For the 18th time, a team of law students of Saarland University participated in the annual Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot under the direction of Univ. Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Helmut Rüßmann. The competition ended shortly before Easter with a virtual closing ceremony announcing the best teams among the 387 participating universities from across the globe. The students from Saarland University were awarded for both their written and oral performance in the competition. In the oral proceedings, they reached the elimination rounds, won in the round of the best 64 and were narrowly defeated in the round of the best 32. For their Respondents’ Memorandum, they received an “Honourable Mention”, which is only awarded to the best 20 teams.
The successful students were Bianca Böhme, Elinam De Souza, Mazin Ezzeldin, Norah Kibaka-Vibila, Max Köhl and Anna-Maria Klesen. The students were supported on site by Pieter Van Vaerenbergh (Europa-Institut) and, from the distance by Eva Wingler (Head of Division in the Hessian financial administration and lecturer at the faculty), Anna Marie Faymonville (in-house counsel, Cologne) and Dr. Ben Köhler (Max Planck Institute, Hamburg).
This year’s dispute concerned the development of a vaccine against COVID-19. The parties, located in different states, had concluded a contract for the development of a vaccine including obligations for the supply of a patent-protected virus vector as well as licensing and cooperation. Shortly before the successfully developed vaccine was approved, a competitor claimed to the seller that it held an exclusive license from the patent holder, which also covered COVID-19. When uncovering this information, the buyer considered that its progress in the development of the vaccine was threatened. Therefore, the buyer initiated arbitration proceedings under the International Swiss Arbitration Rules (Swiss Rules) against the seller claiming that the supplied viral vectors were defective. The arbitration claim was also directed against the patent holder. The disputed issues were whether the contract was subject to the UN Sales Convention (first issue) and, if so, whether the conformity obligation of Art. 42 CISG was breached (second issue).
In order to comprehensively solve the dispute, the seller and the patent holder requested that the license holder who was allegedly threatening the buyer be added as a further party to the arbitration proceedings, despite the objections by the plaintiff (buyer) and the license holder (third issue). In addition, the defendants wanted any necessary taking of evidence to be done only during an in-person hearing, whereas the plaintiff considered a virtual hearing for the taking of evidence to be legally possible and preferred in the given global pandemic (fourth issue).
Since October 2020, the students dealt with these four issues first in writing and later orally. For the written phase, they had to defend both the plaintiff’s side (Memoradum for Claimant) and the defendants’ side in response to another university (Memorandum for Respondents). Also in the oral hearings, they argued alternately for the plaintiff or defendants before arbitral tribunals comprising of esteemed international arbitration specialists. It goes without saying that the entire competition was conducted in the language of international business: English.
In preparation for the oral proceedings, Saarland University took part in various (virtual) pre-moots in Stuttgart, Zenica, Hanover, New York, Moscow, and The Hague. The team won in New York, ranked 4th in Moscow and 3rd in The Hague.
Saarland University will also participate in the 29th Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot, which hopefully will again take place in Vienna. As every year, the case will deal with legal issues arising from a cross-border sales transaction under the CISG. For the procedural questions, the arbitration rules of the Asian International Arbitration Centre will be applicable.
Applications by interested students can already be sent to Professor Rüßmann (email@example.com), who can also be reached via Microsoft Teams. A decision on the new team will be made in July 2021.