Insufficient Evidence to Find Finnegan Guilty of Conflict of Interest

December 27, 2015

michaelfinnegan  Finnegan’s Wake here.

The Supreme Judicial Court of the State of Massachusetts has upheld a decision to dismiss claims against Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP (henceforth Finnegan) for conflict of interest. A copy of the opinion may be found here.

The Facts

Chris Maling hired patent prosecuting attorneys at Finnegan Henderson to prosecute a set of patent applications relating to screwless eyeglass hinges. According to Maling’s complaint, Finnegan was representing his competitor in the screwless eyeglass market, filing patent applications for that competitor.

Maling claimed that:

  1. He would not have hired Finnegan if he had known that the firm was representing the competitor in the same “patent space.”
  2. He was harmed when he asked the law firm to provide him with a legal opinion addressing similarities between Maling’s patents and the competitor’s patents, and the firm declined to do so. Without the opinion, Maling said, he was unable to obtain funding for his invention, and his product was unmarketable due to similarities with the competitor’s device.
  3. Maling alleged that 14 month delays in drafting patents for his invention were caused by Finnegan favoring the other client.

Maling engaged the Boston Office of Finnegan’s services in 2003 and, after various prior art searches, Finnegan filed and obtained four patents for Maling. The relationship terminated in May 2009. Over this same time period, attorneys in the Washington DC office represented Msunaga Optical Manufacturing Co. LTD. (henceforth Masunaga), a Japanese company also seeking patents for screwless eyeglasses. Maling considers it unacceptable and inexplicable that it took 14 months, until May 2004 for Finnegan to start drafting his applications, whereas Masunga’s were filed more quickly. He claimed to pay in excess of $100,000 to Finnegan for their services, and would not have done so had he been aware of the (alleged) conflict.

Maling requested relief based on:

  1. Breach of Fiduciary Duty
  2. Legal malpractice
  3. Unfair or deceptive practices
  4. inequitable conduct

Maling’s complaint alleged several claims for relief, including legal malpractice, all hinging on the existence of an alleged undisclosed conflict of interest arising from Finnegan’s representation of both Maling and his competitor.

The complaint was dismissed by the court of first instance and their decision was upheld on appeal on two grounds:

  1. The simultaneous representation by a law firm in the prosecution of patents for two clients competing in the same technology area for similar inventions is not a per se violation of Mass. R. Prof. Conduct 1.7.
  2. Based on the facts alleged in his complaint, Maling failed to state a claim for relief.

The case is Maling v. Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP, SJC-11800, in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The Ruling

The relevant law is Rule 1.7 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct. This law provides that a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation is “directly adverse to another client,” Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.7 (a) (1), or where “there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.” Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.7 (a).

At the time this action was brought, concurrent conflicts of interest were governed by 37 C.F.R. § 10.66 (2012) (entitled, “Refusing to accept or continue employment if the interests of another client may impair the independent professional judgment of the practitioner”), which provided:

“(a) A practitioner shall decline proffered employment if the exercise of the practitioner’s independent professional judgment in behalf of a client will be or is likely to be adversely affected by the acceptance of the proffered employment, or if it would be likely to involve the practitioner in representing differing interests, except to the extent permitted under paragraph (c) of this section.

(b) A practitioner shall not continue multiple employment if the exercise of the practitioner’s independent professional judgment in behalf of a client will be or is likely to be adversely affected by the practitioner’s representation of another client, or if it would be likely to involve the practitioner in representing differing interests, except to the extent permitted under paragraph (c) of this section.

(c) In the situations covered by paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section a practitioner may represent multiple clients if it is obvious that the practitioner can adequately represent the interest of each and if each consents to the representation after full disclosure of the possible effect of such representation on the exercise of the practitioner’s independent professional judgment on behalf of each.

(d) If a practitioner is required to decline employment or to withdraw from employment under a Disciplinary Rule, no partner, or associate, or any other practitioner affiliated with the practitioner or the practitioner’s firm, may accept or continue such employment unless otherwise ordered by the Director or Commissioner.”

