CPR’s International Conference: European Views on the Resolution of Complex Technology Disputes

By Tamia Sutherland

During the Oct. 6-7 CPR International Conference–the first the New York-based conflict resolution think tank and publisher of the CPR Speaks blog has held combining the work of its international advisory boards–CPR’s European Advisory Board presented a virtual panel centered around resolving complex technology disputes.

The panel discussed highly technical blockchain, patent, and intellectual property disputes. Mark McNeill, a New York and London partner in Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, moderated the panel that included:

  • Luke Sobota, a founding partner and Washington, D.C., managing partner at Three Crowns,
  • Edith Jamet, general counsel at SoftAtHome, a Colombes, France, software company, and
  • Mark Beckett, chief information officer at ArbiLex, an arbitration analytics and funding consulting firm based in Allston, Mass.

After introductions, Moderator McNeill posed a question about the resolution of blockchain disputes. Panelist Luke Sobota explained that blockchain operates as a fixed ledger stored internationally on computers world-wide, making the recorded data hack-proof as “the block exists everywhere at once, and nowhere in particular.” Though the blockchain is secure, it cannot anticipate every mistake or account for human error.

To illustrate what types of disputes may arise as a result of blockchain use, Sobota provided the following example: Blockchain technology can be used in commercial transactions by including a QR code with delivered goods that automatically transfers the payment from the buyer’s cryptocurrency account to the seller’s account, and records the transaction on a block when scanned by the recipient, also known as an oracle.

Sobota defined an oracle as “a real-world objective piece of data that the blockchain software, itself, can retrieve and verify.” This process does not require third-party involvement, and is “both the promise and limitation” of the technology, he said.

The oracle, however, can fall short. Disputes can arise when a recipient of goods fraudulently refuses to scan the QR code; the code has a bug that results in an excessive transfer of money; or the goods are partially damaged as there is no code for partial payment or refunds.

Due to blockchain’s decentralized nature, domestic courts do not have jurisdiction to resolve these transnational disputes, and sometimes, the parties are anonymous. Sobota explained that the two forms of arbitration best suited to resolve these unique disputes are (1) on-block arbitrations and (2) traditional commercial arbitrations.

On-block arbitrations are administered through various platforms and are currently “quite minimalist and only suitable to very simple transactions,” according to Sobota. In this case, parties agree that anonymous “jurors” will resolve the dispute, and the discrepancy is remedied automatically on the blockchain by issuing a new block.

For example, an on-block arbitration can immediately provide a refund for partially damaged goods. Panelist Mark Beckett mentioned Kleros, which is an example of an arbitration platform that relies on smart contracts and anonymized jurors to resolve disputes.

While this appears to be an easy and effective solution, questions about a lack of juror guidance, financial incentives, outside pressures, and concerns regarding juror consistency are critiques of the decentralized justice method.

Moderator McNeill then asked panelist Edith Jamet about the types of disputes she sees and how she prefers to resolve the disputes in her in-house role at a software company. She said she typically deals with patent issues. She said confidentiality is essential, and thus, mediation is best to find resolutions, and arbitrations are second best when the parties cannot come to a decision. She conceded, however, that sometimes court is mandatory and can be more secure.

Jamet discussed a mediation with the French tax administration where she had to demonstrate that her company’s technology was innovative and therefore eligible for a tax credit. Emphasizing Luke Sobota’s earlier point about finding sufficiently knowledgeable neutrals, Jamet said that she had to make an analogy to train tracks to illustrate her company’s technological software advancements because it was complex and she wanted the mediator to understand her arguments.

In response to an inquiry about the arbitration’s suitability for IP disputes, Mark Beckett raised skepticism about the number of neutrals who have technical knowledge. He noted that, in court, at least there is a right to appeal. Luke Sobota noted again that suitability depends on the neutrals chosen. In the case of typical IP contractual disputes, however, no special knowledge is necessary, said Sobota.  

Moderator McNeill asked Mark Beckett about ArbiLex, its mission, and what it can do. Beckett replied that ArbiLex is a legal technology startup that uses artificial intelligence and predictive analytics in international arbitration. The company provides practitioners and institutions with data to determine whether they should litigate or arbitrate a case. Ethics guidance states that lawyers generally cannot give a percentage chance of prevailing in a dispute due to predictive limitations. But ArbiLex is providing data for parties to assess the chances of prevailing in disputes.

Beckett explained that ArbiLex’s system can run combinations of different tribunals to provide outcome prediction analysis, provide information on who appointed certain arbitrators, predict case outcomes, relate outcomes to whom a particular arbitrator is sitting with, and provide data on how counsel has performed against each other. The information and graphics provided by ArbiLex, said Beckett, could cut down on the amount of research practitioners need to make tough decisions regarding dispute resolution of complex issues, where various interests may be pulling the practitioner in different directions.

