Lexical Initiative for International Commerce

Simplifying the Path for Cross-Border Transacting

In the global trading environment, where deals can be concluded with faceless trading partners via the exchange of documents, email and conference calls, it is possible to overlook or underestimate domestic cultural and legal understanding inevitably incorporated into every transaction.

Varying interpretations of an agreement or written statements by trading partners, and even courts interpreting said agreements and writings, creates an unpredictable and potentially unstable commercial environment. The Lexical Initiative for International Commerce (LIIC) was launched by the Institute of International Commercial Law as an effort to minimize misunderstandings due to multiple interpretations of commercial language.

In particular, the LIIC is premised on the idea that one of the ways to create a stable and predictable international commercial environment is to further develop resources that ease accessibility to legal information on international commerce and foster the common understanding and application of language forming the basis of a bargain.

The LIIC is dedicated to developing such resources.

Development of Controlled Vocabularies

One such category of resource is a controlled vocabulary that could be used to organize and facilitate the retrieval of materials on international commerce. The uniform organization of information is also a powerful means to harmonize understanding of language because when people access information the same way via the same terminology, it leads to a uniform conceptualization of the terms they are using and the information they are accessing. Accordingly, creating a controlled vocabulary for international commerce will help develop an international commercial language in an apolitical manner. A type of controlled vocabulary is a thesaurus. A thesaurus contains all the possible subject headings for an index and charts the semantic relationships between the terms. Given the international scope of LIIC's focus, a more involved controlled vocabulary type, like the thesaurus, is desirable. Both monolingual and multilingual thesauri can be created. The first undertaking for the LIIC is the International Sales Law Thesaurus Project, described below. Inspired by the paper written by Vikki M. Rogers and Albert H. Kritzer, "A Uniform Sales Law Terminology," the Thesaurus will form the structural backbone for the organization of information on international sales law, and will be the LIIC's first step towards its objective to create common understanding of language in international commerce.

International Sales Law Thesaurus Project

Knowledge is of two kinds, we know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.

 - John West, 23 Am. L. Rev. 396 (1889)

Although the LIIC concerns international commerce generally, the LIIC does not intend to create one controlled vocabulary for the entire subject field. Rather, pieces of the subject will be chiseled from the larger topic. For example, international sales law is the first subject for which the LIIC will develop a thesaurus. Once the thesaurus is developed, the LIIC will decide whether it is appropriate to build another aspect of international commerce (e.g., carriage of goods, payment mechanisms, or arbitration) into the sales law vocabulary, or whether a separate vocabulary should be created that would borrow terms from the international sales law thesaurus, where appropriate. As the LIIC is tackling the entire subject field in sections, it is also best situated to consider issues of thesaurus integration (i.e., the compatibility and overlapping of independent thesauri) as it continues to expand the subject scope.

International sales law was chosen as the first project because (1) reference materials on that subject are readily available, given the efforts by various institutes and organizations to collect and disseminate materials on the subject; (2) the number of cases and commentaries currently available on the subject is manageable; and (3) there is anticipated growth in the subject area, justifying the creation of a thesaurus. The anticipated growth is based on the tracked activity of the CISG Database and anticipated increase in international trade. During the last two decades there has been sizable growth in the number of cases and commentaries that address international sales law as well as significant efforts to collect and digest the materials for judges, practitioners and academics. For example, the Case Law Digest by Prof. Michael Will published in 2000, reported 683 cases on the CISG. By 2010, the CISG Database reported over 2,500 case presentations. The bibliography currently boasts over 10,000 entries.

More compelling, however, is the increased demand for this information. For example, in 1999 the CISG Database received an average of 100,000 internet hits per month. In 2009, the CISG Database commenced to average 100,000 internet hits per day. Whether the primary source for these hits be judges, practitioners, academics, or students, the numbers disclose that there is a demand for information on international sales law.

As it is reasonable to assume that international trade will continue to expand, it is prudent to plan options for the organization and retrieval of increased cases and commentaries on the subject. In addition, the Institute of International Commercial Law has led a related initiative to translate court decisions on the CISG into English, increasing the depth of information available for a global jurisconsultorium. The translation program was launched in 2001, and already includes over 1,750 cases.

Given the anticipated growth and demand for information on international sales law, as well as the desire to promote a global jurisconsultorium, there is a need to develop a thesaurus for improved information handling. As such, the International Sales Law Thesaurus Project has been designated as the first project of the LIIC. The thesaurus is intended to be the definitive vocabulary for international sales law that will be used to index materials on the subject.

LIIC Advisory Board Members

Ralph N.E. Amissah, Legal Consultant, International Commercial Law, London; Developer of SiSU http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu (see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SiSU) and http://www.lexmercatoria.org (an advocate of Software Libre and Open Standards)

Klaus Peter Berger, Professor for Domestic and International Civil and Commercial Law, Comparative and Private International Law; Director, Institute for Banking Law and Center for Transnational Law (CENTRAL), University of Cologne, Germany

Robert Berring Jr., Walter Perry Johnson Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall

Michael Joachim Bonell, Professor of Law, University of Rome; Legal consultant, UNIDROIT

Daniel Dabney, Senior Director and Chief of Classification for Thomson Global Resources

Claire Germain, Prior President, American Association of Law Librarians and Edward M. Cornell Professor of Law and Law Librarian at Cornell Law School

Johnny Herre, LL.D., M.Sc. (Economics and Business), Professor of Law, Stockholm School of Economics

Albert H. Kritzer, Executive Secretary, Institute of International Commercial Law

Marie Stefanini Newman, Director of Law Library and Associate Professor of Law, Pace University School of Law

Jernej Sekolec, Prior Secretary of UNCITRAL

Albert Jan van den Berg, Partner, Hanotiau & van den Berg and General Editor ICCA Yearbooks on Commercial Arbitration

Jules Winterton, Prior President, International Association of Law Librarians and Associate Director and Law Librarian for Institute of Advanced Legal Studies