecosystems.
3. Honest, well written T/Cs (and no IP grabs)
4. Access to some firms
5. Beer.

These T/Cs and competitions just remind me of this scene:

Dan Rubins @DanRubins:

@goclio Launch//Code fits the bill

Gavin Sheridan @gavinsblog:

More of that then! But even ones independent of a particular company.

I nominate @DanHLawReporter as one of the judges 😀

Pieter Gunst @DigitalLawyer:

Maybe make the credits number 5. The streets are littered with amazon credits here. I think I saw a homeless person with 500k in credits this morning. It’s cloud platform war time. Not really a prize. It’s the prize every event can easily get. Oh yeah, and a non-alcoholic option.

Gavin Sheridan @gavinsblog:

beer comes in non-alcoholic forms too!

And with credits it depends on where in the world, how accessible, which company etc etc.

Blaine Korte @bkorte:

Every startup in the world has access to great credits through @startupschool. Literally just needed to sign up, and they increase after the program if you participate.

Pieter Gunst @DigitalLawyer:

Thomson Reuters - Credits will do fine

 

 

 

 

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Me:

I asked the outstanding question (not answered properly so far online) in person during the Thomson Reuters ‘virtual office hours’ call today. The response is set out in the updated blog post under the heading ‘Update – 23 August 2019’

The main reason for retaining over reaching rights over the IP appears to be to protect Thomson Reuters against frivolous law suits as it is apparently quite likely that they will already be developing something that is pitched to them!

Aron Solomon @aronsolomon:

Anyone who’s a #startup #founder needs to read the @TheTimeBlawg piece. Now.

Nothing you’ll read today will more powerfully drive home this critical message:

Your startup’s fear that some massive company might steal your idea isn’t so bizarre.

Dimi Schneider @SchneiderLFM:

If there’s one predictable thing that regularly takes place (unfortunately), it’s theft of ideas. Even among academics.

Aron Solomon @aronsolomon:

Actually, I think If there’s one predictable thing that regularly takes place (unfortunately), it’s theft of ideas.

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Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

Without any disrespect to anyone taking the time to write about interesting things happening in the legal technology space, I’m a little bit baffled by the rate at which temperatures seem to be rising in “#legaltech journalism”

I’m equally baffled the reaction to *that* TR competition. Granted, i personally wouldn’t sign away my ideas that freely, but it’s not like there’s a gun being placed to anyone’s temple here

If you’re smart enough to build a legal product TR might be interested in absorbing, presumably you’re smart enough to evaluate your position against their terms, which are clear and unequivocal?

Alex G Smith @alexgsmith:

<noideawheretostart>

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

Just fire away

Alex G Smith @alexgsmith:

Just no … one word “naivety”. #stepsaway

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

TR *and* LN have been gobbling up good ideas big and small like unicron for the last two decades. There’s absolutely no difference today

Alex G Smith @alexgsmith:

My “naivety” comment is I have spoken to start ups/VCs/consultants who don’t understand the market or even who TR/LN/Bloomberg are …

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

Tough shit

Alex G Smith @alexgsmith:

i know … you could google or ask the right people … anyways it’s the bank holiday …

Me:

In England & Wales

Alex G Smith:

You’ll soon be free …

Me (replying to Daniel Hoadley’s original comment):

Also suggested (if you’ve read this evenings update) that participants will be smart enough to hide info they don’t want to give away even although terms are there to protect frivolous law suits against TR who are very likely to already be developing whatever is pitched to them!

If TR are so far ahead of everyone else already why the competition?

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

Sounds like the title of a thoughtful, balanced and carefully researched article that I’d be very keen to read

Me:

I’ll pass that one onto a “real legal tech journalist” to pen 😉

Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:

I was kind of hoping you’d be the one holding that pen

Me:

🙂

-+-+-+-+-+-

Nicola Shaver @Nicola_Shaver:

I woke up in the middle of the night and started reading this and couldn’t stop… important reading for any #legaltech start-up but also fascinating insight into our little community and how commentary on the landscape can influence direction.