The court ruled that “subject matter conflicts” do not fit neatly into the traditional conflict analysis. They opined that Maling’s interpretation of rule 1.7 would render all subject matter conflicts actionable per se. The court disagrees with this position. It considers that subject matter conflicts may present a number of potential legal, ethical and practical problems doe lawyers and their clients, but do not themselves consititute actionable conflicts of interest under rule 1.7.

What is forbidden is to represent a client in an adversarial matter against another entity that is a client, even if not in the same case unless one has the consent of both sides. In this instance, the two companies were each represented by Finnegan at the USPTO in patent prosecution, There was no inter partes proceeding. The fact that the two clients were economic rivals is insufficient to create an actionable conflict. Of note, there was no interference proceeding between applications of the two clients. Since both clients’ patents issued, there is no overlap in inventions.  Furthermore, there is no indication that an interference was likely.

The court further recognized that Finnegan opined regarding the Masunga patents, that would have been actionable, but Finnegan declined to do so. (the reason why they declined is not given).

Although in Sentinel Prods. Corp. vs. Platt, U.S. Dist. Ct., No. 98-11143-GAO (D. Mass. July 22, 2002) (Sentinel), the concept of ‘claim shaving’ is discussed, in this instance, Maling provided no evidence that the scope of his protection was limited by Finnegan out of deference to Masunga. This is mere speculation.

Finnegan’s refusal to opine regarding Masunga’s patents is suspicious, but whether or not Finnegan should have declined to take on Maling as a client in 2003 depends on the potential for conflict appreciated back then.

The court noted that Comment 8 to rule 1.7 elaborates:

“The mere possibility of subsequent harm does not itself require disclosure and consent. The critical questions are the likelihood that a difference in interests will eventuate and, if it does, whether it will materially interfere with the lawyer’s independent professional judgment in considering alternatives or foreclose courses of action that reasonably should be pursued on behalf of the client.”

In the oral argument, Maling’s counsel alleged malpractice or negligence in Finnegan’s failure to discover and disclose Masunga’s patents during their prior art search. As this allegation was not in Maling’s complaint, the court ignores the issue. In an interesting twist, Maling accused Finnegan of failing to disclose information to the USPTO (regarding the other client’s patents) and that this was inequitable conduct. The court noted a dearth of case law on the matter. The main issue seems to be that the attorneys working for the two clients were working from different offices.

In conclusion, although there are various factual scenarios under which client matter conflict may give rise to an actionable violation under Rule 1.7, the facts alleged to not amount to an actionable conflict. The dismissal of the complaint is reaffirmed.

COMMENTS
As noted by the Honorable J Cordy the issue at stake is whether there was an actionable conflict of interest (under Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.7, as appearing in 471 Mass. 1335 (2015)) when attorneys in different offices of the same law firm simultaneously represent business competitors in prosecuting patents for similar inventions without informing them or obtaining their consent to simultaneous representation.

The issue of Conflict of Interest is sometimes termed an ethical one. It is noted that there is a difference between legal ethics and ethics as generally understood. Once ethics are codified, they become regulations or laws. Ethics is appropriate behavior over and above that required by the law.

Various amicus briefs were filed. These include one by the Boston Patent Law Association and various ones by IP Law Firms including Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear, LLP; Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP; Nixon & Vanderhye P.C.; Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP; Schiff Hardin LLP; Steptoe & Johnson LLP; Snell & Wilmer LLP; Barnes & Thornburg LLP; Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP; Verrill Dana LLP; and Morrison & Foerster LLP.

In large firms it is not unlikely that one attorney may be unaware of the clients of another. The client concerned about specific competitors can and should present a list of such competitors to his attorney to provide a clearance check.

Israeli standards of conflict of interest are different from those of the State of Massachusetts. An Israeli firm engaging Finnegan or another large US firm would probably have to bring complaints of alleged conflicts in US courts, which is not cheap and is not easy. There are, therefore, advantages in engaging local representation in Israel who are bound by local standards and can be sued locally.

It is more than likely that the two attorneys at Finnegan handling the spectacle hinge cases were unaware of the other client until the opinion issue arose. At that stage, it is clear from the front cover of the patent/application, who the attorney of record is.

One of the reasons suggested for employing a big IP firm is the fact that an attorney with relevant experience can handle specific cases. I don’t know to what extent practitioners pass work over to colleagues with specific experience. I expect it is rare, apart from partners who are essentially rain-makers rather than practitioners.

