WIPO begins first hearings following seven-year hiatus

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has just hosted its first hearings to resolve disputes, even though it has been open for business since 1995 to handle the hundreds of thousands of intellectual property (IP) disputes that occur worldwide each year.
Despite not conducting a single hearing in the six years up to April 2001 (it has since started five mediations and four arbitrations, some of which are ongoing), WIPO is confident that its future looks bright.
The only other work WIPO has done since 1995 is to conduct 10 referral services in the last 12 months. These are minor pieces of work in which the organisation nominates arbitrators for disputes at other arbitration centres.
Gary Born, a leading expert in arbitration and head of dispute resolution at Wilmer Cutler & Pickering's London office, said: “WIPO's arbitration service was established with some of the best rules and administrative facilities that could be wished for. But, even when aimed at a specialised field such as IP, where one would think there'd be very real demand, WIPO arbitration has been very slow to attract users.
“Any new arbitral institution faces an uphill battle in persuading companies and counsel to use its services; it's difficult to explain to a businessman why he should be the first user of an untried dispute resolution centre.”
WIPO's assistant director general Francis Gurry said: “I was told that it would be 10 years before we'd build up a significant caseload. People have to be comfortable in order for them to incorporate our centre into their contracts as a venue to resolve disputes. We hope now to increase our workload.”
He said two of WIPO's mediations evolved out of court cases and that most originated in the US. The hearings relate to patent, licensing and trademark disputes.
WIPO has conducted 6,000 domain name disputes, but these involve documents rather than any oral hearings and are far less complex than arbitrations and mediations. They are also resolved within two months from the start of a dispute, while arbitrations can take many years.
The first such cases took place in 2000 following the introduction of domain name legislation in 1999.