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

The inclusion of varying opinions is such an important issue I believe.
“It’s only when diverse perspectives are included, respected, and valued that we can start to get a full picture of the world, who we serve, what they need, and how to successfully meet people where they are״

Nicola Shaver @Nicola_Shaver:

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” – John Stuart Mill. Since hearing @EJWalters talk about development of new law for emerging technology I have been thinking how much it’s necessary right now to revert to the great philosophers. #law #legaltech

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

@BrennanJacoby probably has something to say about this..

Dr Brennan Jacoby @BrennanJacoby:

Thanks for linking me in Nir.  Couldn’t agree more about the value of inclusivity and diversity at the point of thinking/perspectives (Ironic – since you, me, @Nicola_Shaver and @EJWalters seem to agree on this point!)

Also, @lawheroez and @Nicola_Shaver – I am@on board with reverting to the great philosophers, but only if in addition to appreciating their insights we learn their methods. Otherwise we are only doing the history of philosophy rather than doing philosophy ourselves.

Nir Golan @lawheroez:

Couldn’t agree more @BrennanJacoby. Are we asking enough questions? Are we being critical about what we’re doing?

Dr Brennan Jacoby @BrennanJacoby:

Great question @lawheroez. In a service industry where value is believed to track expertise, it is tempting to prioritise answers-giving. But quality answers require the critical engagement we’re talking about.

-+-+-+-+-+-

Mike Whelan @mikewhelanjr:

[“Well that escalated quickly” gif]

-+-+-+-+-+-

Jason Moyse @jasonmoyse:

a few thoughts…

1 bigco should not steal from anyone

Does that make it a legit fear for startups ?  A fear? Yes. A reason to stay out altogether?

I would not call it paranoia, but I would not call it a certainty

I know most players on all side of this.

people sitting in back rooms scheming to put on public competitions with idea to really just rip off participants?

Doubtful

@lawmadecom ran a global legal challenge on behalf a Canadian law firm. A small law firm in comparison to TR but among the most visible in the market.

same fears raised there…. it was bewildering… no one had any such intent

the winner was delighted with the outcome

there was also a lot of thought, planning and preparation that went into another @lawmadecom initiative when it worked with six startups to present to highest levels of tr leadership on points of integration… it was a good experience for all

Participants included

@ClauseHQ @monax @synergist_io http://merriamtech.com  @Kleros_io @SkoposLabs

There was a lot of mutual trust and search for win win outcomes in the room.

The startups were invite directly.

Open to all versus curated private invite ?

Startups often seek the ‘open calls’ and it is understandable… How else can they get attention ?

Curated with a broker in between ?

A lot less hassle for both sides but perhaps worthy startups then miss an opportunity

Choose your own adventure

I have not read the t+c’s closely ..

But if they’ve caused this much fuss then stands to reason they have been over lawyered…. the reason we need startups and innovators in the first place!

If your fear is having shit stolen — then don’t enter. risk? sure. likelihood?

I have promoted Digital David’s to dance with Enterprise Goliath’s and that rings true — still today.

http://www.legalcurrent.com/digital-davids-and-enterprise-goliaths-a-qa-with-jason-moyse/

Unfortunately, my inspiration was @JulieMarieMeyer who has been hammered in the press… rightly or wrongly, I have no idea.  I just like the concept.

Personally, I have found public or open call competitions become more show business then anything else.

American Idol?  Usually the most successful in terms of sales and artist success comes from runner ups in any event.

Got a good value prop? Ride that rather than chase publicity that won’t directly give you clients, revenue or improve your product to next level.

don’t like the terms of public competition but want to work with the company?  Then approach directly and work out terms you can live with….

Impossible? It is really not when you have the goods.

If anyone wants to discuss these topics with me. I am game but twitter ping pong is exhausting toxic 💩

TALK to me IRL

DM to set something up. record and broadcast the whole thing if you want… or take out of context items to fit your narrative

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Image Credit: The X-Files © 20th Century Fox Television

4 Replies to “Legal Tech start-ups need to beware of the Thomson Reuters competition”

  1. Sorry. Am I tripping?

    The current (linked to your piece) T&C “Grant of License” remains, in itself, something that should keep any startup away.

    There’s lots more to say but a close read of this clause says it all.

  2. As far as I can tell it has now become a material competitive advantage not to be associated with Thomson Reuters in any way.

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