Throughout the conversation, the neutrals that participate in CPR’s Technology Advisory Committee were mentioned as resources for finding technologically knowledgeable neutrals when these complex technology disputes arise.

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The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021 Fall Intern.

 [END]

The EU Mediation Blues: Is there a way to resolve the EU Mediation “Paradox”?

javierBy Javier Fernández-Samaniego

Almost ten years have elapsed since the European Union adopted the Mediation Directive (2008/52/EC) in civil and commercial matters, and four years since the European Parliament acknowledged the so-called “EU Mediation Paradox” [1] in its study “‘Rebooting’ the mediation directive”. The study drew attention to the lack of significant development of mediation, utilized only in less than an average 1% of the cases in courts of Member States in the EU, despite its high success and satisfaction rates when used.

As rightly pointed out in the Report from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee on the application of Directive 2008/52/EC (Aug 2016)[2], due to the “unofficial” nature of mediation compared to formal court proceedings, it is very difficult to obtain comprehensive statistical data on mediation such as the profile of companies using mediation, number of mediated cases, the average length and success rates of mediation processes.

In what seems to be a fresh verse in the EU Mediation blues song, a new Resolution of 12 September 2017 on the implementation of the EU Mediation Directive (2008/52/EC) issued by the European Parliament[3] notes that certain difficulties exist in relation to the functioning of the national mediation systems in practice. These difficulties are mainly rooted in the adversarial tradition and the lack of a “mediation culture” in the Member States, the low level of awareness of mediation in most Member States, insufficient knowledge of how to deal with cross-border cases and the functioning of the quality control mechanisms for mediators.

In this Resolution, the European Parliament has made the following recommendations:

  1. EU Member States should boost awareness of how useful mediation is and step up their efforts to encourage the use of mediation in civil and commercial disputes, such as through information campaigns, improved cooperation between legal professionals and an exchange of best practices in the different local jurisdictions of EU.
  2. The Commission should assess the need to develop EU-wide quality standards for the provision of mediation services, especially in the form of minimum standards ensuring consistency, while considering the fundamental right of access to justice.
  3. The Commission should assess the need for Member States to create national registers of mediated proceedings as useful sources of information for Commission and mediators across Europe.
  4. The Commission should undertake a detailed study on the obstacles to the free circulation of foreign mediation agreements in the Union and on various options to promote the use of mediation as a sound, affordable and effective way to solve conflicts in internal and cross-border disputes in the Union, considering the rule of law and ongoing international developments in this field.

Lastly, in an apparent call for new rules, the Parliament requests that the Commission offer solutions to extend the scope of mediation to other civil or administrative matters in future regulation and highlights that, despite the voluntary nature of mediation, further steps must be taken to ensure the enforceability of mediated agreements in a quick and affordable manner.

On the brighter side, there are some less worried notes to the EU Mediation blues tune since the Parliament also welcomes the Commission’s dedication to co-financing various projects aimed at the promotion of mediation and training for judges and practitioners in the Member States. It appears that, after ten years’ investment in civil and commercial mediation since the Directive has been adopted, the perseverance will pay off.

The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) through its European Advisory Board is working hard to fulfill the agreed-upon objectives and has recently published a guide for European corporates and organizations on the use of mediation and other ADR processes [4] that includes resources and practices to help identify disputes suitable for ADR and make the most out of them. The Guide also includes several successful case studies. There is no doubt that such efforts will eventually turn the moody blues of EU mediation into a happier upbeat melody.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] See the European Parliament’s study: “‘Rebooting’ the mediation directive”: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=IPOL-JURI_ET(2014)493042

[2] Report from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee on the application of Directive 2008/52/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on certain aspects of mediation in civil and commercial matters. Brussels, 26.8.2016 COM(2016) 542 final http://ec.europa.eu/justice/civil/files/act_part1_adopted_en.pdf

[3] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2017-0321+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN

[4] https://www.cpradr.org/resource-center/toolkits/european-mediation-adr-guide

 

Javier Fernández-Samaniego is the Managing Director of the IberoAmerican law firm SAMANIEGO LAW with offices in Madrid and Miami (for Latin America) and head of its Commercial, Dispute Resolution and Tech & Comms team. He regularly serves as an arbitrator and mediator of complex international disputes and he is a member of the Institute’s CPR Panel of Distinguished Neutral and of CPR European Advisory Board. He can be reached at javier.samaniego@samaniegolaw.com.