In general, it is much easier for small firms to avoid subject matter conflicts. Over the years, I have had client referrals from sole practitioners and smaller firms who had subject matter conflicts. I also have had referrals from colleagues that felt unhappy with their understanding of the subject matter. In some cases, this has been specific applications where the client has remained with the referrer and I have handled only the specific technology. In other cases, clients are referred. There are some attorneys who are specialists and only handle, say, telecommunication patents, or only handle pharmaceuticals. Other attorneys are generalists and are comfortable drafting and prosecuting a range of technologies. It is important that the attorney drafting the case understands the technology. Ideally the drafting attorney should have direct contact with the inventors.

Care should be taken to avoid working with attorneys that outsource work to unidentified sub-contractors, whether local or abroad. I don’t think that a 14 month drafting delay would happen in a small firm. suspect that in general smaller firms provide a better service and are more cost-effective than larger firms. However, at the end of the day, it is the attorney that handles the case and his/her experience that matters, not the size of the firm. It is where a file is touched by many hands, with trainees, junior associates and senior partners, paralegals and filing clerks all billing their time that prosecution gets delayed and costs escalate.

Maling’s allegation that Finnegan’s failure to disclose information to the USPTO regarding the other client’s patents was inequitable conduct was a dangerous argument. It undermines the validity of their own patents.


Beer Brands Not Protectable in Gaza

November 26, 2015

The Trademark Office in Gaza issued Ministerial Decision No. 16 of 2010 on 1 August 2010 stating that is not possible to file new trademark applications in class 32 covering beers and lager any longer, nor it is possible to renew registered trademarks covering the same items.  The Gazan Trademark Office has restated this Decision.

In Taybe, a Christian Arab village just East of Ofra there is a micro-brewery called Taybe Beer that is owned by the Khoury family.  There was a time when Rav Avi Gisser, the Rabbi of Ofra gave Rabbinic supervision to the beer, but this is no longer the case.

Should a fundamentalist Muslim country prevent registration of trademarks for alcohol or should it have sympathy for its minorities? We recently filed a trademark for bacon products for a Russian client. Neither Jews or Muslims eat bacon, and many Jews who are not strict observers of laws relating to Kosher food nevertheless refrain from eating bacon. There are, however, Russian immigrants who are not Jewish. There are also Russian Jews living in Israel who grew up in Russia and like bacon. I don’t think that trademark offices should use public order clauses to enforce religious dietary laws.


Random House Loses Copyright Case to Goebbels Estate

July 20, 2015

Goebbels Diaries

The estate of notorious Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels won a lawsuit against Random House publishing company in Munich last week.

The case was brought against Random House Germany by the estate because royalties were not paid out for the use of Goebbels’ personal diaries in a 2010 biography written by historian Peter Longerich. The biography was originally written in German and was republished in English by Penguin Random House UK and its imprint Bodley Head.

 

The Newsweek Report may be found here. Versions in the Israel press are slightly different.

COMMENT

This is far from the first copyright argument related to Goebbels’ diaries. When they  were first discovered in the early Nineties, different British papers published extracts. I believe the Mirror Group paid royalties but the Sunday Times refused to.

Substantively, Random House showed creativity in suggesting that the royalties be paid to Holocaust Survivors. I can understand why Nazis sympathizers may find the suggestion inappropriate. I suspect that the same considerations that caused Menachem Begin to oppose German reparations to the State of Israel might make more than once survivor feel uncomfortable with the idea as well.

I think that Random House’s arguments that the copyright was removed along with other possessions after the War is an interesting one. Jewish courts can also appropriate private property in the principle known as הפקר בית דין הפקר. That as may be, if the German court did not accept the argument and the State of Barvaria has shown no interest in contesting their rights, the legitimate heirs of Goebbels are entitled to seek retribution. Unlike Goebbels, I believe that IP and other property rights have to be recognized regardless of the political leanings, race and nationality of the owners.

Random House’s arguments regarding scholarly access, etc. have more than a little merit. This is one reason that I am against the present long copyright periods, and think that copyright should be for, say, 10 years, extendable on payment of a fee, for a second ten year period. This is also probably why rather than writing books I write a blog and am happy for anyone to reproduce or quote, so long as they attribute.

