Westlaw Must Face Antitrust Suit

Westlaw, the world’s largest legal research service, is very likely to face antitrust liability. A federal court has ruled that ROSS Intelligence, a tiny rival offering new research tools (which Westlaw forced out of business with a copyright infringement suit) could proceed with claims that Westlaw uses exclusionary and anticompetitive practices to maintain its monopoly over the legal research market.

The ruling is a significant step in an antitrust case about Westlaw’s conduct as an entrenched incumbent. The company controls 80 percent of the market for legal research tools and maintains a massive, impossible-to-duplicate database of public case law built over decades. It faces few major competitors. Westlaw doesn’t license access to its database, which means that it’s difficult for another company to offer new and innovative online tools for searching case law or other follow-on products and services.

The potential ramifications of this case are huge. The outcome could boost the case for competitive compatibility (comcom), the ability of challengers to build on the work of entrenched players like Westlaw to create innovative and useful new products. More prosaically, it could improve public access to court records.

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