A new think tank to help European businesses resolve Intellectual Property disputes

  • DIGITAL SME welcomes the establishment of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Stakeholders Advisory Board (ADR-SAB) at the EU Intellectual Property Organisation (EUIPO)

  • The new think tank will provide a much-needed conflict-mitigation resource to European SMEs

  • The founding of the ADR-SAB coincides with DIGITAL SME’s own brand new Working Group for Legal Affairs (link)

It was a great day for the future of European innovativeness. DIGITAL SME expert for IP rights Silvana Marcotulli attended the inaugural meeting of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Stakeholders Advisory Board (ADR-SAB) held on 28 October at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in Alicante. The ADR-SAB could become a much-needed resource for SMEs to streamline their innovation—without breaking the bank through expensive litigation.

The new body will touch on an important issue for European businesses: Innovation can often be risky. The digital transformation requires businesses, especially traditional SMEs, to completely rethink their business models, which inevitably requires massive investments. It is expensive and time-consuming to innovate in solutions that add value to an organisation and boost its digitisation. On top of that, there is the risk that the game-changing innovative idea can simply be copied or stolen. This is where Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) comes in.

Alternative Dispute Resolution is boosting European innovation

ADR plays an important role in balancing risk and reward of innovation by protecting the value of intellectual property—without having to go to a court to solve disputes. Typically, this includes an early neutral evaluation, followed by negotiation, conciliation, mediation, and/or arbitration. The ADR-SAB was established as a think tank to give a collective voice to IPR-intensive industries like the European digital sector. It also creates a network of practitioners and ADR providers to exchange expertise and enhance the competitiveness of European businesses through a comprehensive ADR system.

The first panel at the inaugural meeting in Alicante explored the expectations of European businesses about how ADR can help them optimize the value of innovation by upholding their IPRs. The panellists tackled a manifest problem shared by most European businesses: Despite the huge importance of IPRs and the significant worth of the disputes they generate, many European businesses still struggle with solving IP-related disputes in a cost-effective manner. This inhibits the growth and innovativeness of the European industry. To bridge this gap, the ADR-SAB aims to offer businesses global dispute-resolution options.

The next steps for the ADR-SAB: Toward a global dispute-resolution system

To that end, the panel decided to focus on the following main action lines: 

  1. Dispute prevention and resolution: The panel will strongly focus on preventative measures. Should conflicts escalate, however, the ADR service may consider offering mechanisms for conflict resolution.
  2. Dispute evaluation: The ADR-SAB will support businesses in analysing and evaluating conflicts to make an informed decision on a suitable type of dispute mechanism that effectively solves global disputes.
  3. Dispute determination: The board will explore how to set up mechanisms to swiftly, efficiently and cost-effectively resolve disputes. This could include mediation and conciliation as well as early neutral evaluation, expert determination (in particular for technical disputes), facilitated or assisted negotiation, dispute resolution boards and other mechanisms, including hybrids.
  4. Tailor-made dispute resolution mechanisms: To fully meet the needs and expectations of businesses, the ADR service will make use of the latest cutting-edge technologies—including artificial intelligence. It will also provide tailor-made services adapted to the requirements of the various business segments. Other tools will include techniques such as pledging, whereby user companies of EUIPO commit to using the ADR services.
  5. Protecting IPR in e-commerce (self-regulation): The need to protect IPR is also prevalent in the e-commerce environment. Solutions to disputes cannot be found exclusively by legislation. Businesses have sought to take matters into their own hands in this field through self-regulation, whereby those wishing to engage in trade must abide by certain IP rules and regulations, including dispute-resolution mechanisms. This self-regulation, combined with co-operation agreements, may offer an interesting IP dispute-resolution perspective and opportunities to propose self-regulatory dispute-resolution models to these business operators.
  6. Training and awareness-raising on ADR in the IP field: Business continues to be either unaware or reluctant to exploit the possibilities that ADR offers in IP dispute resolution. Making operators conscious of the potential of ADR is a fundamental condition for any advance in this area.

After taking into account the discussions at the meeting, EUIPO will develop a working program and a pilot project to be submitted at the next meeting. DIGITAL SME welcomes the establishment of the ADR-SAB, which luckily coincides with the formation of our own Working Group for Legal Affairs (WG Legal). WG Legal will focus on topics like IPR and ADR in the context of the European digital market, with a special focus on SME-related issues. Applications for WG Legal and other Working Groups are open to DIGITAL SME members! Simply register here.



Alternative Dispute Resolution refers to any means of settling disputes outside the courtroom. The Alternative Dispute Resolution typically includes an early neutral evaluation, negotiation, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration. The two most common forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution are arbitration and mediation, however, negotiation is the pre-eminent model of dispute resolution, as negotiation allows the parties to meet in order to settle a dispute. The main advantage of this form of dispute settlement is that it allows the parties themselves to control the process and the solution of the resolution. Coming back to the most common forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution, arbitration is more formal than mediation and resembles a simplified version of a trial involving limited discovery and simplified rules of evidence. Finally, mediation is an informal alternative to litigation. Mediators are individuals trained in negotiations, who bring opposing parties together and attempt to work out a settlement or agreement that both parties accept or reject.

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