At present, candidate patent attorneys must have a recognized science or engineering degree, must train for a minimum of two years under a licensed patent attorney who has been licensed for at least three years (in certain circumstances, those licensed abroad may have this period shortened), and the candidate must pass a written exam which is an exercise in patent drafting, and an oral exam.
On 28th August 2014, the Israel Patent Office published a draft circular that details a proposal for allowing candidate patent attorneys who study a Masters in IP Law to obtain a dispensation from the Oral exam.
Comments from the public are solicited, but the window for such submissions, which may or may not be taken into account, is two weeks, i.e. up to 12th September 2014.
I am translating the main interesting bits below. Afterwards, will publish some comments in this forum and invite feedback here. I haven’t decided if I will submit comments formally yet.
The Draft Circular
Section 143c of the Patent Law 1967 grants the Minister of Justice authority to free categories of candidates from the examination requirements.
Section 135 of the regulations specifies that a candidate may submit evidence of the required knowledge to the Minister of Justice and obtain the dispensation. Regulation 128 specifies the syllabus or perhaps better, the subject matter of the oral exam.
The Minister of Justice, the Right Honourable Ms Tzippy Livni, (who seems to be too busy trying to negotiate a peace settlement with the Palestinians to be able to cope with run-of-the-mill legal issues like licensing patent attorneys), has delegated this authority to the Commissioner of Patents to address this issue on her behalf.
Under this delegation of responsibility, the Israel Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks Asa Kling proposes that candidate patent attorneys that fulfill the following conditions will receive a dispensation from the oral exam:
- The required knowledge is obtained in a Masters of Law program that focuses on IP Law that is recognized by the Council for Higher Education at a university or recognized college
- The curriculum includes courses in all subjects on the syllabus defined by Regulation 128
- The candidate completed the course of studies with the highest distinction (summa cum laude?) and in the top 20% of candidates of that year
- The candidate was present in at least 80% of lectures
The candidate will have to provide official transcripts and certificates.
None of the above will limit the Commissioner’ discretion from granting dispensations on a case by case basis in exceptional circumstances on an ad hoc basis.
Candidates can still appeal to the Minister of Justice under section 143c.
This circular does not recognize any specific academic institution as fulfilling the required conditions.
Should obtaining a Masters degree in IP Law be sufficient to obtain a dispensation from sitting the oral theory exam? The IP Community is invited to submit their comments. Here are mine:
I think the reason that this issue is being addressed is that various institutions such as Haifa University offer a Masters Program in IP and, currently, it is a costly program that I have wondered who it attracts? If such course provide dispensation from the notoriously difficult oral exam for Israel Patent Attorneys, they will be more attractive and more students will study them. I suspect that Haifa University and, perhaps places like Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan that offer academic courses that are not degree programs in patents and other IP things and maybe even undergraduate law programs such as ONO that teach an IP Law program, have been lobbying for recognition.
The committee of examiners, by Law, should include one patent attorney only. In recent years it typically included two Israel Patent Attorneys and a further Attorney-at-Law, where one of the patent attorneys was also an attorney-at-law. After a scathing critique on this blog, the patent office ruled that where one patent attorney is also a lawyer, this was within the law, but has stopped the practice. It wasn’t within any reasonable interpretation of the Law, but I understand why a retroactive cancellation of all issued licenses or automatic passing of those that failed the Exam was not an acceptable alternative. One also wonders how examiners could test potential candidates on the Law when they were apparently unfamiliar with it. I have also suggested that the oral exams should be scrapped.
The patent exams should be held three times a year. A candidate failing an exam is not supposed to be able to resit within six months and in practice exams are held at intervals of just over six months to prevent candidates from having to wait eight months. Previous Commissioner, Dr Meir Noam, ruled that candidates with less than a year’s training could not sit the exam yet. This was probably a good idea, but was, in my opinion ultra vires, and should have been the decision of the Minister of Justice. There have been other legal shenanigans including a retroactive amendment of filing fees to take care of a thoroughly sensible but nevertheless ultra-vires initiative of then Commissioner Dr Meir Noam to stop printing hard copies of a journal that no-one read, but to allow publication on the Patent Office website.
I don’t have official statistics, but it seems that more candidates are passing the theory exam now that the committee includes only one patent attorney and two attorneys. This is not a surprise, since in a competitive and shrinking market, there was little incentive for a committee having a majority of its members being patent attorneys, to graduate and qualify more competition. Occasionally things go wrong. I know of cases in recent years where the candidate had previously worked for the examiner. It shouldn’t happen but it has. (The candidate’s comments regarding the services he’d have had to provide to qualify are inappropriate for publication on this blog).
As someone who has many years of academic study behind me (Talmud, Materials Engineering, Physics, Law), I do not dismiss academia as irrelevant. I do not, however, think that an academic theoretical knowledge should compensate for practical experience and knowledge of IP issues. The oral exam is not a theory exam. It is an oral test of practical knowledge. The examiners test that the candidate knows drop-deadlines and knows about designs and trademarks. Examiners often tested that the candidate was aware of the differences between main regimes such as regarding grace-periods, business method patents, software patents, gene patents and stem cell patents.
