Just about the first thing on the agenda of Todd Shipley and Bill Siebert in early 2007 was getting patent protection for the initial product of their then-new company, Vere Software.
Well over five years later, Vere Software finally won a U.S. patent covering its method to help law-enforcement personnel collect digital evidence in a way that allows its use in court.
But a lot can happen in five years — new competitors, new technology such as mobile devices and the growth of entirely new markets.
But the patent provides a strong marketing tool for Reno-based Vere Software as it competes against other entrants in the niche market, says Shipley, its president and chief executive officer.
The company was the first to market with its evidence-collection software, and now Shipley expects that the patent will provide further evidence to potential customers of Vere Software’s commitment to the business.
Those customers increasingly come from law firms that need a better way to collect and manage online evidence such as e-mails or Web pages.
The explosion of social media, Shipley says, generates a tsunami of potential evidence in civil lawsuits — Tweets, Facebook posts and the like — that also creates a massive headache for legal investigators.
“Social media is beginning to drive so much litigation,” says Shipley.
At the bare minimum, there’s the matter of gathering digital information that’s admissible in court. How will a judge, jury, and opposing counsel know that the e-mail you printed out is legitimate and wasn’t faked in some way?
Vere Software’s system can copy the underlying source code on a Web page along with visible images that are seen with a screen-capture tool. It’s synched with atomic time to help ensure no one fudges the digital document.
Vere Software initially targeted police departments. That was a natural for Shipley, who’d developed expertise in cyber-investigation during a 25-year career with the Reno Police Department and a three-year stint as a training director with the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics.
He joined forces with Siebert, a former federal investigator who’d become an educator of computer forensic examiners around the world, to launch Vere Software in Reno. Sierbert died in late 2008, not long after the company was launched.
While patent attorney Robert Ryan of Holland & Hart LLP was shepherding the Vere Software patent application through the grindingly slow federal process, Shipley was knocking on police department doors.
The problem? Police don’t have the money to pay for software, and departments around the country face continued budget cuts in the wake of the financial crisis. International sales — Great Britain, Latin America and elsewhere — made up some of the slack.
Shifting its focus to law firms, Vere Software found it faced a couple of challenges.
First, unlike the world of law enforcement in which a single police department covers a city, even a small city can have dozens of law firms that are potential customers of Vere Software products.
Even more challenging, Shipley says: It’s only now beginning to dawn on many law firms that the collection of admissible digital evidence requires new tools.
At the same time, Vere’s technical team is focused on ensuring that the software keeps pace with the rapid shift to mobile devices. At the same time, underlying technology of the Web is shifting with the introduction of elements such as a revised version of the Internet Protocol that routes digital traffic.
“We have to see where the Web is going,” says Shipley.
But for all the talk of patents and intellectual property, of technology and source code, Shipley says that the continued profitability of Vere Software comes back to a millennia-old rule of business:
“It’s all about sales.”