Just before Christmas, we packed away our entire Helsinki office as we prepared for a move. Our old office was located on Bulevardi with its discreet charm of the bourgeoisie (also known as Helsinki’s Design District), with the city’s oldest and most traditional café Ekberg right next door and the eurocrats of the European Chemicals Agency also on the very same block.
Our new office, on the other hand, is in Kaisaniemi right at the heart of the bustling city, on the top floor of a building from the 1920s. This block features among other things entertainment options from a cinema multiplex to countless bars and an international casino (but none of this was part of the requirements specification, honest). On the other hand, it is also right next to the University of Helsinki centrum campus, and you can actually walk from our office all the way to the law school without having to go outdoors at all.
In addition to the head office in Helsinki, we have also opened new sales offices London and Luxembourg, and right in the beginning of the new year we are expanding our sales presence to New York as well.
Still, while it might be easy to lose focus with all these new things happening, we have also been busy with product development all through December, and we are happy to announce that our extensive preparation work for a major data coverage expansion has been successful, and it is now starting to bear fruit. Our latest release adds national trademark data from Germany (DPMA), Switzerland (IPI) and the United Kingdom (IPO) to our service, and we are planning to continue releasing new data sources on a monthly basis throughout the year. New data sources are made available to existing TrademarkNow customers with a valid subscription at no additional cost for a trial period of at least three months from the release.
We thank all our customers and partners for a successful 2013 and wish you all an even more successful and happy new year 2014!
Just for the hell of it, here is the uncut version of my reply to the question on our major technical challenges for the FastCo article:
For modelling the major challenge is the legal domain itself: the corner of trademark law we are modelling is based on very loosely formulated legal standards and a vast body of case law determining what those standards mean in practice. The problem is trying to create a set of generalized rules matching the past decisions, because the cases can be quite inconsistent and often tied to the particulars of each individual case. Often it really boils down to quite fundamental questions of what we perceive as similar or different, as significant or insignificant. For my academic work I’m happily reading books with titles like ‘How do words mean’ but fortunately our team (myself included) generally prefers coding to philosophizing.
Of course with trademarks we’re always dealing with language, whether it’s the trademarks (word marks) themselves or the product descriptions associated with them, and you get all the usual challenges of doing natural language processing computationally. However, there are quite a few additional challenges which are unique to this field. A trademark can in principle be in any language or many different languages at the same time – or indeed in no particular language at all – and we can only make educated guesses both by looking at the words themselves and their geographical (jurisdictional) context. The product descriptions are at least in a known natural language, but as text fragments they are extremely short and difficult to categorize based on the trademark data alone.
Computationally, a major challenge is the sheer volume of data we have to deal with. The full analysis requires a comparison of trademark pairs (the query versus each existing trademark) that is computationally quite demanding and time-consuming, so of course we have to do do it in multiple passes to progressively reduce the number of marks that could be close enough to warrant the full analysis. And of course we have to constantly optimize and parallelize the analysis to keep the response times acceptable in spite of a growing number of trademarks, registries and other data we cover.
Still, the most important technical challenge for us is understanding the needs of the customer and trying to solve that. For instance, we could say we only deal with trademark law, but our customers don’t really have trademark law problems. The actual issues are naming and brand management, and while trademark law does play a key role, we are not afraid to add other data sources as well, such as dictionaries to get word meanings in hundreds of languages, and industry-specific data sources like names of mobile apps or pharmaceuticals. And then trying to keep a very complex process as simple as possible by giving the user the search options they actually need and by presenting the results in an accessible way.
There was recently an excellent profile of TrademarkNow and the work we do on the FastCoLabs section of the Fast Company magazine web site, titled How Do I (Really) Know If My Startup Is Infringing On Trademarks? Some highlights:
It also fulfills another useful function. “The most important technical challenge for us is understanding the needs of the customer and trying to solve that,” Anna continues. “For this reason, we could say we only deal with trademark law, but our customers don’t really have trademark law problems. The actual issues are naming and brand management, and while trademark law does play a key role, we are not afraid to add other data sources as well, such as dictionaries to get word meanings in hundreds of languages, and industry-specific data sources like names of mobile apps or pharmaceuticals.”
“The traditional process can easily take a week to carry out the search,” she continues. “Law firms will often have a lawyer representing the legal judgment, and a paralegal executing the search and dealing with the logistics. There’s a lot of back-and-forth. Our system takes between 10 and 15 seconds--no more than that.”
There is no doubt that law is changing in the face of developments in computer science. But some parts are changing faster than others...
Law is a conservative profession almost by design. On the other hand, the likes of Richard Susskind have spoken about the necessity and inevitability of innovation for the legal profession for several decades. In the past few years this has finally started grow into a worldwide movement, spearheaded by people like Daniel Martin Katz and Renee Newman Knake, co-directors of the ReInvent Law Laboratory at the Michigan State University, and arrangers of a series of conferences by the same name.
I had the pleasure of giving a short Ignite-style presentation at the most recent edition of the ReInvent Law conference in London on June 14. The presentation sought to address the complexity of developing actual working innovative intelligent legal technology, and the need for many more individuals with the necessary educational background in both law and computing, which is only starting to get addressed by some universities across the world.
Still, the best way to advance innovation is doing and not just talking about it – this was indeed the very title of Joshua Kubicki’s presentation at the same conference. We at TrademarkNow are happy to advance legal innovation through our actions and not just talking about it. On the other hand, the enthusiasm of the crowd was almost tangible and you will find someone from our team at the future editions as well.
The leading scientific conference on legal AI, the fourteenth edition of the biennial International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law (ICAIL) was arranged in Rome from June 10 to 14. Onomatics’s Chief Scientist Anna Ronkainen presented a paper titled Intelligent Trademark Analysis: Experiments in Large-Scale Evaluation of Real-World Legal AI , documenting one particular aspect of all the work which has gone into validating the TrademarkNow system. The large-scale evaluation effort was based on over 50,000 actual likelihood of confusion cases in the US (USPTO) and EU (OHIM), and it is one of the largest case bases in published research for any field of law. This particular type of evaluation is not enough by itself (and the published figures are obviously just a snapshot).
For the first time, this year ICAIL also featured a demonstration session with half a dozen working systems receiving considerable interest. Of these, TrademarkNow NameCheck was the only commercial system primarily developed for solving an actual legal problem, showing the slow progress this field has made in translating basic research into marketable innovative products. Still, we guess someone has to lead the way.