 

 


Impotent Appellant Has No Standing

July 1, 2015

class action  no standing

This ruling relates to a Class Action filed in bad faith. The court ruled that when Applicant challenges the validity of claims made for a formulation, failure by the Applicant to take the formulation during the minimal period prescribed by the manufacturer, is sufficient to cancel the standing of the Appellant as representing the class in a Class Action.

The Appellant purchased a formulation intended to strengthen the male libido. Prior to the Appellant finishing the prescribed course of treatment detailed in the accompanying literature and as explained by the Supplier’s Helpline, the Appellant filed suit with the District Court claiming that the product is misleading, and requested that the case be considered as a Class Action. However, the District Court refused to see this as a class action since the Appellant had no standing, and therefore could not represent the class.

Supreme Justice Danziger upheld the decision of the lower court without awarding costs to either party, and added that the need to test that the plaintiff behaves equitably is anchored in Section 8(a)4 of the Class Action Law. The ruling of this court does not indicate a general ruling of what is considered equitable behavior as far as Class Actions are concerned. In one case Inequitable behavior occurs when a case is filed due to false motivation, such as an intent to damage a competitor or to “squeeze a compromise”. In other instances, the mere fact that a plaintiff is acting commercially, looking to profit from the Class Action does not, in and of itself, indicate that he is behaving inequitably, however the plaintiff has to behave equitably during the hearing. This is particularly important in cases where the plaintiff wishes to represent a class of consumers and not merely himself and when a lawyer solicits plaintiffs for a Class Action.

In this instance, the District Court has determined, from the evidence before it, that the Appellant:

  • recorded conversations with the service hotline of the vendor
  • did not read the accompanying literature, tried the formulation for too short a period in direct contradiction of the instructions that he received with the formulation
  • contacted a lawyer prior to finishing the course; filed suite 5 days after stopping the treatment
  • via his attorney, submitted advertisements that were not related to his decision to take the treatment

These facts resulted in the District Court concluding that the plaintiff did not have standing in his own right and could therefore not represent the class of men with impotence issues.

The Court concluded that the circumstances indicate that this is a rare case of someone initiating a Class Action inequitably, and contrary to Section 8(a)(4) of the Law. This conclusion is not based on the motive of the plaintiff, for one may be motivated by material gain, but by the inequitable behavior determined by the District Court. Simply not going the full course indicated by the manufacturer is sufficient to make the Appellant not appropriate to represent the class.

Oddly, and perhaps not inappropriately, this case was heard by three male judges, who agreed unanimously with the verdict.

4534/14 Appeal to Supreme Court, Eli Daniel vs. Direct Nature LTD

COMMENT
The Appellant, Eli Daniel, may not have had to pay compensation or costs, but, due to his actions, has entered the Israel legal text-books as having erectile dysfunction. Not the end of the world.

From discussions with pharmacist clients over the years I understand that the efficiency of all medicines, both classical and alternative (where there are active ingredients, as opposed to homeopathy) work to a greater or lesser extent in different patients due to personal physiology. A class of one is hardly a representative sample to test the efficiency of a treatment. There is a well documented placebo effect and presumably this works in both directions, so a patient lacking belief in a treatment is unlikely to see positive results. I assume that not everyone reacts the same way to aphrodisiacs, and there are large number of foods that are attributed as having both aphrodisiac and libido dampening effects. Apparently, patients taking classical medical treatment for erectile dysfunction still need to feel aroused, and taking the medicine alone has no effect.  I therefore wonder whether the treatment in question works some of the time and for some men. Certainly, there is no indication in this class action that this is not the case.


IL 157,035 – If one accused of infringing a patent does not challenge its validity, is the accused estoppeled?

March 8, 2015

Fig. 3Fig. 6

Israel Patent Number 157,035 is owned by Moshe Lavi. It relates to a shelf for the compressor of an air conditioning unit.

The main claim is as follows:

 A modular bracket for an air conditioner compressor, said bracket comprising a substantially rectangular frame composed of at least two portions, being “U” or “L” shaped provided with surplus holes allowing adjustments to suit the thickness of an air-conditioning compressor to be seated thereon, at least one further structure being attachable to said rectangular frame to provide support thereto.

