What is the potential to patent a law department innovation?

Several algorithms and methods of document search, useful in litigation support, have been patented (See my post of Feb. 23, 2006 about four of them.) and certainly nearly all of the software and legal publications used routinely by law departments are under patent or copyright protection.

But a troubling question strikes me, one which goes to the core of innovation in law departments. How many procedures of law department managers patentable? After all, there are a dozen or more patents pending for tax avoidance strategies.

A few law department patents have surfaced. American Express’ legal department filed a patent for a process it invented (See my post of Jan. 25, 2006 about its patent application regarding law firm rate increases.). FMC Technologies has patented a system for outside counsel management, called ACES. Perhaps the litigation document system Cisco developed has some patentable elements (See my post of Sept. 21, 2005 about the software.).

Disturbing images swirl around: Might the LEDES98b standard have been patented by someone? How about a process for auditing legal bills? Could DuPont have patented the convergence process?

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