Codes & Contracts: from cuneiform to XML

The cuneiform alphabet is 5000 years old and was adopted by the Akkadians, Babylonians, Sumerians and Assyrians to write their own languages in Mesopotamia for about 3000 years. In the next five centuries we’ll share with the Mesopotamian Civilizations the longevity of adoption of an alphabet, Cuneiform for the former and the Phoenician-Greek-Latin alphabet for us. Parallels are not limited to the need of written heritage and a standard means of communication: the paramount use of alphabets is production of legal codes and contracts for the commercial transactions.

The need to transfer words in a standard media and preserve them from time deterioration leads Mesopotamian cultures to the adoption of Clay: clay tablets were the primary media for everyday written communication and were used extensively in schools and courts. Tablets were routinely recycled and only if permanence was called for, they could be baked hard in a kiln (as a certificate) similarly to the modern use of paper. An interesting example is available at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it’s a Babilon house rental contract dating 522-486 BC, see at

A thousand year old tradition of printing Britain’s laws on vellum has recently been scrapped to save £80,000 yearly ( Vellum is derived from the Latin word “vitulinum” meaning “made from calf”. As an example of its features consider that original copies of the Magna Carta, signed more than 800 years ago on vellum, still exist.

The need for long-time preservation of codes has changed -as demonstrated by the British Government- and in today’s Information Technology Era codes and contracts need to upgrade from a mere phisical preservation towards central repositories of legal contents and, which is more important, to solutions allowing both sharing of content and leap into the “next step”: machine-readable codes and contracts.

The Internet of Things and the development of Smart Cities involve new needs: the need for decision-automation based on service levels defined in contracts as well as the need of legal compliance. I find that the only way for achieving these results both in Smart Cities and in modern Organizations (with global products and IoT) is by adopting Contract Lifecycle Management practices assisted by specialized tools with open standards and protocols such as OpenData or LegalXML and eContracts. In addition to that, the maturity level reached by electronic signatures allows a secure leave of paper-based contracts although it is still largely adopted.

In conclusion, the persistence of paper-based contracts in a fast-growing global market characterized by complex legal compliance and the use of electronic means for enhancing business is comparable to writing modern contracts in cuneiform over clay. CLM is the answer: central repository, open standards, multi-juridical and multi-cultural contract managemen at its best.

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