The number of patents for legal services technology or ‘lawtech’ filed globally with the World Intellectual Property Organisation jumped 34% to a record high of 1,369 last year*, up from 1,025 the previous year, according to research by Thomson Reuters. Compared over a two-year period that percentage increase jumps to 65% – up from 831 in 2017.

While law firm budgets are in many cases being frozen or cut, within the right sector – such as online collaboration and workflow tools – the coronavirus crisis is expected to act as a catalyst in encouraging the wider adoption of lawtech across the legal profession.

Brian Peccarelli, chief operating officer, Customer Markets at Thomson Reuters, says: “Innovation in the legal industry shows no sign of slowing down. Coronavirus could help drive long term positive change in the industry by speeding up the process of integrating collaborative platform-based technology into working practices as well as the development of new technology.

“The lockdown has forced many lawyers to go through a steep learning curve in the use of online collaboration tools. Our sense is that they will come out of this period wanting more.”

More than 8% of legal tech patents filed in the last year relate to blockchain technology in some form.

Global patents filed for AI/blockchain technology in legal services in the past year include:

  • A platform which can process arbitration requests from a contract party on a blockchain network
  • An intelligent legal simulator which uses AI to simulate real life legal scenarios such as jury trials
  • An IP infringement detector, making it easier to search through intellectual property data, detect and deny any infringement

China continues to lead the way in legal technology patents

China continues to dominate global lawtech patent filings, representing 62% of all filings last year. The number of global patents filed by Chinese applicants rose 63% in the past year alone, from 521 to 847.

Many of the patents filed by China are focused on improving and expanding its online court system. For example, patents may relate to new ways of storing or filing evidence and the creation of AI-based tools that perform basic administrative or secretarial tasks within a court setting.

*year-end 31 Dec 2019