484% Rise In Legal Tech Patents in 5 Years, Says Thomson Reuters

There has been a 484% increase in the number of patents filed covering new legal services technology globally in the last five years, says Thomson Reuters‘ latest research.

According to Thomson Reuters, 579 patents relating to new legal services technology were filed worldwide in 2016, up from just 99 patents in 2012, citing data from The World Intellectual Property Organization.

The legal information and tech giant says it believes ‘the figures reflect the rise of alternative legal services, such as virtual law firms, and the rapid expansion of the online legal industry’.

The statistics also indicate a rise in the use of technology and outsourcing by traditional law firms in the UK, the U.S. and East Asia, says the company.

It also no doubt is a result of a huge rise in legal tech start-ups around the world, hoping to tap into a new wave of interest among lawyers to use ground-breaking technology, whether AI or smart contracts. In many cases a key driver here is using tech to improve efficiency and productivity. In other cases, entrepreneurs – and law firms – are seeing an opportunity to create services that would have been hard to provide without tech such as AI.

‘This comes as firms aim to increase efficiency and implement low-cost operating models in an increasingly competitive market,’ says Thomson Reuters.

Patents filed in the U.S. accounted for the highest proportion of the total. The top three countries by percentage of total patents filed in 2016 were:


% of total patents filed Globally 2016

1 United States


2 China


3 South Korea


The fact that China is the second largest legal tech patent filer is especially interesting. The news comes as the Chinese Government and tech companies there seek to rapidly embrace AI across the whole economy and also in the legal sector.

For example, there has been a surge in the number of web-based legal solutions in China. Often these are ‘legal bots’, but interest in making use of machine learning and natural language processing in China’s legal sector is also growing fast.

‘Technological innovation across the financial and professional services industries has grown rapidly over the last few years and the legal sector is investing to stay ahead of the curve,’ said Charlotte Rushton, managing director of U.S. Large and Midsize Law Firms for Thomson Reuters.

‘Traditional law firms are facing increased competition, so many are adopting cutting-edge technology to streamline processes and reduce operating costs, or are outsourcing to an external provider,’ she added. ‘Systems such as matter management analytics allow law firms to coordinate live deals and business development programs throughout their global networks.’

Legal tech patents filed (Data: Patents filed under ‘Legal services and handling legal documents’. Source: World Intellectual Property Organisation. Data to year ending 31 December 2016.)