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GAR 100 - 12th Edition

Bird & Bird

05 April 2019

The firm said goodbye to a practice head, made a notable hire in Paris and represented world athletics’ governing body in a high-profile CAS dispute

People in Who's Who Legal 1
Pending cases as counsel 10
Value of pending counsel work US$$2 billion
Treaty cases 3
Current arbitrator appointments 18 (13 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 2

Bird & Bird’s international arbitration group has distinguished itself primarily in the fields of intellectual property and sport. It has in the past few years attracted more mainstream commercial and investment treaty work, particularly relating to energy.

The group was until recently steered by Annet van Hooft in Paris, a former ICC counsel who joined from Jones Day in 2011, and former Olswang disputes head Steven Baker in London, who arrived a year later. Baker left in 2016, however, and van Hooft followed suit a year later.

In 2018, Bird & Bird has since hired French-Lebanese practitioner Jalal El Ahdab who now leads the Paris arbitration team. Ahdab, who is admitted in Paris, New York and Beirut, joined from Ginestié Magellan Paley-Vincent, where he worked for six years as a partner.

Asia is increasingly an area of focus for the firm. Partner Richard Keady heads the Asia-Pacific dispute resolution practice from the Hong Kong office, where partner Robert Rhoda joined in 2016. Another former Olswang partner, Jonathan Choo, joined the Singapore office in the same year.

Network

Bird & Bird spans 29 offices in 19 countries across Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. For arbitration, its main centres are London, Paris, Madrid, Stockholm, Warsaw, Hong Kong and Singapore, but it also has boots on the ground in Helsinki, Düsseldorf, Munich, Milan and Sydney.

Who uses it?

A lot of the practice’s clients still come from the IP-rich technology sector – Nokia is a high-profile example. It has also advised Accenture, Airbus, Hyundai, French pharmaceuticals group Sanofi and Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are among the states that have used the firm on treaty matters. It has acted for renewable energy investors in a pair of treaty claims against Spain and for hotel investors in an ICSID case against Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile the sports practice has acted for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the International Tennis Federation, the International Paralympics Commission, the head of Jordan’s football association and many of the UK’s more important sporting bodies.

Track record

Around 2013, the firm helped a Sanofi affiliate win a series of ICC awards worth US$170 million in a patent licensing dispute with Genentech, a US affiliate of Switzerland’s Roche Group. Three years later, the firm won a ruling from the European Court of Justice confirming that the awards did not breach EU competition law.

The firm teamed up with US firm Alston & Bird to represent Nokia in an ICC case against South Korea’s LG Electronics concerning royalties owed under a smartphone patent licence. A final award was issued in 2017 and Nokia later disclosed that settlement of the dispute was the main cause of a 73% increase in its year-on-year operating profits for that quarter.

There was another good result for Nokia in 2012 in an SCC arbitration against RIM, the maker of BlackBerry, over patent rights. The size of the award wasn’t made public but is believed to be nine figures. The firm also helped Nokia win a multibillion-dollar ICC arbitration against Samsung over a patent licence.

In investment treaty work, the Prague office helped the Czech government see off a US$9 million claim by a UK investor in a rooftop carrier production facility. A Warsaw team helped Poland reduce an €82 million claim over airport duty-free stores to an award against the state worth €18 million.

The firm helped a global transportation company settle a US$61 million treaty claim against a South American country at the ICC in 2015.

One highlight for the sports practice includes representing the German Football Association against the club SG Dynamo Dresden, obtaining a landmark decision on the strict liability of football clubs for the improper conduct of their supporters. It also won for WADA in a sensitive dispute in the run-up to the London Olympics about whether the organisers could permanently ban drug cheats. The answer? No.

Recent events

The big news this year was the departure of practice head Annet van Hooft, who left the firm in March to focus on work as an independent arbitrator and counsel at her new firm van Hooft Legal.

Former Ginestié lawyer Jil Adhab later joined Bird & Bird as a partner to head up the arbitration practice in Paris where he will work alongside partner Marion Barbier. In addition to his work as counsel, Ahdab has sat as arbitrator in disputes under ICC, DIAC, LCIA/DIFC and CAS disputes.

On the case front, at the end of 2017, partners Gareth Wong and Peter Knight in London won a case for Central European Oil Company in a Vienna-seated UNCITRAL arbitration against MOL Hungarian Oil and Gas Plc concerning the re-development of several oil and gas fields in Hungary. The tribunal issued a US$22.5 million award in favour of CEOC plus £3 million legal fees. 

The firm also advised Sonofi and Hoechst in a Vienna-seated ICC claim, and a subsequent ICC counter claim, against six inventors in a dispute over a license agreement. Both arbitrations settled last year.

Partners Garreth Wong and Michael Brown in London represented Panama entity Ansbury Investment in an LCIA claim relating to a shareholder dispute with fellow investors in a major Nigerian Oil company. Italian firm Studio Legale Commerciale stepped in to replace the firm toward the end of the proceeding and a US$680 million award was rendered last in year in Ansbury’s favour. 

Bird & Bird has been instructed in a number of commercial arbitrations. It is acting for an Australian private equity fund in an HKIAC claim relating to a shareholder dispute over a joint venture set up to run and operate a bauxite mining business in the Solomon Islands. Hong Kong-based partner Richard Keady is leading the matter.

The firm is also advising a leading Asian biopharmaceutical company in a Hong Kong-seated ICC claim against an Indian contractor for its failure to perform its contractual obligations under licenses for generic pharmaceutical products.

Bird & Bird also represents a Michigan-based automotive client in a high-value HKIAC claim against a PRC manufacturer for breaches of a manufacturing agreement, and a Russian-based private equity fund which operates in the film finance sector in relation to an intended Hong Kong arbitration concerning a film starring two famous actors.

Partner Robert Rhoda has been elected to the council of the HKIAC’s newly-formed Belt and Road Advisory Committee – a committee to assist parties involved in projects and disputes related to China’s One Belt, One Road policy.  He was also appointed as co-chair of the HKIAC's HK45 Committee, vice chair of the Inter Pacific Bar Association's Dispute Resolution & Arbitration Committee and council member of the Law Society of Hong Kong and member of its arbitration committee. 

In Singapore, new hire Shaun Lee joined as counsel last May from JWS Asia. 

London-based partner Garreth Wong was appointed to the LCIA's database of arbitrators and WIPO's list of arbitrators and the list of arbitrators for Patent Standards. 

Düsseldorf-based partner Martin Schimke sat on the panel of arbitrators to hear disputes and doping cases at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and his colleague, Michael Zavodsky, was promoted to counsel in Düsseldorf.  The Frankfurt office saw two new hires: Dr Benedikt Burger, who joined as a partner from Allen & Overy and Dr Philipp Egler who joined as counsel from Freshfields Bruckhaus Derringer. 

Client comment

Clemens Heusch, head of European litigation at Nokia, describes Garreth Wong as a “highly effective advocate”. He is “strategic, commercial, energetic and responsive” and “goes the extra mile” when fighting for his client.

Kyle Park, an in-house counsel at Hyundai, says Bird & Bird’s team feel like “family members” rather than lawyers. He describes Zachary Song as a “model lawyer” and praises his command of the Korean language.

An in-house counsel at a major telecoms client says he had an “outstanding” experience with Bird & Bird after he brought in Hong Kong-based partner Richard Keady at short notice to take a limited role in a dispute. It soon became apparent that Keady should take the lead outside counsel role. “With Richard’s insight we were able to turn the matter around, ultimately winning over the entire panel.” In London, Garreth Wong performed “remarkably well” and Jane Mutimear provided fresh insight at short notice.

Insight

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