• Business reputation of assistive technology leader A11Y upheld in investment treaty arbitration
  • July 16, 2018 | Authors: Hussein Haeri; Ruzin Dagli
  • Law Firm: Withers LLP - London Office
  • International law firm Withers has represented UK blind technology business A11Y in an ICSID-administered bilateral investment treaty arbitration against the Czech Republic. The dispute relates to A11Y's business in the Czech Republic, which was established in 2012, and which was subsequently destroyed in the context of various actions of the Czech government.

    The Arbitral Tribunal rendered the Award on 29 June 2018. Based on the narrow language of the UK-Czech Republic bilateral investment treaty, the Tribunal was unable to find an expropriation of A11Y's business. However, the Award recognised that “A11Y's business thrived” before the State's measures.

    The Tribunal held that State employees of the Czech Republic had engaged in a series of “improper actions” targeting A11Y, namely:

    1) “pressuring customers to abandon A11Y and purchase aids from its competitors”;

    2) “sharing A11Y's proprietary information with A11Y's competitors”; and

    3) making statements about A11Y in a public TV programme. The Tribunal ruled that the broadcast “harmed” A11Y and “caused it to lose more customers and orders”.

    Whereas the Czech Republic had made public allegations against A11Y and its blind director, Mr Jan Buchal, the Tribunal held that Mr Buchal has a “stellar reputation”, was “well intentioned” and that he is a “very courageous entrepreneur”. The Tribunal recognised the extraordinary appreciation of A11Y by its blind and visually impaired customers adding, after consideration of evidence and submissions from both sides, that “the evidence of goodwill is overwhelming”.

    The Tribunal further rejected the Czech Republic's argument that A11Y had no know-how or goodwill. The Tribunal instead found that A11Y provided “cutting-edge assistive technologies and holistic solutions for the visually impaired”.

    Hussein Haeri, co-head of Withers' International Arbitration Group, and lead partner on the case, comments: “The Tribunal affirmed the cutting-edge nature of A11Y's assistive technology work and its clear benefit to blind and visually impaired customers, as well as noting that improper actions of the State damaged A11Y's business. The Tribunal's findings of principle are a strong testament to fortitude in the face of adversity.”

    Hussein worked on the arbitration with Lucas Bastin of Essex Court Chambers and Withers associates David Walker, Uliana Cooke and Ruzin Dagli.