Good morning GC’s,
Welcome back to FORWARD, a newsletter for GC’s trying to connect the dots with all things legal.
Twitter = @forward_gc
This week: Big Tech’s next big meeting with angry US Congress members can be traced to a speaker. And, with Atrium announcing a pivot, is there a better model for for delivering legal services through software?
How’s this for a fast feud? Last week, Sonos sued Google, alleging the search giant had stolen its speaker technology designs. Now, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence is scheduled to testify Friday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing regarding antitrust law and Big Tech.
- The suit: In 2013, when Google’s world takeover wasn’t quite complete, Sonos partnered with Google to get access to Google Play on its speakers. Not long after, Google launched Chromecast Audio and Google Home speakers. Sonos alleges Google infringed on five of its patents.
- Looking at you, too, Amazon: According to The New York Times, Sonos would’ve sued Amazon, too. But executives said it would’ve been difficult to sue two tech giants at once.
Bigger than one piece of litigation
When Google and Sonos first partnered, Google wasn’t in the speaker business. Nor was Amazon. Sonos’s major competitors were companies like Bose. Now it has to deal with tech giants that make billions trying to beat smaller companies, who are dependent on Google and Amazon, in nearly every corner of the market. As Bloomberg’s Brad Stone noted, Sonos still makes a superior speaker, but Amazon and Google win with lower prices and superior marketing and brand recognition.
- This domination by Google, as well as Facebook and Amazon, has spurred the House to subpoena tech leaders and hold hearings about tech’s influence in society. Friday’s hearing will be the fifth since June 2018.
Regardless of what Congress ends up doing, massive technology companies won’t get away from antitrust concerns anytime soon, from private companies and governments worldwide. India just opened an antitrust investigation into Amazon and Flipkart.
Seattle’s city council voted Monday to approve an act that created a way to get around the infamous Citizens United precedent. And it’s all because of Amazon.
- Citizens disbanded: In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled , essentially allowing corporations unfettered abilities to pour money into political campaigns through PACs.
- The election of Amazon: Amazon, which employs more than 50,000 people at its Seattle HQ, donated $1.5m to a PAC that supported several pro-business candidates for local leadership positions in a 2019 November election. Only two of those candidates won.
- Tracing foreign influence: Rather than directly challenge Citizens United, Seattle city council devised an end run. This new law bans companies that have one foreign investor owning 1 percent of the company or multiple foreign investors owning 5 percent of a company from making political donations. Amazon is reportedly 9 percent foreign-owned.
More and more tech companies have been getting involved in politics (see that whole antitrust thing above!). They spent millions in the run-up to the 2016 national election. A national law similar to Seattle’s is unlikely, but other local municipalities may take notice.
The dream job used to be anything at Facebook, Google or a similarly established tech company. Now, tech companies are finding it harder to recruit the best and brightest because current students have ethical concerns.
- The techlash: Just 50 percent of Americans have a positive view of technology companies, according to Pew, down from 71 percent in 2015.
- Saying no to FB: Some 85 percent of new college graduates from elite universities offered jobs by Facebook accepted their employment offer in 2017-18. That number recently fell to around 35%.
- Public condemnation, too: College students are using Twitter to share protest emails against companies like Tesla and Salesforce.
What can General Counsels do about this? Set the culture tone from the inside. Bruce Sewell, who worked as GC for Apple, has said that he was one of the most trusted advisors to Steve Jobs and Tim Cook and had “shared responsibilities” with solving Apple’s problems.
What else we’re Forwarding
Atrium to scale down and pivot: With some $75 million in backing, Atrium was supposed to offer startups the legal tools needed to avoid big payments to established law firms. But insiders told Artificial Lawyer the company is now lowering its ambitions and going to focus on selling legal tech.
The protected vegan class: No more discriminating against vegans in the UK. A judge ruled that it is illegal for employers to fire ethical vegans, similarly to how it is illegal to fire someone for religious beliefs.
Google’s top lawyer resigns amid sexual misconduct allegations: David Drummond will leave Google at the end of January, following the launch of a board investigation into sexual misconduct at the company. Accusations against Drummond were included in the investigation.
With best wishes,