Team ROSS from the University of Toronto

A startup team born out of the University of Toronto that wants to use IBM Corp.’s Watson artificial intelligence to shake up the legal industry is setting its sites on international expansion after winning a summer cohort spot at a reputable Silicon Valley incubator.

Ross Intelligence is applying the raw natural-language processing power of Watson to the legal industry, aiming to have it reference vast amounts of legal literature and come up with answers if asked a question. The company consists of a team of recent University of Toronto graduates that took part in a competition hosted by IBM in January. It missed out on the top prize of $100,000 from IBM, but won enough attention to receive support from the company to pursue its legal application.

Now the firm finds itself spending the summer months in California as part of the current Y Combinator cohort. The incubator provides USD $120,000 to its startups in exchange for seven per cent of equity, and enters them into a curriculum that’s designed to help them meet other investors, develop their product, and scale up a product concept into a business ready to onboard customers.

The firm that got its start in Canada is also receiving attention for its software from the U.K., where Legal Futures is covering its expansion into that region as well as other common law jurisdictions. Ross co-founder Andrew Arruda says that the technology is being piloted by some early clients and his team is getting feedback while working alongside them. The firm plans to focus on bankruptcy law first, and then move into employment and labour law, tax law, and more.

The University of Toronto team at IBM’s New York competition. (Photo by Steve Engels, Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto).

Law firms and legal publishers will want to take note of Ross and see where this company goes. With the backing of a major U.S. incubator that has a track record of other startups succeeding, plus a base technology that is developed by IBM and won a Jeopardy championship, it seems likely an AI assistant could be a regular feature at law offices soon enough.