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Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Breaking News: Court Orders Google to Produce eDiscovery Search Terms in Apple v. Samsung

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Apple obtained a narrow discovery victory yesterday in its long running legal battle against fellow technology titan Samsung. In Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd, the court ordered non-party Google to turn over the search terms and custodians that it used to produce documents in response to an Apple subpoena.

According to the court’s order, Apple argued for the production of Google’s search terms and custodians in order “to know how Google created the universe from which it produced documents.” The court noted that Apple sought such information “to evaluate the adequacy of Google’s search, and if it finds that search wanting, it then will pursue other courses of action to obtain responsive discovery.”

Google countered that argument by defending the extent of its production and the burdens that Apple’s request would place on Google as a non-party to Apple’s dispute with Samsung. Google complained that Apple’s demands were essentially a gateway to additional discovery from Google, which would arguably be excessive given Google’s non-party status.

Sensitive to the concerns of both parties, the court struck a middle ground in its order. On the one hand, the court ordered Google to produce the search terms and custodians since that “will aid in uncovering the sufficiency of Google’s production and serves greater purposes of transparency in discovery.” But on the other hand, the court preserved Google’s right to object to any further discovery efforts by Apple: “The court notes that its order does not speak to the sufficiency of Google’s production nor to any arguments Google may make regarding undue burden in producing any further discovery.”

This latest opinion from the Apple v. Samsung series of lawsuits is noteworthy for two reasons. First, the decision is instructive regarding the eDiscovery burdens that non-parties must shoulder in litigation. While the disclosure of a non-party’s underlying search methodology (in this instance, search terms and custodians) may not be unduly burdensome, further efforts to obtain non-party documents could exceed the boundaries of reasonableness that courts have designed to protect non-parties from the vicissitudes of discovery. For as the court in this case observed, a non-party “should not be required to ‘subsidize’ litigation to which it is not a party.”

Second, the decision illustrates that the use of search terms remains a viable method for searching and producing responsive ESI. Despite the increasing popularity of predictive coding technology, it is noteworthy that neither the court nor Apple took issue with Google’s use of search terms in connection with its production process. Indeed, the intelligent use of keyword searches is still an acceptable eDiscovery approach for most courts, particularly where the parties agree on the terms. That other forms of technology assisted review, such as predictive coding, could arguably be more efficient and cost effective in identifying responsive documents does not impugn the use of keyword searches in eDiscovery. Only time will tell whether the use of keyword searches as the primary means for responding to document requests will give way to more flexible approaches that include the use of multiple technology tools.

Computers Conquer Connect Four; Predictive Coding Next?

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

A recent Wired article detailed how an artificial intelligence (AI) system was able to watch humans play a range of games, learn the rules and then defeat their human counterparts. While this is a frightening concept for the uber-competitive gamers among us, the article suggests a number of interesting AI possibilities beyond the gaming realm.

The computer used visual recognition software while processing video clips of people playing Connect 4, Gomoku, Pawns and Breakthrough. The sessions included “games ending with wins, ties or those left unfinished — the system would recognise the board, the pieces and the different moves that lead to each outcome.” The software program then enabled the system to examine all viable outcomes and, using data gathered from all possible outcomes, calculate the most appropriate moves. The computer scientists used this game paradigm as a learning tool because it was “a natural model of many real-world interaction scenarios, making the results significant in a broader context.”

This type of true machine learning (versus training) was also demonstrated recently in an experiment conducted at Google’s X lab. The Google team created a neural network with 6,000 computer processors and turned it loose on YouTube – without any particular training. This “brain” was exposed to 10 million randomly selected YouTube videos over three days. Interestingly, “after being presented with a list of 20,000 different items, it began to recognise pictures of cats using a ‘deep learning’ algorithm.”

This “learning” occurred without the system being fed information on distinguishing features that might help identify a cat. “We never told it during the training, ‘this is a cat,’” Jeff Dean, the Google fellow who led the study said, “it basically invented the concept of a cat.”

It is possible to see how this type of inductive logic programming (ILP) could someday be used in other scenarios, particularly those in a legal, document review process. Recent articles have often pitted man versus machine in the electronic discovery context, with some fearing that the computer systems will actually take jobs from their human foes. Instead, many of the next generation predictive coding systems for eDiscovery could eventually be seen in this scenario where computers learn from their human teachers, simply by observation. In the future, instead of seeing predictive coding solutions “trained” by attorneys, the computer could eventually just watch an attorney perform document review and learn by observation.

These developments, like those that will assuredly follow, are simply an extension of ongoing AI advancements first seen in the mainstream in the Watson Jeopardy context.  It will be exciting to see how this electronic field will be increasingly applied to the legal vertical.

LTNY Wrap-Up – What Did We Learn About eDiscovery?

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Now that that dust has settled, the folks who attended LegalTech New York 2012 can try to get to the mountain of emails that accumulated during the event that was LegalTech. Fortunately, there was no ice storm this year, and for the most part, people seemed to heed my “what not to do at LTNY” list. I even found the Starbucks across the street more crowded than the one in the hotel. There was some alcohol-induced hooliganism at a vendor’s party, but most of the other social mixers seemed uniformly tame.

Part of Dan Patrick’s syndicated radio show features a “What Did We Learn Today?” segment, and that inquiry seems fitting for this year’s LegalTech.

  • First of all, the prognostications about buzzwords were spot on, with no shortage of cycles spent on predictive coding (aka Technology Assisted Review). The general session on Monday, hosted by Symantec, had close to a thousand attendees on the edge of their seats to hear Judge Peck, Maura Grossman and Ralph Losey wax eloquently about the ongoing man versus machine debate. Judge Peck uttered a number of quotable sound bites, including the quote of the day: “Keyword searching is absolutely terrible, in terms of statistical responsiveness.” Stay tuned for a longer post with more comments from the General session.
  • Ralph Losey went one step further when commenting on keyword search, stating: “It doesn’t work,… I hope it’s been discredited.” A few have commented that this lambasting may have gone too far, and I’d tend to agree.  It’s not that keyword search is horrific per se. It’s just that its efficacy is limited and the hubris of the average user, who thinks eDiscovery search is like Google search, is where the real trouble lies. It’s important to keep in mind that all these eDiscovery applications are just like tools in the practitioners’ toolbox and they need to be deployed for the right task. Otherwise, the old saw (pun intended) that “when you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail” will inevitably come true.
  • This year’s show also finally put a nail in the coffin of the human review process as the eDiscovery gold standard. That doesn’t mean that attorneys everywhere will abandon the linear review process any time soon, but hopefully it’s becoming increasingly clear that the “evil we know” isn’t very accurate (on top of being very expensive). If that deadly combination doesn’t get folks experimenting with technology assisted review, I don’t know what will.
  • Information governance was also a hot topic, only paling in comparison to Predictive Coding. A survey Symantec conducted at the show indicated that this topic is gaining momentum, but still has a ways to go in terms of action. While 73% of respondents believe an integrated information governance strategy is critical to reducing information risk, only 19% have implemented a system to help them with the problem. This gap presumably indicates a ton of upside for vendors who have a good, attainable information governance solution set.
  • The Hilton still leaves much to be desired as a host location. As they say, familiarity breeds contempt, and for those who’ve notched more than a handful of LegalTech shows, the venue can feel a bit like the movie Groundhog Day, but without Bill Murray. Speculation continues to run rampant about a move to the Javits Center, but the show would likely need to expand pretty significantly before ALM would make the move. And, if there ever was a change, people would assuredly think back with nostalgia on the good old days at the Hilton.
  • Despite the bright lights and elevator advertisement trauma, the mood seemed pretty ebullient, with tons of partnerships, product announcements and consolidation. This positive vibe was a nice change after the last two years when there was still a dark cloud looming over the industry and economy in general.
  • Finally, this year’s show also seemed to embrace social media in a way that it hadn’t done so in years past. Yes, all the social media vehicles were around in years past, but this year many of the vendors’ campaigns seemed to be much more integrated. It was funny to see even the most technically resistant lawyers log in to Twitter (for the first time) to post comments about the show as a way to win premium vendor swag. Next year, I’m sure we’ll see an even more pervasive social media influence, which is a bit ironic given the eDiscovery challenges associated with collecting and reviewing social media content.

Breaking News: Federal Circuit Denies Google’s eDiscovery Mandamus Petition

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit dealt Google a devastating blow Monday in connection with Oracle America’s patent and copyright infringement suit against Google involving features of Java and Android. The Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s order that a key email was not entitled to protection under the attorney-client privilege.

Google had argued that the email was privileged under Upjohn Co. v. United States, asserting that the message reflected discussions about litigation strategy between a company engineer and in-house counsel. While acknowledging that Upjohn would protect such discussions, the court rejected that characterization of the email.  Instead, the court held that the email reflected a tactical discussion about “negotiation strategy” with Google management, not an “infringement or invalidity analysis” with Google counsel.

Getting beyond the core privilege issues, Google might have avoided this dispute had it withheld the eight earlier drafts of the email that it produced to Oracle. As we discussed in our previous post, organizations conducting privilege reviews should consider using robust, next generation eDiscovery technology such as email analytical software, that could have isolated the drafts and potentially removed them from production. Other technological capabilities, such as Near Duplicate Identification, could also have helped identify draft materials and marry them up with finals marked as privileged. As this case shows, in the fast moving era of eDiscovery, having the right technology is essential for maintaining a strategic advantage in litigation.

Lessons Learned for 2012: Spotlighting the Top eDiscovery Cases from 2011

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

The New Year has now dawned and with it, the certainty that 2012 will bring new developments to the world of eDiscovery.  Last month, we spotlighted some eDiscovery trends for 2012 that we feel certain will occur in the near term.  To understand how these trends will play out, it is instructive to review some of the top eDiscovery cases from 2011.  These decisions provide a roadmap of best practices that the courts promulgated last year.  They also spotlight the expectations that courts will likely have for organizations in 2012 and beyond.

Issuing a Timely and Comprehensive Litigation Hold

Case: E.I. du Pont de Nemours v. Kolon Industries (E.D. Va. July 21, 2011)

Summary: The court issued a stiff rebuke against defendant Kolon Industries for failing to issue a timely and proper litigation hold.  That rebuke came in the form of an instruction to the jury that Kolon executives and employees destroyed key evidence after the company’s preservation duty was triggered.  The jury responded by returning a stunning $919 million verdict for DuPont.

The spoliation at issue occurred when several Kolon executives and employees deleted thousands emails and other records relevant to DuPont’s trade secret claims.  The court laid the blame for this destruction on the company’s attorneys and executives, reasoning they could have prevented the spoliation through an effective litigation hold process.  At issue were three hold notices circulated to the key players and data sources.  The notices were all deficient in some manner.  They were either too limited in their distribution, ineffective since they were prepared in English for Korean-speaking employees, or too late to prevent or otherwise ameliorate the spoliation.

The Lessons for 2012: The DuPont case underscores the importance of issuing a timely and comprehensive litigation hold notice.  As DuPont teaches, organizations should identify what key players and data sources may have relevant information.  A comprehensive notice should then be prepared to communicate the precise hold instructions in an intelligible fashion.  Finally, the hold should be circulated immediately to prevent data loss.

Organizations should also consider deploying the latest technologies to help effectuate this process.  This includes an eDiscovery platform that enables automated legal hold acknowledgements.  Such technology will allow custodians to be promptly and properly apprised of litigation and thereby retain information that might otherwise have been discarded.

Another Must-Read Case: Haraburda v. Arcelor Mittal U.S.A., Inc. (D. Ind. June 28, 2011)

Suspending Document Retention Policies

Case: Viramontes v. U.S. Bancorp (N.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2011)

Summary: The defendant bank defeated a sanctions motion because it modified aspects of its email retention policy once it was aware litigation was reasonably foreseeable.  The bank implemented a retention policy that kept emails for 90 days, after which the emails were overwritten and destroyed.  The bank also promulgated a course of action whereby the retention policy would be promptly suspended on the occurrence of litigation or other triggering event.  This way, the bank could establish the reasonableness of its policy in litigation.  Because the bank followed that procedure in good faith, it was protected from court sanctions under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 37(e) “safe harbor.”

The Lesson for 2012: As Viramontes shows, an organization can be prepared for eDiscovery disputes by timely suspending aspects of its document retention policies.  By modifying retention policies when so required, an organization can develop a defensible retention procedure and be protected from court sanctions under Rule 37(e).

Coupling those procedures with archiving software will only enhance an organization’s eDiscovery preparations.  Effective archiving software will have a litigation hold mechanism, which enables an organization to suspend automated retention rules.  This will better ensure that data subject to a preservation duty is actually retained.

