Israel Supreme Court Rules on Parallel Importing

November 19, 2014

Tommy Hilfiger

The Israel Supreme Court has issued a ruling concerning the rights and wrongs of parallel importing and related marketing and advertising. This is the first time that they have ruled on this issue.

The Supreme Court ruled that parallel importing is legitimate, as is marking the goods with the trademarks. The licensed importer or franchisee cannot prevent parallel importing, but it is important that the name of the company doing the parallel importing does not imply that the parallel importer has a relationship with the mark holder and has to actively take steps to make clear that they are not the licensed importer. The licensed importer does not have to guarantee or provide a service for the parallel imported goods and the parallel importer that the public are made aware that the parallel imported goods are not covered by the importer’s warranty and servicing obligations.

The Israel Supreme Court partially upheld the ruling of the Court of First Instance that the parallel importers had infringed the registered licensee’s trademark and were also guilty of passing off. This was due to the name of their business, not the parallel importing itself. The Supreme Court decreased both the damages award and the restrictions imposed by the Court of First Instance.

The Appellants, Elad Suissa and Importer Warehouse 42 LTD. imported clothing carrying the Tommy Hilfiger brand, despite not being the licensed importer registered in the Trademark Register and also not having any contractual relationship with the licensee. The Appellants purchased the goods abroad from legitimate suppliers in countries where the prices were lower than in Israel. They traded under the name ‘Importer’s Warehouse – Tommy Hilfiger’ and advertised themselves as selling premium bands at discounted prices. They operated a website www.tomm4less.co.il.

The licensed importer Sea & Shells LTD, together with Tommy Hilfiger Licensing LLC. Tommy Hilfiger USA INC. and Tommy Hilfiger Europe BV sued Elad Suissa and Importer Warehouse 42 LTD on  various grounds of unfair trade and trademark issues.

The Court of First Instance ruled that the parallel importers should pay 457,000 NIS in damages and issued a permanent injunction against them. The Appellants argued that they should not be restricted from parallel importing in circumstances where this is legal.

The Supreme Court partially accepted Appeal 7629/12 by the parallel importer, and rejected the appeal 8848/12 by Tommy Hilfiger.

The Ruling

The starting position is that parallel importing is legal. Parallel Importing is not trademark infringement and is not Unjust Enrichment by the Parallel Importer. However this does not mean to say that there are no restrictions on the parallel importer. The parallel importer is subject to trademark law, fair trading laws and the Law Against Unjust Enrichment.

In Pezachim, using the registered trademark in connection with legitimate goods carrying the mark was considered “True Use” under Section 47 of the Trademark Ordinance. In Toto Zahav, it was ruled that such a use of original goods is an infringement. The case-law of the District Court adopted tests from US case law: If the items cannot be identified without using the trademark it is legitimate to use the trademark. However, usage must be limited to that which is necessary to identify the goods as being genuine and no more, and there should be no indication that the retail outlet is sponsored by or affiliated to the mark holder. Toto Zahav did not relate to parallel importing and, in cases of parallel importing, the Toto Zahav ruling should be modified.

Parallel Imported genuine items do not fall under the guidelines of Toto Zahav. Their sale is not trademark infringement and the goods do not have to have been purchased directly from the rights owner. However, marketing activity relating to such goods may be considered trademark infringement. Servicing and maintenance services have to be recognized for the servicing laboratory to be able to use the registered trademark. Parallel imported goods are not subject to warranties and guarantees of the registered importer and parallel importer has to take care that it is clear that his parallel imported goods are not covered by such warrantees.

Passing Off requires a reputation of the rights holder, and, in addition to the mark owner, the legitimate importer or licensee may have rights in the brand and may be able to sue for passing off. The concept of ‘dilution’ does not apply to parallel importing and cannot be claimed by either the mark owner or the licensed importer. However, where the reputation is built on service and the like, sale of the goods by a parallel importer such that the service agreement does not apply, may be considered passing off.

In the present case, sale and publicity of the goods themselves and the website www.tomm4less.co.il are considered as being truthful. Using the company’s colours is also unlikely, in and of itself to cause confusion.

Trading under the name ‘Importer’s Warehouse – Tommy Hilfinger’ is considered trademark infringement of the rights of Tommy Hilfiger Licensing LLC. Tommy Hilfiger USA INC. and Tommy Hilfiger Europe BV.  This is not infringement of the rights of the licensed importer Sea & Shells LTD however, since they themselves do not have a reputation.

There is no additional element such as bad faith to warrant granting damages under the Law of Unjust Enrichment.

The Parallel Importer must cease to use the name ‘Importer’s Warehouse – Tommy Hilfinger’ and have to pay 100,000 Shekels as estimated damages for their infringing use and have to mention in their advertising that they are not a franchise or otherwise acting under the supervision of Tommy Hilfiger.