The patent application was filed in July 2003 and issued in May 2007. In April 2014, Zach Raz, represented by Pearl Adv. filed a cancellation proceedings and, on 27 July 2014 Moshe Lavi, represented by Pearl Cohen Tzedek Latzer Barats filed a request to have the case thrown out.

Note, the Pearls concerned are different lawyers with the same name. To differentiate between them, we will call one firm Pearl and the other Pearl Cohen – Brats.

In an earlier dispute, 47000-02-12 Moshe Lavi vs. Zach Oz Air Conditioning LTD., the parties agreed to an out-of-court settlement in which the applicants for cancellation undertook not to infringe the patent, and, consequently, Pearl Cohen Brats argued that they were estopelled from challenging the validity of the patent.

At this stage Pearl Cohen Brats claims that Zach Oz never raised validity issues which are generally the first line of defense that infringers take, and at this stage, they are estoppled and it is too late for the them to challenge the validity of the patent whether or not the grounds for so doing were known at the time of the previous ruling.

Moshe Lavi represented by Pearl Cohen Brats further alleged that Zach OZ was behaving inequitably and was misusing the legal procedures. This argument was based on the compensation damages awarded in the out-of-court settlement were minimum as the parties were keen to put the legal battles behind them, and, were Moshe Lavi to know that the validity would subsequently be challenged, they would never have agreed to reducing the compensation.

Zach Oz argued that there was no positive declaration of validity or admission of validity in the court case or in the out of court settlement. They further argued that the grounds for invalidating the patent were only discovered after the out-of-court settlement. They further opined that throwing a case out without discussing its merits should only be considered in extreme cases where it is clear that the case is frivolous. Since the issue of infringement and that of validity are not the same, one cannot consider that the previous court ruling prevents the patent office from hearing the case.

Ruling

The Commissioner, Asa Kling noted that throwing out a case on a technicality without hearing it on its merits was an extreme step, and that the Israel Patent Office had an obligation to ensure the integrity of the patent register (see section 73b of the Israel Patent Law 1967) so that the validity of any patent that arguably should never have issued should be challengeable.

Citing Judge Zamir in Appeal 3833/93 Levine vs. Levine:

Access to the Courts is a constitutional right despite there not being a constitution and this right is not yet written into the basic laws, and the courts will uphold this right.

Judge Heishin in 733/95 Orpal Aluminium vs. Klil Industries LTD PD 51(3) 755, 628:

Access to the courts is a basic right as basic rights are commonly understood.
Furthermore, access to the courts is considered a basic right, even if not literally stated in the Basic Laws. It is the air that allows the courts to breathe and is the basis of the judiciary and of the rule of law.

In other words, Heishin was noting that the courts need to be able to hear cases to function and so were loath to throw cases out on a technicality.

Commissioner Kling accepted the need for finality, but ruled that the need for access to courts  and for cleaning the patent register by voiding  a priori non-valid patents was a greater need. He didn’t consider that civil procedures were merely for the benefit of the warring parties and there was an overriding national interest in allowing cancellation proceedings to be judged on their merits. Section 73b rules that such cancellation proceedings could be submitted by anyone.

Based on the statements of case, this instance was not one of those rare cases where access to the courts should be denied.

In paragraph 2 of the statement of case, Lavi (represented by Pearl Cohen Brats) stated that “the patent was granted on 12 May 2007 and is in force for all purposes”. In paragraph 14 of the counter claims Zach Oz represented by Pearl stated that the patent is in force until 21 July 2013, i.e. a further year. It seems that this was simply a misreading of the register. One cannot deduce from this that they accepted that the patent was inviolate and could not be challenged.

Since anyway, anyone can challenge the validity of a patent, and in so doing, serves the public interest, the whole concept of judicial estoppels is irrelevant and this skirmish is simply a waste of precious judicial time.

Essentially the infringer, can, of right, challenge the validity of the patent in the patent office whilst defending himself from allegations of infringement. The legislators intentionally allowed this and the estoppel simply does not exist.

It appears that Lavi (represented by Pearl Cohen Brats) are attempting to learn ex silencio assent to the validity of a patent whose validity was never formally asserted. Although Section 182 allows the alleged infringer to raise invalidity issues in his defense, he is not obliged to do so.

