It’s the type of story we like to bandy around in legal technology circles. Precocious law student interested in technology founds a start-up with some friends. They create some innovative solutions, and make it big enough to establish a company.
In 2014, three students founded ROSS Intelligence, an artificial intelligence driven product using Watson, to build tools that enhance lawyers’ abilities through natural language queries. The company was widely celebrated as the type of successes that entrepreneurial lawyers could create, and quickly attracted capital and strategic partnerships in the industry.
Unfortunately, this week ROSS Intelligence announced they are shutting down operations, and will no longer be available as of Jan. 31, 2021. The reasons cited are a lawsuit launched against them earlier this year,
We have not abandoned our vision for access to justice through the use of technology. We will continue to fight the good fight.
However, we are now pursuing that vision in the courthouse rather than the marketplace. Although we are out of funds for our operations, ROSS has insurance for our litigation costs. The company will continue as a going concern so that the facts at the heart of this lawsuit are brought to light and so that Westlaw’s tactics — using litigation as a weapon and stifling competition — do not succeed.
We hope that by continuing in this way, the precedent this court case sets will inspire innovation rather than shut down competition. We must go, but we will not go gently.
ROSS Intelligence had previously denied the allegations, and released information substantiating their position. A hearing in November 2020 suggested that the claims were speculative. Central to their position was that “no one can own the law,” and that free access to the law is necessary for a democracy. These are obviously important issues worth exploring.
However, the impact of the lawsuit itself is reported to be too much to bear. The lawsuit came two days after the settlement with related parties in a separate claim.
The broader concern is the potential chilling effect on future legal technology entrepreneurs and start-ups. Canada has already become a global leader in legal innovation, and the risk of litigation should not deter or stifle that trend.