The costs awarded by the District Court are canceled and Tommy Hilfiger et al. have to pay 25,000 Shekels costs to the parallel importer.

7629/12 Appeal to Israel Supreme Court (ruling by Dalia Barak-Erez et al): Elad Suissa and Importer Warehouse 42 LTD vs. Sea & Shells LTD, Tommy Hilfiger Licensing LLC. Tommy Hilfiger USA INC. and Tommy Hilfiger Europe BV, 16 November 2014

 


Requests for Costs Must be Timely Filed

November 19, 2014

missed

Back in June 2014, I reported on a decision by the Israel Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks that the Chinese brand Lovol and the older and more established Swedish brand Volvo are not confusingly similar. Having persuaded the Israel Patent Office that their mark was registered in good faith and was not confusing, Hebei Aulion Heavy Industries LTD, who own the Lovol mark, were entitled to file a request for costs.

The request for costs should have been filed within two months, as per Patent Office Circular M.N. 80. Hebei missed this deadline and, three and a half months after the hearing, they filed a late request for an extension to file costs.

Volvo opposed this request.

Hebei argued that the delay was caused because they waited to see whether the ruling would be appealed. The Commissioner did not see that connection between a possible Appeal and the right to file, and the right to costs for one proceeding is quite independent of whether the ruling may eventually be appealed or overturned. Furthermore, appeals should be filed within one month of a trademark ruling, whereas a request for costs may be filed within two months of a ruling. Where an extension is requested in an ex-partes proceeding it should be requested in advance and not retroactively.

A further consideration submitted by Hebei’s agent-of-record (Wolf Bregman Goler) was that they were unaware of the Circular and their client should not be penalized for their ignorance in this manner.  The Commissioner noted that the Circular issued back in February 2010 and that the agent-of-record was experienced and regularly appeared before the patent office in hearings and the like.

Citing A. Goren on Civil Procedure, the Commissioner noted that ignorance of the Law may be an excuse if objectively the Law is unclear and there hasn’t been any case-law, or, if subjectively, the legal representative had made efforts to avoid the mistake. In this instance, no evidence or arguments were submitted to establish objective or subjective grounds for clemency.

The agent of record argued that his client had a basic right to costs, that the Trademark Ordinance and regulations doesn’t establish a deadline, and so the Circular should not be considered binding. The Commissioner rejected this argument, considering that the Circular filled a lacuna and gave certainty as to whether costs would be requested or not. He considered that different practitioners should be held to the same standards. Costs should be requested at the end of a proceeding and not any time thereafter. There were no good reasons to consider the two month period insufficient, so the request was thrown out.


Another Israel Patent Lapses Despite Timely Payment of Fees

November 11, 2014

Online payment

Israel patent number 213651 relates to a method of saving water. The patent issued on 31 August 2013, and the deadline for paying the renewal fee was 30 November 2013. Due to failure to pay the fee in a timely manner, once the grace period passed, it was considered as having lapsed from November 2013 and a notice that the patent had lapsed was subsequently published in the Israel Patent Office Journal of July 2014.

In October 2014 the patentee filed a request for reinstatement. The agent of record argued that the patentee had paid the renewal fee in a timely manner, however proof of payment was not sent to the Israel Patent Office. On discovering the error in June 2014, the agent of record contacted the patent office to discover what had happened, believing that proof of payment had been submitted. On discovering that proof of payment had not been received at the patent office, he took steps to revive the patent.

From the chain of events, the Deputy Commissioner, Ms Jacqueline Bracha, was assured that the patentee had not intended the patent to lapse and the fact that the patent had been paid but only the proof of payment had not been submitted was considered further evidence that the patentee had intended to renew the patent. There was a lack of explanation as to why so much time had passed from when the fact that the patent had lapsed was known to the patentee to when a reinstatement request was filed. Nevertheless, noting that the Israel Patent Office was closed for festivals, Ms Bracha allowed the request for reinstatement, and  this has published for opposition purposes.


Wyeth’s Patent Term Extension for Bazedoxifene Cancelled Prior to ReExamination

November 10, 2014
Rocking the boat...

Rocking the boat…

There was an amendment to the Israel Patent Law earlier this year. This amendment (11th amendment) relates to patent term extensions. The amendment was announced, but did not go into immediate effect.

Wyeth filed a request to correct a mistake in the Patent Extension Order concerning Israel Patent Number 120701. The extension Order was given on 23 February 2014, and extends the basic patent for Bazedoxifene which, without the extension, would have lapsed on 18 April 2017.  The intention to grant an extension until 26 August 2019 was given in October 2013 and published back then. The calculation was based on the Law prior to the eleventh amendment.

On 18 September 2014, Wyeth submitted a request to correct the Extension Order to provide protection according to the regime after the eleventh amendment.

Section 16 of the Amendment states:

16(a) this Law will apply to Extension Order requests that are pending before the Commissioner of Patents on the day that this Law comes into effect, and for future requests for patent term extension.