The mere fact that in the previous court case, there were vague references to validity issues, the court never addressed those issues and it cannot be construed that the previous court had affirmed that the patent is valid.

Citing Zaltzman in Court Actions 1991, , the Commissioner ruled that an out-of-court settlement undertaking not to infringe that was subsequently endorsed by the court cannot be considered as if the parties had accepted validity of the patent or that there was indeed infringement. They had merely decided not to bother to have an adversarial dispute that could create estoppels.

Arguably, the claim that the token compensation would not have been accepted had the patentee known that the validity of the patent would subsequently be challenged might be grounds for ruling that the agreement was broken or for claiming inequitable behavior in an appropriate forum but this could not be used to argue that the case should be thrown out without relating to the issues raised, thereby preventing the validity of the patent from being challenged in the patent office.

The Commissioner ruled that each side should bear their own costs for this request to throw out the case.

The patentee was given three months to relate to the validity issue.

COMMENT

Disclosure – Way back in 2007 when Lavi sued Zach Oz, I was approached by Soroker-Agmon on behalf of the defendant to give an expert opinion concerning whether the patent was infringed. I came to the conclusion that there was no infringement unless the claims would be interpreted so broadly that they would be voidable as lacking novelty (the Gillette Defence). I requested a minimal budget to search the prior art as it seemed clear to me that the patent was for a shelf bracket with a triangular brace and it should never have issued anyway. The budget was not forthcoming, and I never got to present my arguments of non-infringement in court as the defendant got cold feet and agreed to the out-of-court settlement so my arguments were never heard. It was and is my belief that the patent in question was not infringed, could easily be voided as lacking inventive step and, with a little searching, should be easy to show was anticipated. No substantive judgment was given.

The issue before the Commissioner was a legal one and was simply whether the arguments for cancellation should be considered on their merits, or whether the party requesting cancellation should be legally prevented from presenting their arguments.

The commissioner is, of course correct to throw out the request to throw out the case on a technicality. Furthermore, as the request was frivolous, and as noted by the commissioner, the request was a waste of Judicial resources, I think he was more than generous in ruling that the parties should bear their own costs.

I understand that back when the infringement case was filed, Zach Oz had minimal resources to fight the patentee and was effectively bullied into submission. As with the Source Vagabond case, a more vigorous defense would have been that the whole lawsuit was frivolous, that the patent was not infringed. Maybe now they’ll do what they should have back then and show that the patent never should have issued.


YES!

February 18, 2015
Yes!

Yes!

DBS Satellite Services 1988 LTD provides satellite television services in Israel that are branded as YES. The Service is licensed by the Communications Ministry.

DBS Satellite Services 1988 LTD sued the brothers Ahmed and Amar Hamuda for trademark and copyright infringement and damages, requesting the following sanctions:

  1. A permanent injunction against the defendants to prevent them from distributing, marketing of selling pirate transmission of the Plaintiff, to cease using the plaintiff’s trademarks, including in third party publications. They requested an injunction against them using the plaintiff’s equipment, or equipment supplied by the plaintiff to their customers, for any but personal use, and to cease any non-personal use immediately.
  2. An order to the defendants or to the receiver to destroy all equipment that enables copyright infringement and all material carrying the YES logo.
  3. An injunction to remove YES’ registered trademarks from the FACEBOOK page for Acre Satellites and from all other publications.
  4. A request to reveal accounts going back seven years.
  5. Statutory damages of 700,000 Shekels under Section 56a of the Copyright Act and Statutory Damages of 100,000 Shekels for trademark infringements (claiming single infringements merely to reduce the court fees) and double costs as a punishment for willful infringement.
  6. Alternatively, compensation of 1,900,000 Shekels for Unjust Enrichment,  (the figures capped to reduce the court fees).

These injunctions were granted by Judge Zernkin, and following the Anton Pillar injunction, equipment and computer records were seized and a summary report was filed to the court by the receiver.

The injunctions were kept in force until the end of proceedings, and for the purposes of the hearing, an order to produce documents and to fill out questionnaires was issued.  This happened in the presence of the defendants who then failed to respond. Consequently, using powers under Section 122 of the Civil Court Procedure 1984, the court ruled that the statement of defense be struck from the record. It is noted that the statement of defense was a mere denial without any explanations.