Another Must-Read Case: Micron Technology, Inc. v. Rambus Inc., 645 F.3d 1311 (Fed. Cir. 2011)

Managing the Document Collection Process

Case: Northington v. H & M International (N.D.Ill. Jan. 12, 2011)

Summary: The court issued an adverse inference jury instruction against a company that destroyed relevant emails and other data.  The spoliation occurred in large part because legal and IT were not involved in the collection process.  For example, counsel was not actively engaged in the critical steps of preservation, identification or collection of electronically stored information (ESI).  Nor was IT brought into the picture until 15 months after the preservation duty was triggered. By that time, rank and file employees – some of whom were accused by the plaintiff of harassment – stepped into this vacuum and conducted the collection process without meaningful oversight.  Predictably, key documents were never found and the court had little choice but to promise to inform the jury that the company destroyed evidence.

The Lesson for 2012: An organization does not have to suffer the same fate as the company in the Northington case.  It can take charge of its data during litigation through cooperative governance between legal and IT.  After issuing a timely and effective litigation hold, legal should typically involve IT in the collection process.  Legal should rely on IT to help identify all data sources – servers, systems and custodians – that likely contain relevant information.  IT will also be instrumental in preserving and collecting that data for subsequent review and analysis by legal.  By working together in a top-down fashion, organizations can better ensure that their eDiscovery process is defensible and not fatally flawed.

Another Must-Read Case: Green v. Blitz U.S.A., Inc. (E.D. Tex. Mar. 1, 2011)

Using Proportionality to Dictate the Scope of Permissible Discovery

Case: DCG Systems v. Checkpoint Technologies (N.D. Ca. Nov. 2, 2011)

The court adopted the new Model Order on E-Discovery in Patent Cases recently promulgated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  The model order incorporates principles of proportionality to reduce the production of email in patent litigation.  In adopting the order, the court explained that email productions should be scaled back since email is infrequently introduced as evidence at trial.  As a result, email production requests will be restricted to five search terms and may only span a defined set of five custodians.  Furthermore, email discovery in DCG Systems will wait until after the parties complete discovery on the “core documentation” concerning the patent, the accused product and prior art.

The Lesson for 2012: Courts seem to be slowly moving toward a system that incorporates proportionality as the touchstone for eDiscovery.  This is occurring beyond the field of patent litigation, as evidenced by other recent cases.  Even the State of Utah has gotten in on the act, revising its version of Rule 26 to require that all discovery meet the standards of proportionality.  While there are undoubtedly deviations from this trend (e.g., Pippins v. KPMG (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 7, 2011)), the clear lesson is that discovery should comply with the cost cutting mandate of Federal Rule 1.

Another Must-Read Case: Omni Laboratories Inc. v. Eden Energy Ltd [2011] EWHC 2169 (TCC) (29 July 2011)

Leveraging eDiscovery Technologies for Search and Review

Case: Oracle America v. Google (N.D. Ca. Oct. 20, 2011)

The court ordered Google to produce an email that it previously withheld on attorney client privilege grounds.  While the email’s focus on business negotiations vitiated Google’s claim of privilege, that claim was also undermined by Google’s production of eight earlier drafts of the email.  The drafts were produced because they did not contain addressees or the heading “attorney client privilege,” which the sender later inserted into the final email draft.  Because those details were absent from the earlier drafts, Google’s “electronic scanning mechanisms did not catch those drafts before production.”

The Lesson for 2012: Organizations need to leverage next generation, robust technology to support the document production process in discovery.  Tools such as email analytical software, which can isolate drafts and offer to remove them from production, are needed to address complex production issues.  Other technological capabilities, such as Near Duplicate Identification, can also help identify draft materials and marry them up with finals that have been marked as privileged.  Last but not least, technology assisted review has the potential of enabling one lawyer to efficiently complete the work that previously took thousands of hours.  Finding the budget and doing the research to obtain the right tools for the enterprise should be a priority for organizations in 2012.

Another Must-Read Case: J-M Manufacturing v. McDermott, Will & Emery (CA Super. Jun. 2, 2011)

Conclusion

There were any number of other significant cases from 2011 that could have made this list.  We invite you to share your favorites in the comments section or contact us directly with your feedback.

