In the ongoing legal dispute between the now closed legal research startup ROSS Intelligence and the long-established legal research giant Thomson Reuters, ROSS today submitted an amended response in which a new counterclaim is being made alleging that TR violates federal antitrust law by it remains monopolistic and anti-competitive in control of the legal research market.
“Westlaw has inappropriately controlled legal research and restricted access to public law for far too long,” said Andrew Arruda, co-founder and CEO of ROSS, via email. “Enough is enough. We started Ross with the mission to democratize the law because the law belongs to the people. We will now fight in court to uphold this mission and to end Westlaw’s monopoly on access to public law.”
As I reported here in December, TR’s lawsuit against ROSS for copyright infringement forced ROSS to cease operations effective January 31st. However, ROSS has vowed to continue fighting the lawsuit that TR calls a bullying tactic in order to avoid a potential rival.
TR claims in a lawsuit filed last May that ROSS stole Westlaw content in order to develop its own competing legal research product. According to TR, ROSS did this by “deliberately and knowingly” making legal research and writing company LegalEase Solutions use its Westlaw account to bulk Westlaw data over to ROSS.
In December, ROSS partially withdrew a pending dismissal motion and filed a response and counterclaim, this initial counterclaim alleging that TR did not have valid copyrights in Westlaw content.
Today’s amended Answer and Counterclaim adds a new counterclaim claiming that TR has monopoly power over the legal research market and is maintaining that monopoly through a variety of practices designed to exclude competitors.
“Westlaw has not maintained its monopoly power in the market for legal search platforms by rightly building on its historical advantage through product innovation and investment,” asserts ROSS in his recent plea. “Instead, Westlaw has deliberately introduced anti-competitive and exclusive behavior in order to raise barriers to entry and increase costs for rivals. This practice has reduced consumer choice and competition, hindered innovation – and deprived the public of efficient, convenient and affordable access to public law. “
The counterclaim alleges that TR exercises its monopoly power primarily through restrictive licensing conditions. Although TR controls the “largest, most comprehensive and most reliable” public law database, it only provides access to this database to those who also license their legal search tools through the Westlaw platform.
“Westlaw’s exclusive behavior is based on its anticompetitive business model, which only offers customers access to their valuable database product via the integrated platform,” argues ROSS in his counterclaim. “This business model resembles a tie-in scheme that raises barriers to entry into the relevant markets and enables Westlaw to monopolize the spread of public law.”
As a result, Ross claims, “Customers who strongly prefer the better legal search tools offered by competitors are forced to purchase Westlaw’s ineffective legal search tools in order to gain access to Westlaw’s database.”
ROSS also argues that TR’s restrictive licensing terms hinder innovation in the legal research market and exclude competitors from valuable research and development opportunities.
“This exclusive behavior reduces access to high-quality products, prevents legitimate business activities and puts competitive pressure on innovations,” says the counterclaim. “While companies like Fastcase, Casemaker and Casetext have seen limited entry into the relevant markets, these companies are struggling to gain a foothold or limit Westlaw’s monopoly.”
“There is no competitive justification for any of Westlaw’s bargaining acts,” the counterclaim continued. “The only justifications for Westlaw’s behavior are maintaining monopoly control and restricting trade. As a result, consumer welfare will be seriously affected. Equally important is that access to justice is essentially denied. “
To make things easier, the counterclaim asks the court to join TR’s competitive behavior and grant ROSS monetary damages.