Caribbean IP: Establishing An Arbitral Tribunal For The Region

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By Abiola Inniss LLB,LLM,ACIArb

Summary: The use of arbitration across the Caribbean has been largely within the context of trade union disputes and is still something of a novelty in resolving commercial and private disputes in the region.

The use of arbitration across the Caribbean has been largely within the context of trade union disputes and is still something of a novelty in resolving commercial and private disputes in the region (see Rose Marie Belle Antoine, Caribbean Law and Legal Systems, Cavendish, London, 1988). It is interesting to note that more than a decade after the publication of the above mentioned text the situation has registered little change.

This may be the result of a reluctance to embrace new methods of dispute resolution, but is more likely due to the absence of regional mechanisms which are expressly for the purpose of Alternative Dispute Resolution, and which are promoted at the regional level.

The same is true for Guyana, and it is still a mystery that in the face of the enduring difficulties in the Guyana legal system with the timely disposal of cases, a mounting backlog, and the tiresome efforts to dispense with the morass, little or no consideration has been given to the use of arbitration.

It is here posited that in developing the legal and regulatory framework for Caribbean intellectual property there are three necessary stages; firstly, there must be the institution of the CCJ as a court of first instance for intellectual property matters with appeals through two other levels to final jurisdiction and this must be accompanied by the creation and/or adoption of concrete IP regulations.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) rules, though not entirely suited to Caribbean needs, do have some efficacy and may be adjusted accordingly for this purpose. There would need to be the establishment of an arbitral institution which will deal with the resolution of IP matters using arbitration, mediation and perhaps negotiation; finally, there needs to be aggressive public relations campaigns on the rights and responsibilities of users and producers of Intellectual Property.

The most effective way of establishing such mechanisms would be through a CARICOM initiative, and at the peril of imitating the verbiage of well-oiled CARICOM diplomats, it is necessary to state that a ‘CARICOM initiative would enable an holistic implementation of strategic planning and management’, in short CARICOM possesses the material and may source the intellectual resources to create a working arbitral tribunal for intellectual property.

It may still be something of a surprise to a discerning citizen of the region that the CSME (Caricom Single Market and Economy) does not address the issue of modern IP laws in a detailed, holistic manner and does not at this time propose any mechanism for dealing with it in spite of the mandate of Article 66 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the Caribbean Community and the CSME, which requires “the establishment of a regional administration for intellectual property rights except copyright.”

Intellectual property issues develop quickly and arguably change form at a rate faster than can be dealt with by the enactment of legislation, and so, can best be resolved by means other than the legislative dictates of individual countries in the Caribbean. This poses the question of the role and powers of the proposed regional administration for intellectual property and further asks whether its purpose ought not to be defined to include legislative rather than mere oversight powers. This issue will be further discussed in some detail in another essay.

WIPO has a permanent Alternative Dispute Resolution institution which mediates and arbitrates IP matters, especially with regard to domain name disputes. In spite of the relatively underdeveloped state in the field of creation of information and communication technology, it makes sense to establish some means of dealing with these issues following the WIPO arrangement. It may even be possible to arrange for a special unit at WIPO to deal with Caribbean domain dispute issues which takes into consideration our unique circumstances.

The establishment of an arbitral tribunal for intellectual property matters will ensure that Caribbean nationals have a swift, reliable and consistent means of resolving IP disputes, especially in the areas which are most affected at this time. The issues of music, culture and the other creative arts which are left unprotected are foremost among the IP concerns of the region and in some instances have arisen because of a new awareness of the need to preserve cultural heritage.

This situation has arisen in Jamaica where sections of the Rastafarian community are seeking protection of the use of symbols associated with their heritage and beliefs. An arbitral tribunal would not only be able to hear matters in greater detail than a court of law, but would be able to quickly determine the situation according to the law and to make relevant awards.

The CSME would be a most significant beneficiary of such an establishment since there are likely to be considerable numbers of disputes both national and transnational. It is also anticipated that there will be some significant international investments and interaction in the area of e-commerce, making dispute resolution mechanisms which are of international standard absolutely necessary. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of the efficacy of the workings of an internationally competent arbitral tribunal may come from the WIPO Arbitration Rules as follows:

Time Period for Delivery of the Final Award

Article 63

(a) The arbitration should, wherever reasonably possible, be heard and the proceedings declared closed within not more than nine months after either the delivery of the Statement of Defense or the establishment of the Tribunal, whichever event occurs later. The final award should, wherever reasonably possible, be made within three months thereafter.

(b) If the proceedings are not declared closed within the period of time specified in paragraph (a), the Tribunal shall send the Center a status report on the arbitration, with a copy to each party. It shall send a further status report to the Center, and a copy to each party, at the end of each ensuing period of three months during which the proceedings have not been declared closed.