In a ruling of 27 December 2014, Judge Orit Weinstein requested that the Prosecution supply evidence to substantiate their case and on 15 January 2015 they submitted evidence and affidavits of private detectives, by the VP (Engineering) of YES and the Head of Development at YES.

Based of the evidence submitted, Judge Weinstein ruled that there was sufficient grounds for a judgment against the defendants:

The Defendants broke the security encryption of the satellite transmissions and created a pirate industry, marketing and selling YES’ transmissions piratically, without paying YES, and by undercutting YES’ prices, free-riding on YES. YES’ copyright was infringed by the packaging of the transmission channels and the content, and YES’ trademarks were infringed by being used without permission and illegally.

Consequently, Judge Weinstein ruled that the temporary injunctions would become permanent injunctions, that all equipment be destroyed, following the receiver declaring that he was not holding any assets, there was no need to issue an order against him. The FACEBOOK page should be amended and so should all other publications so as not to include the trademarks of the plaintiff. Judge Weinstein further ruled statutory damages of 700,000 Shekels for copyright infringement and of 100,000 Shekels for trademark infringement, 10,000 Shekels expenses and 40,000 Shekels legal costs.

Civil Proceedings 111147-10-13 DBS Satellite Services (1998) LTD vs. Ahmed and Amar Hamuda.

COMMENTS
I have no sympathy for the defendants in this case. Nevertheless, although the ruling seems very reasonable and the defendants didn’t exactly defend themselves, in the hands of a good lawyer, they could have raised a number of interesting questions. Free riding is not a crime. YES probably does not own very much of the copyright in their transmissions and creating a copyright in a package of channels is stretching things a little. In a recent Supreme Court Ruling concerning parallel imported Tommy Hilfiger shirts here, the Supreme Court allowed the parallel importer to advertise that it was selling Tommy Hilfiger shirts, but not to claim that it was a registered supplier, and to inform customers that they were not entitled to warranties from the official suppliers.  Can one really prevent someone from using the word ‘yes’ on their facebook page or in advertisements?

pirate

Piracy is the crime of boarding shipping on the high seas that is punishable under international maritime law by requiring the pirate to walk the plank.

Arguably with regular TV transmissions, there is a case for Ministry of Communications regulation to divide the radio frequencies into separate bands and to prevent channels interfering with each other. I am not sure that for digital signals sent by satellite this is the case. Certainly government tenders have been abused. The tender for commercial radio that then Govt. Minister Shulamit Aloni put together was designed to prevent Arutz 7 from obtaining a license. The same politicians who called the Arutz 7 team pirates and warned about pirate radios risking plane crashes lauded the late peace activist Abu Natan and his pirate radio ship the Voice of Peace and nominated him for a Nobel Prize. When the Supreme Court voted en banc against Arutz 7, without a dissenting voice even mentioning the value of free speech, it was clear that things have deteriorated a long way since Agranat’s deicison re Kol HaAm.


Secondary Use Claims – Some Thoughts…

June 27, 2014

second use

Yesterday I attended a meeting of the Association of Israel Patent Attorneys in ZOA  House, Tel Aviv. The invitation and program were blogged here.

The topic under discussion was Secondary Use Claims. Unfortunately, I arrived late and missed the first talk by Adv. Yair Ziv, but caught most of Adv. David Gilat’s presentation, that of Dr Ron Tomer, and that of Ena Pugatsch.

The event was well-organized and well attended. From the remains of the refreshments by the time I arrived, they seemed the usual ZOA fayre. Kudos to the committee headed by Ex-Commissioner Dr Noam, for organizing the event. There were 85 participants in the meeting. This is impressive for a highly specialized topic at an event open to a small organization (noting with approval however, that there were both lawyers and in-house patent coordinators present that are not patent attorneys and thus not members, and also trainees).

