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JAMS ADR Insights

Artificial Intelligence Neutral Spotlights & Profiles

A JAMS Q&A Session: Shining the Spotlight on Ryan Abbott, M.D., Esq., FCIArb

Learn about his legal journey, the professional accomplishment he is most proud of and his thoughts on how dispute resolution will be affected by the rise of artificial intelligence

What are some of the highlights of your JAMS career to date?

I was very fortunate to be able to join JAMS at a relatively early stage in my career, which one of my colleagues compared to playing for the Yankees. Given my baseball skills—or lack thereof—this was a more realistic option for me.

The diversity of cases I’ve had the opportunity to work on as a JAMS neutral has been exciting. Although many of my cases have some connection to technology or life sciences, many don’t. A few have involved substantive areas of law I do not have a particular background in, such as family law. I have enjoyed having a diverse caseload, and I’ve generally been very impressed by the advocacy skills of counsel.

I have had some substantively interesting cases, but an early highlight was being the first neutral selected to decide an appeal from a regulatory decision by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency under a statutory scheme requiring independent adjudication. I also had the opportunity to chair an appeal from a JAMS panel decision in Los Angeles, which is an experience that is hard to come by if you are not an appellate judge.

Who influenced your legal career or had the greatest impact on the direction you’ve taken in your career?

My father, who was a partner at a large law firm and then left to pursue a career in legal academia. I think his influence was a major reason why I pursued a career in law, and it was very helpful as a law student to be able to access a law professor on demand.

Outside of JAMS, what professional accomplishments are you most proud of?

I wrote a book on law and technology, including as it relates to ADR, and had a book launch at the House of Lords in the United Kingdom. This was despite the rule against hosting book launches—other than those written by their members—which involved some last-minute advocacy efforts. The book and the event were exciting by themselves, but also because they were the culmination of several other professional activities—getting a lot of degrees, an appointment as full professor, etc.

In turn, the book helped establish me as an authority in an area of law that has recently captured the public and profession’s imagination thanks to recent advances in AI capabilities. I had the opportunity to testify about AI and intellectual property in front of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Intellectual Property and the U.K. All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence. The book, along with my other work in this field and in ADR, has also been the basis for awards by Managing Intellectual Property, IAM, and World Intellectual Property Review.

It is also a minor miracle that the book came out at all, given my questionable decision to write it just as I had my second daughter. Thankfully, with respect to future professional accomplishments, my daughters are now older.

Several sources indicate that AI-related disputes are on the rise. What do you believe will be particularly challenging about arbitrating AI disputes versus other types of disputes?

AI is playing an increasingly important role in the substance of a variety of types of disputes. This includes cases specifically about AI, such as those alleging patent infringement or trade secret misappropriation of AI-based technologies as well as licensing disputes involving AI. As AI capabilities continue to improve, newer sorts of legal issues are also appearing in dispute resolution, such as claims of copyright infringement for the unauthorized use of content to train AI models. In some arbitrations, AI is central to the underlying facts; in other cases, such as family and employment disputes, AI may play a more tangential role.

Arbitrating AI disputes may be particularly challenging for non-scientifically inclined neutrals in cases requiring a detailed understanding of the technologies involved. But even in cases not requiring that, a high-level understanding of how AI works may be needed to address AI-related legal claims, including liability for accidents caused by self-driving cars, alleged labor law violations for algorithmic decision-making and even defamation by chatbot. An arbitrator’s understanding of AI may be needed to cut through noise and get to the key legal issues that need resolution. 

In what ways do you think your medical, legal and research expertise complement each other in your current role as an arbitrator and mediator?

Sometimes the information I’ve learned in one discipline is directly relevant to the substance of an underlying dispute, such as in cases involving health care provider credentialing, legal malpractice or Title IX complaints. 

Sometimes the skills I’ve developed in one discipline prove useful in ADR. For example, my medical practice involved speaking to patients and family members in life-threatening situations. Poor communication can lead to tragic outcomes—patients or providers failing to disclose critical information that impacts recovery, or patients, providers and family members having different goals of care. In these instances, good communication can be the difference between life and death.

That training has proven useful in resolving contentious matters in which emotional or psychological barriers are preventing parties from moving forward with otherwise-desirable substantive outcomes.

I’ve yet to have anyone experience a medical crisis during a mediation, but it has proven useful during a flight to a mediation that needed a doctor onboard, which is a story for another time.

Your knowledge in intellectual property, especially in the context of artificial intelligence, is quite remarkable. What initially drew you to this intersection between law and technology?

Coming out of school, I was looking for a way to combine my legal and medical backgrounds, and decided to focus on intellectual property and biotechnology. I ended up doing both biopharma patent prosecution and litigation, as well as related transactional work, and this resulted in firsthand exposure to some of the exciting things people were doing with AI. Beyond the scientific issues, this raised some fascinating legal issues. For example, if someone uses an AI that generates a new drug, or uses an AI to identify that an existing drug is effective for a different disease, how would the use of AI impact inventorship and patentability? The broader version of this question—namely, how does the law treat behavior by a machine versus behavior by a person—is one that plays out in several areas of law. For instance, it is a hot topic today whether AI-generated music, artwork or text is protectable by copyright. I find these sorts of issues in law and technology fascinating, and they are an increasing focus of my ADR practice.

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