(c) If the final award is not made within three months after the closure of the proceedings, the Tribunal shall send the Center a written explanation for the delay, with a copy to each party. It shall send a further explanation, and a copy to each party, at the end of each ensuing period of one month until the final award is made.

The example of this rule illustrates the kind of efficiency necessary for the effective management of IP issues and which would be necessary where the Caribbean seeks to institute its own dispute resolution mechanism. Again where there is the necessity to determine jurisdiction and applicable law for the purpose of the arbitration, the rules provide thus:

Laws Applicable to the Substance of the Dispute, the Arbitration and the Arbitration Agreement

Article 59

(a) The Tribunal shall decide the substance of the dispute in accordance with the law or rules of law chosen by the parties. Any designation of the law of a given State shall be construed, unless otherwise expressed, as directly referring to the substantive law of that State and not to its conflict of laws rules. Failing a choice by the parties, the Tribunal shall apply the law or rules of law that it determines to be appropriate. In all cases, the Tribunal shall decide having due regard to the terms of any relevant contract and taking into account applicable trade usages. The Tribunal may decide as amiable compositeur or ex aequo et bono only if the parties have expressly authorized it to do so.

(b) The law applicable to the arbitration shall be the arbitration law of the place of arbitration, unless the parties have expressly agreed on the application of another arbitration law and such agreement is permitted by the law of the place of arbitration.

(c) An Arbitration Agreement shall be regarded as effective if it conforms to the requirements concerning form, existence, validity and scope of either the law or rules of law applicable in accordance with paragraph (a), or the law applicable in accordance with paragraph (b).

As suggested above it is not necessary in the beginning stages to create a regulatory framework for an arbitral tribunal from scratch since it is possible to draw on already well established mechanisms which have proved their worth. All that is required is the recruitment of the intellectual and material resources to implement the scheme, of course the political acumen, and the will to truly develop the region.

Abiola Inniss LLB, LLM (Business Law), mediator, and arbitrator, is a legal consultant in business law, and law teacher, who resides in Georgetown, Guyana, with an established practice in Alternative Dispute Resolution.

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  1. P.V.S. Giridhar says

    Dear Abiola Iniss,
    Your article was interesting, particularly as we in India no little of the happenings in the Caribbean other than cricket, and of course its delightful music and dance. Arbitration may be effective, but there generally tends to be expensive. Several of my clients had to agree to an unfair settlement as they could not afford the costs of international arbitration.
    Natually a public funded arbitral tribunal is a good solution to ensure a level playing field
    PVS Giridhar, Lawyer, Chennai, India

  2. Abiola Inniss says

    Dear PVS.Giridhar,
    Thank you so much for your comments. It is good to know that you enjoy Caribbean food and music and our brand of cricket. I am delighted that you have now been introduced to one aspect of our jurisprudence which is as intricate as it is fascinating , and which like cricket, we are happy to share with the world.

    Abiola Inniss

  3. Carla Parris says

    Hi Abiola

    Interesting article! As an IP/Entertainment Lawyer practicing in Trinidad and Tobago I am very much interested in seeing the IP framework of the region develop.

    I truly view the arts and cultural sectors as resources in our region that can generate tremendous wealth if only the proper infrastructure is invested to help citizens to view their talents as tradable commodities. The CSME would at some point benefit from the establishment of an arbitral tribunal for IP matters however I wonder how one would go about finding competent persons to staff this tribunal?

    As you are aware, IP is a very complexed and specialized area of law which is constantly emerging.It is therefore essential that the persons who decide the substance of a dispute are knowledgeable of the law’s intricacies. Since it is such a new field of law, it’s not one that many seniors have extensive practice experience in and most IP departments in firms tend to restrict their practice to Trademark/Patent rather than including cultural and sporting matters under their IP portfolio. As such such I wonder about the readiness of the region to effectively manage such a tribunal.

  4. Abiola Inniss says

    Hi Carla,
    I believe that it is not too difficult to
    establish a regional tribunal. There are adequately qualified jurists and academics as well as lawyers who can staff such a tribunal. The staffing may be augmented as well from an international pool of resources to begin with ,while regional lawyers get qualified for the positions.I agree that the older lawyers are not equipped to deal with the modern advancements in the law which have moved the practice from being primarily municipal to international in scope and have opened new areas of practice and kinds of practitioners.This allows juniors the opportunity to forge new paths for themselves and practically eliminates the old hierarchy.I have recently had two books published, one on Copyright and the internet and the other on Essays in Caribbean law and policy , both available at Barnes and Noble and, ( you may find these of interest) and shall soon be publishing on the legal and regulatory framework for IP. We are living in a time which provides great opportunities for young lawyers and we need to capitalise on it.

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