Last semester, I had the honour of interning at the CodeX Center for Legal Informatics at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. This internship was one of the many placements available through Osgoode Hall Law School's Intellectual Property Law & Technology Intensive Program. This program provides students with a two week period of discussions with industry and legal specialists, followed by a ten week internship period at various local, national, and international organizations.
CodeX is a research group partnership between Stanford Law School and Stanford University’s Computer Science Department. Run by Directors Michael Genesereth and Roland Vogl, the research group focuses on the intersection of software technology and law, and promotes legal technology to empower all parties within the legal system. The research performed within the group is sometimes spun out into Silicon Valley start-ups. CodeX’s current focus is on computational law. Computational law is defined as “the study of formal representations and automated reasoning with laws (governmental regulations, business rules, and contracts) in electronically-mediated domains.”
The CodeX placement is a unique IP Intensive placement because the Center’s research goes far beyond intellectual property law. This provides a challenge and an opportunity to the IP Intensive Intern to find or create a computational law project within the subject of intellectual property. Students from the two previous years worked for a CodeX project calculating copyright tariffs and conducted research within the legal technology and informatics area. With the approval of the CodeX Directors, I created a project to apply computational law concepts to the patent system.
My project consisted of interpreting the patent prosecution system of both the U.S. and Canada into separate finite state machines (FSMs). The FSMs were then used to generate code that captured the various states and transitions found within the FSM. A software library was then created to capture this logic, in the hopes of providing a legal technology platform for patent system software tools. The project was a very educational process for me, and like most software systems, habitually behind schedule. Through the process I realized the potential that exists within the legal technology field and the challenges that this technology must overcome. The possibilities are great: a properly designed legal technology product can greatly improve access to justice and, if it is disruptive enough, could usher in a drastic change to the legal industry. Intellectual property systems are prime candidates for computational law tools: they operate around well-defined rules, information about the system is publicly available, and they do not face some of the jurisdictional challenges that other legal systems face due to well-defined international treaties.
The overall experience of my internship was, in a word, incredible. Stanford, California does not know how to discourage any idea, thought, or dream. Everyone you share your thoughts with is legitimately interested in what you would like to achieve, and will do anything they can to help. You get a very good sense of why this area became known as Silicon Valley, and why start-ups try to move down here. Impossible does not exist.
I come home to Toronto happy though, knowing that our local information technology industry is in good hands. While we may not share the high levels of optimism for every idea, the technical ability and management skills found in the Greater Toronto Area are equal to what is seen in Silicon Valley. The key difference between the two markets is the experience of the entrepreneur, which will come to Toronto in time.
The IP Intensive program is a unique opportunity to gain valuable insight into the real legal issues that exist outside the walls of a law school. I would have never been able to meet so many interesting people working on legal problems that are not traditionally discussed in law school. This experience has been the highlight of my three years at Osgoode Hall Law School. I would like to thank Professor Vaver, Professor D’Agostino, and Michelle Li from IP Osgoode for running such a fantastic program, and Roland Vogl and Robert Lee from CodeX for partnering with IP Osgoode and being very supportive during my term.
Mark Bowman is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and was enrolled in Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law Intensive Program. As part of the program requirements, students were asked to write a reflective blog on their internship experience.