Finding international resources and foreign law can be daunting, even terrifying to many veterans of Westlaw and LexisNexis. But the ILRG’s LawRunner hopes to provide a familiar fix to the problem.
The Internet Legal Research Group provides indexes of free legal websites grouped by category, including legal forms, law school rankings, outlines, law journals (just those with an online presence, and some with dead links), but most importantly, foreign sources (LawRunner). LawRunner is actually a web crawler, rather than a list of sources, and runs a customized Google search for a specific country. I took it for a spin to see whether its “advanced query templates, or forms” could really “assist researchers in taking advantage the [sic] query parameters built into Google.” That one typographical error just now, found on the main page of the LawRunner’s global index, suddenly made me question its credibility very slightly.
I began my perusal of LawRunner by clicking on three random countries. I was happy to see that their list of countries and territories was extensive and even included places like Niue and Tuvalu. After clicking on a particular country (there is no option to select multiple countries for a comparative law search, sadly), I was directed to a very simple search box, with an option to check whether I wanted results to be prioritized whether they had “law” or “legal” as a keyword. There was also an option to search specific sites based on domain name, such as commercial (.com), educational (.edu), or government (.gov) sites.
The searches themselves produced mixed results. I chose to run the same search for “trademark law” in three countries (thus avoiding the need to select the “law”/”legal” prioritization option. The United States, South Korea, and Estonia. I started with the United States as a sort of baseline test, and immediately met with frustration. While clicking on any other country allowed me to limit my searches to particular top-level domains (.com, .edu, .gov, etc.), clicking on the U.S. link brought me to a page where I could either select a particular state, or search across all 50 states (District of Columbia not included). The ability to search for U.S. federal law was found at the bottom of the screen in another search dialog box. But minor annoyance aside, a search for “trademark law” across all state governments yielded fairly good results, with a variety of state statutes defining “trademark” showing up. While the results were far from organized, and it was difficult to tell exactly which statutes were being displayed, the sites being displayed were generally on point. The real test would come with foreign law sources, however. The first result for “trademark law” in South Korea pointed me to a PDF of the Trademark Law of Syria. The second result linked to a trademark law for what appeared to be Greece. Finally, the third result showed me a PDF of a translation of the Trademark Act of Korea. After that came a spattering of links to Korean IP and patent law firms. Estonia proved to be much better – the very first result was the text of the Estonian Trademark Act, followed by the website for the Patent & Trademark Agency, and a recent act passed by the Estonian Parliament on trademarks. When I tried restricting the search to Estonian government sites only, though, no results appeared.
Overall, I felt like LawRunner provided a good start to researching foreign laws, but a targeted country-specific guide to available resources would be much more helpful (or at least a sort of LII-type page for general legal information, like what Canada and Australia have done), since the results found here could change based on a whim of Google’s search result algorithm. Results were also inconsistent across countries, and while a broader and more diverse search might iron out some discrepancies, I felt like someone who wanted to get a good grasp of trademark law in other countries would simply type that into the search field and end up with the same confusion I had. I was mildly disappointed with what I found, and while the search across U.S. states was not bad, there are other, more easily navigable free resources for domestic state law.