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San Francisco-The engineers who toil away at Cisco Systems Inc. do more than design routers and switches. For the last decade, they’ve also helped the company build an intellectual property fortress. Engineers routinely log on to Cisco’s internal Web site and submit ideas for patents. Since Cisco launched this automated system-dubbed Cisco Patents Online-in 1996, the number of annual patent application filings has grown from 43 to more than 800 last year. It’s one of two dozen tools Cisco has put in place to improve efficiency and productivity of the legal department. While other corporations have developed similar systems, Cisco says it has one of the most comprehensive. “I don’t know of any other company that has the breadth of tools,” said Mark Chandler, Cisco’s general counsel. “We invest over 10% of our annual budget in technology in the legal department.” 1.5 million contracts The investment has paid off. Chandler calculates that Cisco’s legal costs per billion dollars of revenue are close to half the average of other technology companies. Cisco has a team of 25 information technology specialists devoted exclusively to the legal department. “A lot of what we’re doing is trying to make legal [work] self-service, so customers can access documents without going through Cisco staff,” said Michael Stevens, manager of legal business services. Stevens, an electrical engineer, developed one of the most popular legal tools: an automated contract agreement launched last year that enables employees to go online, pull up an appropriate contract and have a customer or vendor click through and accept it electronically. “We’ve accepted about 1.5 million contracts through this tool, saving about $20 per contract at a minimum,” he said. Cisco also has a tool for electronic discovery that parses information relevant to particular litigation. Stevens said it has cut the cost of discovery by about 80%. The company’s outside counsel has been impressed with the technology. Chandler said a number of firms recently submitted bids to handle a piece of patent litigation. When they saw what Cisco had done to improve electronic discovery, they lowered their bids by 33%. Earlier this month, Stevens discussed Cisco’s technology at the company’s San Jose, Calif., headquarters. He said the automated contract system and online patent software have generated the most interest among Cisco competitors. “Every time I demonstrate [these tools] to a peer company, they say, ‘Where is the CD for us to get and the software to load up?’ ” Stevens said.

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