Kevin Gidney
Kevin, a founder of Seal Software, has held various senior technical positions within Legato, EMC, Kazeon, Iptor and Open Text. His roles have included management, solutions architecture and technical pre-sales, with a background in electronics and computer engineering, applied to both software and hardware solutions.

Are you Unknowingly Working for Someone Else?

Kevin Gidney | Sep 06, 2017

In last week’s blog post by Laurie Brasner, Seal’s General Counsel, she wrote about her experiences in performing various tasks as a young lawyer early in her career, and working hard to understand not just the task at hand, but the “why” within the task. To understand the bigger picture.

Today, many people overlook some or all of the finer details of tasks, and also grasp the bigger pictures of legal work. It may be because they just don’t have the time or willingness to put in the extra hard yards. But, as Laurie detailed, it’s those hard yards that can really count. It was this view that made me ponder the question within the title of this blog — do people know who they are working for, and providing valuable Intellectual property for free?

In this digital age, information about people’s lives is held as a set of linked elements within applications. From private applications such as medical records to public ones such as Facebook. Our purchase history is used to target further advertisements, and companies such as Facebook use this information to make vast revenues from advertisements. When looking closely at the market, just two firms control over 90% of all digital marketing and revenue.

But, how did those companies get to such market dominance? The simple answer is all of us placed and helped them, some knowingly, some, or most, unknowingly. Every time you post or comment on a post, or react in some way to a public event, its recorded, tracked and used to learn from. It is of no surprise that the two most dominant marketing / advertising and information distribution networks are also two of the largest four AI (artificial intelligence) players.

The information shared with those applications is done so without a thought, in many cases, for how it will be used or kept. You are giving away hours of work without knowing it, or to what application it will be turned too.

Just think for a moment about your own Facebook account. It automatically presents you with stories that are relevant to you, and filters away items it thinks are less interesting. So over time, all users are presented with is a view of the world that conforms to their own views and opinions, and not expanded beyond. Humans are like AI, we learn from the data that is fed to us, our views are formed by the items and events that surround us. From the moment we are born this starts to occur, so if we are only given information that reinforces our views, what will happen?

An example of what could happen is Tay.AI. This bot learned in a similar way as we might, being fed information and learning from it, without supervision or corrective actions. As we can see by the article, the results were far from being positive.

With all the data we produce, how do we know it’s going to be used correctly, and effectively, and not used to create a monster….

It is not just the social applications that amass information from companies. Various companies and law firms are also freely giving away Intellectual Property they have developed, probably without knowing it. Intellectual property value is hard to quantify when creating it, as it might not be fully known in advance its importance, but once you have lost the IP or someone else controls it, it becomes priceless. As it’s impossible to regain, once given away.

Many cloud vendors have sets of Terms and Conditions that hide away or obfuscate complex interlinking clauses about who effectively owns the IP that is created on the platform, often not being the customers or the end users that provided it, but the cloud and application providers themselves.

As law firms start to use AI within the legal practices, they are looking to gain an edge. They spend many hours creating new and better ways to detect and extract information from within contracts, often creating new classes of information extraction and interpretation. But is this work being owned by them? In most cases it’s not—it’s owned by the platform they are creating them on. They are effectively working for someone else, and giving away the IP, without knowing it.

Losing ownership of the IP can be disastrous. Just imagine when your company is looking to use all that hard work to create competitive advantage, yet, you suddenly find out you don’t have ownership of it, and worse, that other law firms have access to the models or improvements you created.

Seal understand this issue well, and at no time is any customer IP owned by anyone else than the customer. When Seal launched Version 5, customers were able to take control of what they wished to share, and with whom via encrypted distribution and digital applications for information extraction. These are Seal’s Extraction Packs.

The creation of Extraction Packs allowed companies to issue private extraction applications to only set groups or companies, and it allows for the revocation of such. All information is secured and encrypted in such a way that only the target users can run the models, and even with access to running the models, are not able to see or interact in any way with the data within them. At no time do the original contracts ever leave the customers systems, and they don’t unknowingly work for someone else.

Our goal at Seal is not to own customers IP—it’s to allow customers to create, own, and distribute information, when, how and to whom they see as appropriate. Companies can collaborate on extractions safe in the knowledge that customer data is never given away. Companies are able to learn from each other and build the applications to automate information retrieval on a shared basis. One example of this is within the banking sector, where many of the requirements are common over all banks, and without this infrastructure, all banks would be required to duplicate policies and effort. However, having the ability to share securely and safely means banks can agree to share common policies so that all parties gain. With a common set of polices, the financial regulators have a common data structure presented to them and financial institutions have a unified and auditable result set. Seal is already working with five of the top ten largest banks in the world to provide this functionality.

Everyone should be aware of the real terms and conditions they are agreeing to, and specifically, how any information or actions are used to learn from and kept. It is especially important for companies that create Intellectual Property, to know who the real owner of any models or training is, as you should know what you will be giving away freely. Like Laurie says, you should read and take time to understand the contracts T and Cs, to fully understand what you will give away—before it’s too late.