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GM’s legal department sold four patents it obtained for its technology

Unable to find software that met its needs, the legal department of General Motors created some customized applications. The ideas and coding must have been outstanding since Corp. Counsel, Vol. 15, June 2008 at 104, explains one of the supplemental benefits. “Their work was so innovative that GM obtained four patents on the programs and sold them last year” for “a substantial sum.” GM thereby joined the ranks of several law departments that have obtained management-related patents or economic rights (See my post of Jan. 25, 2006: American Express’ patent on law-firm rate increases; April 9, 2006: Equitable’s license of its matter management system; Dec. 11, 2007: FMC’s patent on cost-management, Microsoft’s patent-classification software, CISCO’s e-discovery software, and Unisys’ TriPoint software; and June 4, 2007: Wal-Mart’s I-9 compliance package.).

I question the inclination of law departments to roll their own software (See my post of May 23, 2007: disadvantages of customized software, and 5 references cited.). But if you do decide to go down the path of customizing software, consider how to capture the value of what you create.