For more on the cases discussed above, watch this video:

ECPA, 4th Amendment, and FOIA: A Trident of Laws Collide on the 25th Birthday of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Google has publicly released the number of U.S. Government requests it had for email productions in the six months preceding December 31, 2009.  They have had to comply with 94% of these 4,601 requests.  Granted, many of these requests were search warrants or subpoenas, but many were not.  Now take 4,601 and multiply it by at least 3 for other social media sources for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  The number is big – and so is the concern over how this information is being obtained.

What has becoming increasingly common (and alarming at the same time) is the way this electronically stored information (ESI) is being obtained from third party service providers by the U.S. Government. Some of these requests were actually secret court orders; it is unclear how many of the matters were criminal or civil.  Many of these service providers (Sonic, Google, Microsoft, etc.) are challenging these requests and most often losing. They are losing on two fronts:  1) they are not allowed to inform the data owner about the requests, nor the subsequent production of the emails, and 2) they are forced to actually produce the information.  For example, the U.S. Government obtained one of these secret orders to get WikiLeaks volunteer Jacob Applebaum’s email contact list of the people he has corresponded with over the past two years.  Both Google and Sonic.net were ordered to turn over information and Sonic challenged  the order and lost.  This has forced technology companies to band together to lobby Congress to require search warrants in digital investigations.

There are three primary laws operating at this pivotal intersection that affect the discovery of ESI that resides with third party service providers, and these laws are in a car wreck with no ambulance in sight.  First, there is the antiquated Federal Law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, over which there is much debate at present.  To put the datedness of the ECPA in perspective, it was written before the internet.  This law is the basis that allows the government to secretly obtain information from email and cell phones without a search warrant. Not having a search warrant is in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution’s 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.  In the secret order scenario, the creator of data is denied their right to know about the search and seizure (as they would if their homes were being searched, for example) as it is transpiring with the third party.

Where a secret order has been issued and emails have been obtained from a third party service provider, we see the courts treating email much differently than traditional mail and telephone lines.  However, the intent of the law was to give electronic communications the same protections that mail and phone calls have enjoyed for some time. Understandably, the law did not anticipate the advent of the technology we have today.  This is the first collision, and the reason the wheels have gone off the car, since the standard under the ECPA sets a lower bar for email than that of the former two modes of communication.  The government must only show “reasonable grounds” that the records would be “relevant and material” to an investigation, criminal or civil, compared to the other higher standard.

The third law in this collision is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  While certain exceptions and allowances are made for national security and in criminal investigations, these secret orders are not able to be seen by the person whose information has been requested.  Additionally, the public wants to see these requests and these orders, especially if they have no chance of fighting them.  What remains to be seen is what our rights are under FOIA to see these orders, either as a party or a non-related individual to the investigation as a matter of public record.  U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, (D-VT), the author of the ECPA, acknowledged in no uncertain terms that the law is “significantly outdated and outpaced by rapid changes in technology.”   He has since introduced a bill with many changes that third party service providers have lobbied for to bring the ECPA up to date. The irony of this situation is that the law was intended to provide the same protections for all modes of communication, but in fact makes it easier for the government to request information without the author even knowing.

This is one of the most important issues now facing individuals and the government in the discovery of ESI during investigations and litigation.  A third party service provider of cloud offerings is really no different than a utility company, and the same paradigm can exist as it does with the U.S. Postal Service and the telephone companies when looking to discover this information under the Fourth Amendment, where a warrant is required. The law looks to be changing to reflect this and FOIA should allow the public to access these orders.  Amendments to the Act have been introduced by Senator Leahy, and we can look forward to the common sense changes he proposes that are necessary.  The American people don’t like secrets. Lawyers, get ready to embrace the revisions into your practice by reading up on the changes as they will impact your practices significantly in the near future.

Google Moves E-Discovery To The Cloud

Monday, May 19th, 2008

g-discovery2.jpgThere is no bigger idea in enterprise technology than the idea of “cloud computing“. What does it mean? Simply put, the idea is that enterprises will cease to buy hardware, e discovery software, and all the headaches that come with them. Instead, companies will rent whatever applications they need and access them over the internet. Software vendors will keep their applications on a pool of shared infrastructure (the “cloud”), which will automatically allocate resources between applications according to demand. Using a common analogy, we will move from today’s world where companies are buying and building their own electricity generators, to a world where there are power companies distributing electricity over a grid.