Wyeth’s contention is that the amendment to the Law came into effect on 27 January 2014 and due to the publication for opposition purposes, the period for opposition finished on 31 January 2014, so, at the time the Law came into affect no Patent Term Extension had been granted and the request for patent term extension for IL 120701 must, therefore, be considered as pending at the time the amendment came into effect.

The amendment narrowed down the list of countries that could be relied upon for Israel to grant a corresponding extension. Instead of anywhere in Europe that grants an extension, only Italy, UK, Germany, Spain and France could be taken into account. Significantly, Japan was no longer considered a relevant country in regards to patent term extensions. Wyeth’s patent was extended on the basis of the extension of the corresponding Japanese patent. By ignoring Japan, a longer term could be requested.

There is an interesting twist here. In October 2013, the FDA issued approval for Bazedoxifene together with conjugated estrogens as Duavee. This fact was not taken into account in calculating the Patent term Extension and could act against Wyeth. The Commissioner ruled that it would be improper to apply some sections of the amendment and not others, and that the Israel Patent Office should consider the ramifications of this FDA approval as well. In consequence, the Commissioner did not amend the ruling, but rather canceled it as a wrongfully given bureaucratic decision. He ruled that the published patent term extension was null and void and that the Application would be subjected to accelerated re-examination under the amended Law with the ramifications, if any, of the FDA approval of Duavee also considered.

Various legal precedents were given to support this contention and the solution it offered. The Commissioner noted that Patent Term Extensions are not final and could be reconsidered, even previous to the eleventh amendment.  He related to previous rulings concerning Teva vs. Abbott, Neurim, Lundbeck vs. Unipharm and Roche.

In addition to being able to oppose any subsequent patent term extension, the cancellation of the existing patent term extension may also be opposed by third parties.

Ruling Concerning Patent term extension to IL 120701 to Wyeth, 3 November 2014.


A Costs Ruling in Camtek vs. Orbotech

November 9, 2014

legal costs

Cantek and Orbotech both make optical testing equipment for the semiconductor industry. Both are Israeli companies. Since they directly compete, there seems to be a lot of bad blood between them.

Israel Patent Application 179995 to Orbotech was successfully opposed by Camtek, with a ruling cancelling the patent issuing on 20 July 2014. Whilst holding the patent to be void, Ms Bracha rejected a claim by the Opposer that Orbotech had acted inequitably. She gave Camtek three weeks to request costs.

On 31 July 2014 Camtek requested 302,895 Shekels costs (including VAT).  The request for costs were supported by an affidavit from Camtek’s IP manager Michael Lev.

The sum includes legal fees of 288,687 Shekels to outside counsel, Adi Levit, 8208 Shekels to the witness Mr Golan, and 6000 Shekels for intermediate costs awarded. All cost requests were supported by documentary evidence such as invoices from outside counsel and salary slips from the witness.

Orbotech, represented by Reuven Borchowski, did not counter the request for costs.

In her ruling, Ms Jacqueline Bracha reviewed the intermediate costs to see whether they were affected by the final decision and came to the conclusion that where she had ruled that the costs were incurred by Opposer unnecessarily, they should not be discounted.

In her final ruling, Ms Bracha accepted the legal and witness costs of 296,895 Shekels.

COMMENT

I have no doubt that Opposing counsel worked hard. Nevertheless, it does seem that the costs awarded are very high. One wonders if Orbotech shouldn’t have made some effort to challenge these. Clearly doing so would have incurred additional costs from their counsel, nevertheless, it does seem likely that this would have been time well spent.

 


Israel Patent Application No. 204070 Cancelled Despite Opposition Being Dropped

November 9, 2014

Back in July, we reported on an opposition against Israel Patent Application No. 204070 to Reckitt and Coleman that was opposed by Sano Bromium Factory. 

Sano-brome abandoned the Opposition, but in her ruling from July 2014, using her discretionary powers under Section 34 of the Law, the Deputy Commissioner, Ms Jacqueline Bracha detailed why, based on the evidence in the file, the patent application was apparently void, but gave the Applicant 30 days to provide counter-arguments to convince her to the contrary.

Reckitt and Coleman took a couple of extensions for filing counter-arguments, but did not submit counter arguments that were sufficient to overcome the lacunae., so Ms Bracha cancelled the Application.

 


Seminar on Patent Prosecution Highway

November 2, 2014

Highway  highway2 highway to hell

The Israel Patent Office if holding a one day seminar on the Patent Prosecution Highway. The event will be held between 9:00 AM and 12:30 PM at ZOA House, Ibn Gvirol 26, Tel Aviv on 26 November 2014.

COMMENT

This is a welcome development. Nevertheless, I suspect that the patent office has forgotten what it is like trying to get into Tel Aviv by 9.00 AM.


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