An IP Law degree, should, in my opinion, train candidates in specific areas such as Internet Law. It should be high level and specific. The IP practitioner’s qualification should be general. It should be detailed but not require the candidate to have formulated opinions or even to be knowledgeable about contentious issues.
Some IP practices do not provide training to trainees. They use them to draft applications, often for a percentage that gets whittled down in practice by the trainer taking his cut first, so that the trainee gets paid nothing. The system is immoral and probably illegal since trainees are considered as salaried employees unable to work elsewhere, but who don’t earn a minimum wage. Many of the practitioners operating the scam do not provide any training whatsoever. Other firms do provide a salary and training. A trainee should get hands on experience of all aspects of IP, not merely do the less profitable work to free the attorney from meeting clients. A big firm can provide a more formal training structure. However, sole-practitioner can train if he or she is willing to involve the trainee in all aspects of his/her practice including contentious issues. Indeed, as a sole practitioner, I did successfully train a couple of now licensed patent attorneys. After every sitting I get emails from new colleague-competitors thanking me for blogging IP decisions and recommending text-books to them.
No individual practitioner’s practice will cover all aspects of IP. The trainee will generally have to study some topics by his/herself. There are a couple of recent textbooks here and here on Israel IP Law, both reviewed on this blog. Reading these, reading the Law and regulations and being aware of court and patent office decisions, perhaps by following this blog, should provide the knowledge to let anyone reasonably intelligent (and most patent attorneys are) pass the theory exam.
I do read books and papers by Israeli IP academics and have met many of them. I do not think that they are really qualified to educate the next generation about what happens in practice. Some are too busy trying to change the system in light of his/her ideas of justice, to be aware of what actually happens. Supreme Court precedents do not necessarily influence examiners at the patent office. A masters’ course is a cash cow for the academic institution. The customers expect to pass with good grades and their expectations are often fulfilled.
Someone competent should not need dispensation from the exam because he/she will be able to pass it.
Perhaps the current theory exam which is an oral viva could be modified and partially replaced by a written short answer paper, possibly multiple choice? Such an approach would at least standardize the requirements.
I believe that the US requirement of on-going training is also something worth considering. I am not sure how many licensed and practicing patent attorneys would pass the theory exam if they were to sit it again.
Commissioner’s Kling’s proposal lists various requirements and does not automatically grant any successful graduate of a masters program in IP Law with a dispensation. It limits it to a percentage of the students. This means that the standard is subjective and not objective. It is designed to keep numbers down. I don’t think doctors, accountants or attorneys at law get dispensation from professional qualifying exams by virtue of a having a degree. I think a Master’s program should be academic and not vocational. Qualifying to advise and provide services to the public requires practical knowledge.
Some years back, Professor Jeremy Phillips successfully negotiated with the UK Institute of Patent Attorneys that the Queen Mary Institute of Intellectual Property Law’s Masters’ program provide a professional qualification. He correctly points out that many competent practitioners don’t know how to teach. There are, however, some substantive differences between the UK Institute membership and the Israel Qualification in that anyone can write and prosecute patents in the UK, whereas in Israel one has to be a licensed Attorney-at law or a Patent Attorney.
Many years ago, Howard Poliner, who now works for the Ministry of Justice drafting IP Laws and amendments, used to offer a course to trainee patent attorneys. It did not replace the Exam but provided preparation for it. I think this is a useful service that universities should offer. Indeed, I thought about teaching such a program myself.
The exact scope of what patent attorneys can and cannot legally do in Israel is a contentious issue between patent attorneys and attorneys-at-law. Licensed patent attorneys interpret the relevant law (sections 19 and 20 of the Israel Bar Act and section 154 of the Israel Patent Law) somewhat wider than do various patent searchers, patent portfolio managers and others. See here for more information.
Although I am concerned that the profession should be open to anyone with an appropriate competence and not to a limited number of new practitioners each year, I am rather horrified that the Association of Israel Patent Attorneys has not seen fit to hold an extraordinary general meeting about an issue that is clearly of extraordinary relevance to the membership. I suspect the fact that the chairperson, Dr Meir Noam is actually not a practitioner in private practice and hasn’t been for over a decade including a period that he was the Commissioner, may have something to do with the lack of urgency he is showing to this issue. Of course, the Association Israel Patent Attorneys could be working on an official position paper that they intend submitting without coordinating with the membership, but I don’t suppose they would be so sneaky, would they?
Talking of being sneaky, sneaking out this draft circular at the end of August, with AIPPI conference in a couple of weeks and the High Holidays coming up is a good way to ensure that there isn’t significant discussion and debate on the issue. I have no doubt that the universities have been lobbying this for a while.
Hopefully, having shot off criticism in all directions, some readers may see fit to respond and we can have an open debate on the topic. All comments that are to the point and reasonably polite will be published.