Widgets Magazine

Stanford Law School yields new start-up

‘Lex Machina’ compiles intellectual property litigation and policy data

While the emergence of a start-up from Stanford University may surprise no one, the department from which Lex Machina emerged may: this legal informatics private venture spins off from the Stanford Law School (SLS), marking the first time that a commercial venture has emerged from an American law school.

Lex Machina is the outgrowth of a research project called the Stanford Intellectual Property Litigation Clearinghouse (IPLC), officially launched in December of 2008.

Founded through the interdisciplinary collaboration between SLS’s Program in Law, Science and Technology and the department of computer science, the project was the brainchild of Prof. Mark Lemley, the William H. Neukom Professor in Law and director of the Law, Science and Technology Program.

Lemley, a scholar and researcher of intellectual property (IP) law and policy, envisioned that the program would provide free comprehensive data on intellectual property litigation cases in the United States dating back to Jan. 1, 2000.

While the IPLC was originally intended for use by scholars, policymakers and journalists, it soon became clear that the project had commercial viability and could not be sustainable solely based on donations.

“The idea is that businesses and law firms who want use Lex Machina at work would pay a subscription fee, but we would make the site available for free to academics, judges, government officials, nonprofits and the media,” Lemley said.

Joshua Walker, IPLC executive director and founder of the Stanford Center for Computers and Law (CodeX), and George Gregory, an expert in natural language processing, led the initiative in building the IPLC program and database from scratch. In the Lex Machina venture, Walker will serve as the CEO while Gregory, Lemley and Kenneth Lustig will serve on the board of directors.

“We realized the commercial viability of IPLC two years ago,” Walker said. “We were sitting in Packard Café when [Gregory] suggested that this is a company – it had both private and public value. We took it to the [SLS] Dean [Larry Kramer], who ran it through the appropriate protocols, talking to the Provost [John Etchemendy] and to [Lemley].”

The name Lex Machina derives from the title of a research paper Walker wrote in 2004 and is a play on the Latin term “Deus Ex Machina.”

“Part of what we’ve done in the early stages is build the technology to get to the point where adding new cases is pretty straightforward,” Lemley said.

The majority of Lex Machina will be owned by its team members, which includes engineers who worked on the program and a handful of Stanford students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. But Stanford University and SLS will retain an interest in the venture.

The company also expects to be recruiting new talent soon as the venture tries to “build out new technology and expand into other fields of legal issues,” according to Lemley.

“We want to maintain the fundamental altruistic aim of IPLC,” Walker added. “Part of our condition was that we can spin this off, but we should expand upon and constantly improve the pubic benefits of the IPLC project.”

Though Lex Machina is separate from SLS, the company expects to stay closely involved with Stanford.

“Stanford is the touchstone of all of this,” Walker said. “Aside from the unique Stanford entrepreneurial spirit, it also had a top law school and a top engineering department.”

“This is pretty much the first time that a project between the law school and the computer science department has become a company,” Gregory agreed. “This is a major milestone for Stanford University as well.”