IPOPHL revitalizes arbitration service to declog court, IPOPHL dockets

Published on November 26, 2019 

The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) is revitalizing its arbitration service in a bid to heighten its use among intellectual property (IP) owners, rights holders, and users who can hugely benefit from this alternative dispute resolution (ADR) route. Increased use of the arbitration service can also contribute to the easing of the workload at the courts and at the IPOPHL. 

Arbitration is one of the out-of-court dispute resolution methods widely tapped today by both the public and private sectors. Decisions drawn out from arbitral proceedings are legally binding and recognized by the courts.  Parties could go to court to enforce arbitral awards. 

“In business, time and cost are of the essence. Arbitration is emerging as a viable alternative for business players to resolve disputes as decisions, in some cases, can be made in less than a year. And the lesser time on a case means more productive time can be spent on focusing on the business,” IPOPHL Director General Josephine R. Santiago said. 

"With this additional alternative option to settle disputes, IPOPHL will also help in the declogging of its own dockets and that of the trial courts. This track can only be successful if our stakeholders are ensured that trained and competent IP professionals are available to provide the service provided, and if there is sufficient and sustained campaign from courts and the IPOPHL itself," DG Santiago added.

Philippine Dispute Resolution Center, Inc. (PDRCI) Assistant Secretary-General Francisco D. Pabilla, Jr. said business players, both major ones and small and medium enterprises, are increasingly opting for arbitration also because of its treatment of cases with confidentiality, a protection not ordinarily granted to parties who seek remedies at trial courts. 

“No business would like the public to know that it is embroiled in a conflict. Although conflicts with other businesses or government agencies are ordinary ordeals in commerce, it may turn messy when it gets out into the public,” Asec. Gen. Pabilla said.

To recall, IPOPHL in 2010 embarked on an ADR program which includes mediation and arbitration, as managed by its Bureau of Legal Affairs (BLA). Party litigants in IPOPHL had the choice of pursuing mediation or arbitration or to continue litigation. 

In mediation, the opposing parties are encouraged to consider to agree and make concessions to arrive at the most mutually beneficial solution for them. Mediation costs less than maintaining litigation. As mediation proved to be effective, IPOPHL In October 2018, made mediation mandatory.

Unlike mediation, however, arbitration services failed to get momentum. The reason often cited is that the rules were not enticing for parties to try arbitration. Parties may opt to submit to arbitration only after they fail to agree to a settlement in the mediation proceedings, after which parties would have already been exhausted, physically and resource-wise, to even consider arbitration. 

Thus, to ensure that arbitration would have a greater chance of utilization this time, IPOPHL is considering to have the arbitration option available right away. Parties would have the opportunity when availing ADR to choose between mediation or arbitration. 

Significantly, in a move to widen the reach of IPOPHL’s ADR services, IPOPHL opened up its mediation outside litigation services. This means that parties may avail of ADR services even without or prior to the filing of a case. Arbitration services for this will follow suit.              

DG Santiago said the enhancements to be made on its arbitration service will ensure zero backlog of cases at IPOPHL’s BLA, the primary office at which all IP rights violation cases pursued for administrative-level settlement are lodged. In 2018, total disposals improved by 6% from the previous year.

The intent to hike the use of arbitration is also in line with IPOPHL's anticipation of dealing with more cases in the future in the midst of rapid technological advancements that are making IP piracy, particularly, the manufacturing and trade of counterfeit goods, alarmingly much simpler and pervasive. 

"With the aggressive work IPOPHL and PDRCI are putting on this, stakeholders will be able to fully use the revamped arbitration service in less than a year," DG Santiago said. 

Beefing up arbitration manpower with help of MCLE

Alongside this effort is the work of IPOPHL, through its IP Academy, to gather and capacitate more arbitrators to specialize in IP. This objective is at the core of the upcoming Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) themed “Enhancing Conflict Resolution on Intellectual Property.” 

The MCLE is an obligation of lawyers, set by their duties as legal service providers, to keep abreast with the law and jurisprudence, maintain the ethics of the profession, and enhance the standards of the law.

The upcoming MCLE activity, to be held by IPOPHL, in partnership with PDRCI, will run from Nov. 27-29 and Dec. 5-6. It will be a two-for-one lecture series as participants will learn the different facets of IP and arbitration. 

On IP, the specific learning objectives of the event are: to learn emerging trends on each IP domain—trademark, copyright and related rights, and patents—in both the local and international landscapes. 

As for arbitration, lectures will elaborate on the nature of arbitral proceedings; ethical guidelines; qualifications of arbitrators, including where conflicts of interest may arise; appointment rules; and the composition of a tribunal.

The MCLE goes deeper into capacitating participants to draft a notice of arbitration and answering to a request for arbitration; conducting the proceedings; and drafting the arbitral award and post-award proceedings.

The upcoming MCLE provides an initial training ground for IP arbitrators that completing it will be merited in the application of anyone seeking to be an arbitrator. As arbitrators do not need to have a legal background to qualify, everyone from all walks of profession—preferably in a highly technical field such as mechanical engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, electrical and electronics engineering, biotechnology, agriculture, industrial design, etc—is welcome, encouraged even, to participate.