Charles T. Troy
ITHACA, N.Y. -- The alternative dispute resolution process, in which the laser industry was one of the pioneers, has won widespread industry acceptance, says a report from Cornell University's Institute on Conflict Resolution. The survey, jointly sponsored by the university's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the Foundation for Prevention and Early Resolution of Conflict and Price Waterhouse LLP, asked more than 530 Fortune 1000 companies for their opinion.
Covering new ground
"These kinds of procedures have been widely used in union-management relations, but now we are seeing this technique used to resolve disputes in product liability and other nonemployment areas," said Ronald L. Seeber, associate director of the Institute of Conflict Resolution and principal investigator.
Alternative dispute resolution, the study reports, was viewed as a more satisfactory process than litigation, though many corporations expressed concern about the qualifications of outside arbiters and mediators. Among the factors favoring the process was cost, with 90 percent of respondents viewing it as a cost-effective means of resolving disputes. Mediation proved the most popular form of settling disputes; 88 percent of the respondents reported that they have used it over the past three years.
The concept of alternative dispute resolution is familiar to the photonics community, thanks to its adoption by the Laser & Electro-Optics Manufacturers Association (LEOMA) in 1995. The laser industry has a history of legal disputes highlighted by the decades-long battle over the Gordon Gould patents -- a battle that cost the contestants tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and that even destroyed some companies.
According to LEOMA Executive Director Breck Hitz, more than half of LEOMA's members, including the larger companies, have signed its alternative
The agreement specifies that companies will not initiate litigation against one another without first attempting to resolve the conflict through a professional mediator. Members sign a legally binding contract barring them from suing another signing company until mediation efforts have been exhausted.
While the agreement has never been formally invoked, Hitz said that he's convinced that its "subtle existence" has probably forestalled any overt action among members. Ongoing suits including the recently settled Spectra-Physics Lasers/SDL dispute were initiated prior to the establishment of the agreement, he pointed out.