Alternative dispute resolution for SMEs in SBS-WIPO seminar

Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (ADR), such as mediation and arbitration, offer swifter and less costly dispute resolution for SMEs. However, such mediation and arbitration tools are currently underexploited by companies. Therefore, on 22 January Small Business Standards (SBS), together with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the European DIGITAL SME Alliance (DIGITAL SME) held a seminar with an aim to present potential benefits of such tools and provide practical examples of applicability of ADR mechanisms in favour of SMEs.

Speakers of the event included representatives from the European Commission (DG GROWTH and DG CONNECT), SME and crafts association SMEunited, international law firm Bird & Bird, standardisation bodies ETSI and CEN-CENELEC, WIPO and DIGITAL SME.

The event kicked off with the first panel where European Commission representatives highlighted EU’s efforts to promote Standard Essential Patents (SEPs). As a result of which, intensive discussions emerged on how SEPs are being handled. Participants agreed that measures to improve transparency and balance are being implemented following the Commission’s Communication on the EU Approach to SEP in 2017. However, support for the ADR in a balanced and predictable enforcement regime is crucial for further implementation of SEP.

The following presentation by WIPO stressed the benefits of ADR. As opposed to litigation – a common dispute resolution mechanism – ADR allows private resolution procedure in cases where confidentiality is paramount. In addition, it reduces costs of dispute resolution procedures and, even more importantly, it is more time-efficient which is crucial for fast moving sectors as ICT.

Despite its obvious benefits, ADR is not widely used among SMEs. Therefore, SME United’s representative provided suggestions on additional measures that could be taken to further promote the use of ADR. Using the best practice example of EURid, he called for a reduction of language barriers in ADR. Moreover, the EC and other stakeholders were encouraged to increase their efforts to raise awareness about availability of ADR services, its costs and obligations. Finally, it was reminded that voluntary nature of ADR must remain in order to retain its benefits.

In the last session of the seminar, representatives from standard developing organisations, ETSI and CEN-CENELEC, laid out their respective organisations approach to patent dispute resolution, their commitment to the free and non-discriminatory (FRAND) principle, and the role of ADR. Both organisations underlined their commitment to increasing and maintaining transparency in SEP processes and promoting a balance of interests, as well as a collaborative approach to standards development.

Final discussions at the event led to the common agreement that ADR is evidently a useful tool for faster, more effective and less costly dispute resolution. However, lack of awareness among the SMEs is the main barrier for wider use of ADR. Local intermediary bodies such as SME associations, chambers of commerce and clusters have to be considered as the primary bodies to inform SMEs and encourage use of ADR. In addition, it was highlighted that wider use of SEP could reduce the occurrence of disputes overall, but significant efforts must be taken to promote SEP, increase transparency and encourage more balanced approach in standardisation.

A summary of the events and its conclusions is available here.

More information and presentations can be found here.

Agenda of the event: