[AustLII] [Databases] [Search] [WorldLII] [Feedback] [Help]

AustLII Research Seminars

You are here: AustLII >> AustLII Research Seminars

AustLII's first lunchtime Research Seminar will be presented by Associate Professor Harry Surden, on the topic Computable Contracts. Details of the Seminar Topic and a brief bio of the speaker are below.

Date: Monday 30 April 2012
Time: 12:00 - 1:00
Venue: AustLII Offices, Level 12, Building 10, 235-253 Jones Street, Ultimo - see map

RSVP by Friday 26 April 2012 to Cathy Quigley Tel: 02 9514 4921 or Email:

Please advise Cathy if you wish to be on the mailing list for future seminars.

Seminar Details

Topic: Computable Contracts
Speaker: Harry Surden, Associate Professor of Law, University of Colorado
Duration: The seminar lasts for an hour, including 20 minutes for discussion.


This seminar discusses "computable contracts." A contract is a legally binding promise to perform some activity under particular terms and conditions. A "computable contract" is a contractual obligation that has been deliberately formulated by the contracting parties so that one or more terms and conditions can be automatically resolved by a computer system. The reason that the computer systems are able to do this is that the essential terms of the contractual agreement have been "translated" and expressed - not through written language on paper - but rather, via computer data. In such computable contracts, the "meaning" of the underlying obligation can be effectuated via computer rules that have access to data about the world, and are able to measure or ensure compliance with the specified conditions of the contract.

simple, and possibly familiar example of such a computable contract comes from the world of finance. There, financial contracts - such as equity options contracts - are routinely represented, not on paper, but solely within data records in computer databases. The terms and conditions of the contract are stored within data records, and the computer trading systems are automatically able to determine compliance with one or more conditions (e.g. whether the option contract has expired), and in some cases, initiate automated steps to effectuate the underlying meaning of the contract (e.g. initiate a sell order for a stock). Firms are increasingly representing some portion of the contractual obligations using this data-oriented approach, in a variety of industries ranging from finance to intellectual property. From a legal perspective, this is surprising because there are a variety of assumptions about the inability to automate any aspect of substantive engagement with the law. As this talk will note, many contractual arrangements, or aspects of contracting are not amenable to computation on this approach. This talk will also discuss those limitations from a legal orientation.

Biographical Note

Harry Surden is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Colorado School of Law, in Boulder, Colorado (U.S.A). His scholarship centers upon intellectual property law with a substantive focus on patents and copyright, information privacy law, and the application of computer technology within the legal system.

Prior to joining CU, Professor Surden was a resident fellow at the Stanford Center for Computers and Law (CodeX) at Stanford Law School. In that capacity, Professor Surden conducted interdisciplinary research with collaborators from the Stanford School of Engineering exploring the application of computer technology towards improving the legal system. He was also a member of the Stanford Intellectual Property Litigation Clearinghouse and the director of the Computer Science and Law Initiative.

Professor Surden was law clerk to the Honorable Martin J. Jenkins of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. He received his law degree from Stanford Law School with honors and was the recipient of the Stanford Law Intellectual Property Writing Award.

Prior to law school, Professor Surden worked as a software engineer for Cisco Systems and Bloomberg L.P. He received his undergraduate degree with honors from Cornell University.

Professor Surden is currently a Visiting Research Professor at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

For a list of publications, please see his faculty webpage at:

AustLII: Feedback | Privacy Policy | Disclaimers