To get a sense for how this might happen, just take a look at the CRM market. Ten years ago, Siebel and other packaged software vendors were among the fastest growing companies in America. Today, they are shrinking as customers migrate en masse to, for example, salesforce.com’s cloud-based approach. One Wall Street analyst I spoke to last week forecast that hosted (i.e., cloud-based) applications will grow their market share from 12% to 21% by 2011, and account for all growth in the market.

E-discovery is no exception to this mega-trend, and I expect a portion of the litigation software business to move to the cloud. How quickly this happens depends on how easy it is for companies to adopt cloud-based e-discovery solutions, which is why Google’s recent moves into e-discovery are so significant.

Google is by far the largest cloud computing company in the world. Its cloud-based Google Apps suite of applications was only launched in 2007, but is already being used by several hundred thousand businesses and, Google tells me, 2,000 new businesses sign up every day. Today, the customers are mainly small to medium sized businesses (500-5,000 employees). But as its functionality improves, larger companies will increasingly start asking why they should pay for Microsoft Office when cheaper alternatives exist.

Talking to Bill Kee, a product marketing manager at Google, it’s clear the biggest gap in Google Apps’ functionality was the lack of enterprise features around security, compliance, and e-discovery. That’s why Google acquired Postini, a leader in messaging security. It’s why Google recently launched Message Discovery, a hosted archive that comes bundled into Google Apps Premier Edition. And it’s why Google is collaborating with Clearwell to educate the market on cloud-based e-discovery solutions.

If you are interested in learning more about “e-discovery in the cloud”, register for a free webinar which we are hosting with Google on June 3.

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G-Discovery? Google Launches Message Discovery

Friday, April 4th, 2008

GoogleTwo announcements from Google caught my eye on Tuesday: one that would make investigators’ life more difficult, and another that would make it easier. Since the first is more humorous, it appears to have got more attention; but it’s the second that’s much more significant.

In his post introducing Google Message Discovery, Bill Kee explains that it’s a hosted email archiving service that captures every message, enforces retention policies, and (no surprise!) provides comprehensive search functionality. It comes included in Google Apps Premier Edition, and its cost starts at $25 per mailbox per year.

This is an interesting move when viewed in a broader context. In the enterprise market, Google Apps is seeking to do to Microsoft Office/Exchange what salesforce.com did to Siebel – i.e., provide 80% of the functionality at 20% of the cost. The beach-head for Google into the enterprise is Gmail: if enterprises adopt that as their email platform, then adoption of other Google applications will quickly follow. But enterprises are reluctant to embrace Gmail until it provides enterprise class security, anti-spam, anti-virus, etc. What Google is saying with Message Discovery is that “must-have” list of functionality also includes email archiving.

My view is that the list of functionality that enterprises expect from their email systems also includes ediscovery. It’s great to have keyword search on an archive, but that only gets you a first cut of the data that’s potentially responsive to a case. If your only choice is to then send all of that to a service provider for processing, then you will likely give up the cost savings that prompted you to adopt Gmail in the first place. Conversely, if you can de-duplicate, filter, analyze, and review the information to cull it down to only the small set of relevant data prior to exporting it out of Gmail, then you build on the cost and functionality advantages that Gmail has over its competitors.

My guess is that the clever folks at Google already know this. After all, why else would they call their new email archive “Google Message Discovery” as opposed to “Google Message Archiving”?

Read more about legal discovery.

Autonomy/ZANTAZ Signs $70M Deal With Citigroup

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Zantaz & CitgroupUPDATE: Since writing this post, I have received additional information suggesting that this deal was NOT for Zantaz’s Desktop Legal Hold product, as previously reported. Please see comments section for full details.

I must confess, I was skeptical when ZANTAZ announced its new desktop legal hold solution without a single reference customer. But events have proved me wrong:

On January 3rd, Autonomy (ZANTAZ’s parent company) let slip in a UK publication that that “an unnamed major international bank” had purchased ZANTAZ’s “compliance and regulatory solutions” for an eye-popping $70 million. Later reports confirmed the number, and provided more detail: Citigroup will pay ZANTAZ $70 million over 4 years for Desktop Legal Hold.

Citigroup is an existing ZANTAZ customer with a lot of data in Digital Safe. My guess is that the deal covered much more than just Desktop Legal Hold, and that many of the scheduled payments are tied to performance milestones. But regardless, this is a spectacular transaction (perhaps the largest ever e-discovery software deal?) and I offer the ZANTAZ team my hearty congratulations.

Beyond being good news for ZANTAZ, the deal has broader significance in two regards:

  1. It confirms that the sub-prime mortgage crisis is driving demand for e-discovery software. That syncs with my own experience with several of our financial services customers;
  2. It may spur other archiving vendors to add desktop legal hold solutions to their product portfolios, so that they are not at a competitive disadvantage to ZANTAZ.

This deal will also accelerate Autonomy’s increasing focus on e-discovery. In its core market of enterprise search, Autonomy is caught between a “rock” (Google) and a hard place (Microsoft, which announced the acquisition of Autonomy’s larger competitor, FAST). Moving towards e-discovery is the obvious way Autonomy can avoid getting crushed by the giants. I expect more news about Aungate is coming soon.

Autonomy Buys ZANTAZ: True Love Or A Marriage Of Convenience?

Friday, July 6th, 2007

People get married for a million different reasons. Some do it for love; some for a green card; some because their parents tell them to; and others just because it is time to settle down. So it is with corporate mergers, where many different motives come into play. When I heard about Autonomy’s acquisition of ZANTAZ for $375M on July 3, I could not help wondering what had led to their marriage.

In announcing their union, the happy couple explained that the #1 reason is to achieve “significant scale in a number of key financial areas”. A second reason is that combining the companies will lead to cost savings of $25M per year. In other words, according to the companies, it is a love marriage, in a similar vein to Veritas’ acquisition of ZANTAZ’s main competitor, KVS, in 2004. In that case, Veritas paid 10x trailing revenue for an industry leading product to which it then added tremendous value by building out distribution in the US.

In this case though, the evidence does not support a love story. ZANTAZ is already doing $100M in revenue, so adding Autonomy’s $260M in annual sales does not exactly propel it into a different league. If cost savings are the motivation, then why run ZANTAZ as a separate subsidiary instead of integrating it with Autonomy more closely? Two other things also arouse suspicion: timing and price. On timing, I have to ask: who makes a major announcement on July 3 when half the country is on holiday and the other half can only think about fireworks and hot dogs? Either Autonomy/ZANTAZ’s PR departments are incompetent, or they are trying to downplay the whole thing. Second, on price, why is it so low? ZANTAZ sold itself for 3.75X trailing revenue, a fraction of KVS’ multiple and less than the 4-6X revenue that CommVault and Guidance trade at today.

The story makes more sense as a marriage of convenience. Consider what buyer and seller each get from the deal:

  • Autonomy: It is easy to understand why Autonomy is a willing buyer. As my friend Dave Kellogg likes to say, their core business of enterprise search is caught between a “rock” (known as Google Enterprise Search) and a “hard place” (custom apps leveraging open source components like Lucene and MySQL). Yes, Autonomy continues to have the occasional good quarter, but long term their revenue will likely trend down. In that situation, management only has a couple of options. One is to bulk up, for example, by giving up 11% of the company to increase its revenue by 38%, which is what the ZANTAZ deal does. A second option is to diversify into new, growth markets where Google is unlikely to follow, like email archiving and e-discovery. Again, ZANTAZ fits the bill.
  • ZANTAZ: In many ways, ZANTAZ is a remarkable company. Having spoken to some of its early investors, management team, and employees, I have huge respect for the way that they weathered the technology downturn early in the decade and built the company back up. The company grew rapidly on the back of big deals for tape restoration into Digital Safe (hosted archive). When ZANTAZ saw the on-site archiving market grow, it added EAS via a smart acquisition. The problem is, having done all that, shareholders had no way of realizing a return. The public market is not interested in the low-margin hosting business that provides the bulk of ZANTAZ’s revenue; for larger companies who want to acquire an archiving product, there are many cheaper, less complicated options. Enter Autonomy who, if nothing else, can provide ZANTAZ’s patient shareholders with liquidity.

Missing from this analysis is any mention of the value Autonomy will add to ZANTAZ’s business, mainly because I cannot think of any. Best case, it leaves ZANTAZ alone, as EMC wisely did with VMWare; worst case, it merges Aungate and the IDOL platform with ZANTAZ and they spend the next few months debating how to reconcile the product roadmaps.

None of this is to say that the marriage will not be successful. As anyone who has seen When Harry Met Sally can tell you, there is no single formula for a successful marriage. I, for one, certainly wish the happy couple well.