Startup Snapshot: Nicole Shanahan

 Nicole Shanahan: ClearAccessIP

411: Nicole Shanahan, 29, is the founder and CEO of ClearAccessIP.   She is the 2014-2016 Residential CodeX Fellow, and works on CodeX-related research projects, such as the Stanford OpenData Initiative. Recently, she led the formation of a partnership between CodeX and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office to assist their blue ribbon “Task Force Investigating Police Misconduct” conduct data analysis. “This project has a huge potential in helping put an end to nationwide racial profiling,” she said.

Startup Snapshot: Nicole Shanahan
Nicole Shanahan
Founder & CEO

Home base: Silicon Valley (Stanford) and San Francisco.

Social Media: Linkedin. Twitter: @NicoleShanahan  Facebook.

Recent media attention: Shanahan was featured in the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal cover story, April 2014, “Self Starters: Women Are Squarely in the Picture Where Law and Technology Combine.”

Education: University of Puget Sound. Majored in Asian Studies with minors in Economics and Mandarin Chinese, B.A., 2007. Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, World Trade Organization certificate, 2007. Santa Clara University: J.D. , 2014. (She served as editor of the “High Technology Law Journal.”)

Languages: English, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese.

Startup & Status: First live beta of Zero-Touch Patent Docketing service launched in April 2014. It is available via our on-demand site, as well as via Enterprise set-up.

Target audience:  We serve patent prosecution attorneys and in-house patent management groups.

What does it cost? Our on-demand service ranges from $50-$185 per user per month. Our Enterprise system ranges from $2000-$40,000 per month.

Is it your first startup? ClearAccessIP is the first company that I’ve founded. I’ve worked for one other start-up in the patent licensing space that was heavily funded and not at all like my current start-up.

 What problem does it solve? Our goal is help attorneys and companies avoid missing critical dates and inadvertently allowing a patent right to expire. For a patent attorney, mistakes can trigger expensive malpractice litigation. The  American Bar Association estimates that about six to eight percent of all patent docket software entries by humans have errors—such as major problems like a transposed number in an office action due date or less critical mistakes such as leaving out a middle initial of an inventor’s name. Additionally, within many law firms, as well as corporate in-house groups, there is a signicant amount of manual data entry and redundancy.

Zero-Touch automates the task of rote patent-related data entry, calendaring and digital file management. Our system creates a single master record, based on the U.S, Patent and Trademark Office’s database. Then, the master record is maintained by a logics (rule-based) system that operates on top of real-time USPTO data. Our system offers both lightweight and robust options—it can serve a one-person prosecution practice via our on-demand option, or a large IP department with the enterprise installation. It can be used as both a primary docketing system and/or a secondary system; it can work alongside existing docketing systems by auditing that the existing data is accurate.

Data transparency is the key to solving some of the legal and commercial inefficiencies of the current patent system. Automation reduces the costs of patent management and increases transparency in a way that makes the dissemination and acquisition of patent rights cheap, effective and fair.

Next offering:  “IP DealRoom,” expected to launch in September, improves workflows for transactional attorneys, patent holders and companies with valuable IP.

What was your inspiration to develop your company? In law school, I decided that applying transaction cost theory (see Coase Theorem) to the patent system makes a lot of sense. After spending eight years working in patent firms and in-house departments, and realizing that patents are both a right and an asset, I concluded that patents are perfect for transactional disruption (optimization). This realization—mixed with my fascination with artificial intellegence and automation—grew into ClearAccessIP.

Do you have funding yet? We received early Angel funding from an IP professional. At the moment we have revenue and remain self-funded.

What is your biggest start-up challenge? Docketing is like life-insurance: no one really wants to think about it until something bad happens. It is also cumbersome, like a house lease: no one wants to move until they absolutely must. Given these industry characteristics, the sales cycle has been very interesting to navigate. There is both a timing issue that relies on people arriving at that breaking point of “I can’t take this anymore!” and a cultural barrier where people expect to have a terrible experience transitioning to a new system. They are skeptical when we assure them that ClearAccessIP is easy to implement.

What do you need right now? In six months? In a year? Right now: More sales and business development professionals who can really articulate the benefits of the technology. Six months: An excellent integrated international patent database API (we are working on it now). A year: I’d like to start selling our software internationally, so it would be great to have international partners.

What have you learned that you wish you had known five years ago? I was naïve about what it means to be a 20-something woman starting a software company. There is a lot of prejudice and bias; learning how to navigate your way to the good people is the key to each and every success.

Startup Snapshot: Nicole Shanahan 1
Nicholas Kristof

Who influenced you more than anyone else? The New York Time’s journalist Nicholas Kristof  (left) has deeply influenced my approach to problem solving.
I’ve been following his work for more than a decade and he is pretty much the only person I have never disagreed with.

What two people are your most important mentors and why? I was raised by my mom and my aunt (my father’s sister). Together they represent the yin and yang of my personality. My mom is my “yin” and she helps me to accept the things I cannot change. My aunt is my “yang” and helps me push through barriers.


Book that changed my life: A tie:  “Brida: A Novel (P.S.)”  by Paulo Coelho. Fountain Head by Ayn Rand.

Advice for other entrepreneurs: Don’t take anything personally. Not only does it make your experience less pleasant, it makes you a less effective businessperson.

Where do you want to be in five years? 10 years? Next week? Five years: I’d like to be on the executive team of ClearAccessIP. 10 years: Solving social issues with legal tech and even teaching legal tech at a law school. Next week: I’d like to be making turns on my kite board.

Startup Snapshot: Nicole Shanahan 2

Favorite vacation destination: Anywhere warm with ocean access.

Favorite musican or group: Whatever is playing on my seasonal Spotify mix. I use their algorithm to sample and pick music.

Favorite quote:  “In life as in dance: Grace glides on blistered feet.” —Alice Abrams.

What’s your mantra?  “You got this.”

Who would you want to sit to if you got stuck for three hours on a tarmac in a 737? Deepak Chopra, assuming he would be willing to lead a guided meditation during the delay. I love meditating to his voice!

Compiled by Monica Bay, a CodeX Fellow, freelance journalist and member of the California bar. @MonicaBay. Email: