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INTA 2019: Microsoft counsel optimistic about lawyers’ role despite AI



Chris Adams


The company’s head of trademarks said that AI technology is here to assist lawyers, not replace them, particularly because of limitations surrounding contracts

AIMakalika Naholowa'a, based in Seattle, said she is a proponent of artificial intelligence (AI) technology for IP lawyers, but said she also understands the caution felt about a decreased human role in legal work.

“People, when they hear AI and see all the talk about how it can work in ways that seem superior to humans, their instant reaction is, ‘do I need to have a protectionist view of my people’s jobs?’” she said, speaking at the INTA Annual Meeting in Boston.

Her response in short was that AI won’t pose a threat to lawyers’ job security, but rather will augment their capabilities and make them more available for essential work.

“We’re already not doing everything that is technically within our mandate, and AI actually presents this really exciting opportunity to maybe do that work for the first time,” she said.

Israel-based company LawGeex is a recent example of AI’s crossover into law. The group provides AI programs that apply machine learning to tasks such as contract review, which ordinarily can be a time-consuming process for lawyers.

Based on a series of tests reviewing non-disclosure agreements, LawGeex claims its AI program demonstrated a 94% accuracy rate spotting issues in the documents, compared to 84% accuracy from a test group of lawyers and professionals. The AI engine completed the task in 26 seconds, while the average human time was 92 minutes, the test claims.

However, Naholowa'a said the technology won’t replace the lawyer’s role, because the human element is still a critical part in the decision making process.

“Right now what AI doesn’t do, is it doesn’t make an assessment as to what’s the contract that matters,” she said. “It treats all contracts the same. There’s a qualitative layer that uses human judgement, and that’s not going away.”

Another concern among trademark professionals is the increasing number of registrations over the decade, while other areas of IP have remained steadier in relation to filings.

“This volume is only going higher,” Naholowa'a said. “And you’re only going to have 24 hours in a day, that’s another thing that’s not changing. So what’s happening is the tools are serving us data to navigate the complexity – and it’s huge.”

Naholowa'a shared her perspective on the future of AI in legal work. In the short term, she said she expects the groundwork for AI systems to be established among early adopters as a way to show other companies how the technology can be applied to business.

“Hopefully we develop a really strong sense of what the right ethics are for AI, so that people start feeling more and more safe adopting it,” she said.

In the long term, she sees AI serving as a critical support tool in the decision-making process for trademark professionals, helping them be more available for client service.

“I think it’s going to help us focus on the things that drew us in,” Naholowa'a said. “I don’t think anyone went into the trademark profession because they liked looking through 1,000-page PDFs. What it’s going to do is give you the space in your life to actually do the stuff that matters … helping steer clients towards making better decisions.”

Naholowa'a was speaking on a panel called “How to Fit the AI in TM: Keeping Up With the Joneses and the Jetsons” on May 19.


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