Adv. David Gilat posited that drug patents were necessary to compensate the drug developers for their investment, and that secondary uses were also the result of research.  Dr Ron Tomer (confusingly called Dr Yaron Tomer in the original invitation to the event) expertly and clearly countered all of Davidi’s positions, and demonstrated that the pharma industry were creatively filing secondary uses that lacked inventive step and were obvious. He gave various examples. Firstly, he referred to sildenafil citrate, originally developed for treating angina and now used almost exclusively as a treatment for erectile disfunction, as a hard problem. (I thought it was a flaccid problem and a hard solution, but I digress). He went on to argue that an oncological drug for one type of cancer may fairly obviously be tried for another type of cancer since the underlying effects of the drug would treat both mutant cells the same way.  He noted that patents were not awarded for research but for inventions. He claimed that there was nothing new in the drug, despite the new use. He gave convincing examples of ever-greening, and also argued that if it is surprisingly found that a drug treatment for gastro-reflux also kills bacteria in the stomach, then the patient using it takes the same drug for the same purpose that he took it for originally. Since the drug is public domain he could take the generic drug, but to kill the bacteria, he’d have to take the patented drug for a couple of weeks and then move back to the generic. similarly, someone taking a generic statin for cholesterol, on being diagnosed as having genetic cholesterol, would have to switch to the patented version offering protection for this ‘secondary use.’ The talk was intelligent and entertaining, and it was a valuable demonstration of the ubsurd results of secondary use patents.

Ena Pugatsch gave an example of a secondary use claim for a mechanical device that issued in Israel and was upheld by the courts. The device in question was a blackboard that could be used as a screen for showing projected images, where the device and method of manufacture were known but the secondary use wasn’t, and the court upheld the patent. Comparing to European case-law and to US law, she felt that the ruling was ‘problematic’ (a nice way of saying that she considered that the court had got it wrong).

When the floor was opened for questions Mr Zebulun Tomer (Ron’s father and the director of Unipharm) took the opportunity, as he has done on other occasions, to give a little impassioned speech, rather than a question. He made some noises about the results of lobbying and argued that Section 7 prohibits therapeutic treatment of the person and that no-one can convince him that a secondary use is anything other than a method of treatment of the person. Instead of merely pointing out that the issue wasn’t convincing him, but of convincing neutral judge, Adv. David Gilat agreed with him, but said that this was precisely what the Use Claim (Swiss type claims) were for – that is, to allow patents for pharmaceutical methods of treatment despite the prohibition for patents for methods of therapeutic treatment, and this was because of the costs incurred in research and development.

COMMENTS

David Gilat spoke well as would be expected from an experienced litigator. Dr Tomer’s response was also very clear and well constructed. Ena Pugatsch is not an orator, nor is Hebrew her first language (or, I expect, her second language). Nevertheless, her talk, though not the most fluent, was the most thought provoking. All three speakers had far too much content per slide, but none are lecturers. Designing good slides is an art.

David and Ron each presented their opposing positions. As Gilat Bareket represents drug development companies and the Tomer family own Unipharm which manufactures generic drugs, their views were hardly unexpected. I suspect that those in the audience actively involved in prosecuting or litigating pharmaceuticals have equally strong positions based on their source of income. (Richard Luthi, another leading litigator who represents pharma, once told me that under the former Commissioner Dr Noam, the pharmaceutical development industry didn’t have a chance. Whether Dr Naom was biased, whether Unipharm had better arguments, or whether Adi Levit is simply a better litigator, is open to discussion).

The percentage of my income coming from work on pharmaceutical patents is very small. I’ve been involved with both local and foreign clients on both sides of the fence. I tend to find the generic companies’ arguments more persuasive, but can’t tell if this is an inherent bias or whether their arguments are actually better. It is also possible that drugs that are opposed or challenged in cancellation procedures are ones that generally should not have issued, and the both the drug development industries and their litigators have an uphill battle. What is clear, is that Unipharm have had some impressive victories in recent years against Mercke, Smithkline Glaxco, Lunbeck, etc.

Ena’s talk got me thinking. I believe that the original Section 7 law against methods of therapeutic treatment is a historic artefact designed to protect doctors from being sued and represents a moral position that despite obvious utility, novelty and inventive-step, such subject matter would not be patentable. It is a remnant from a period predating the modern pharmaceutical industry. David is correct however. Without effective patent protection, drug development companies would not invest the significant sums required to research and bring a new drug to market. The long approval period also justifies patent term extensions. This development is indeed the result of lobbying, but is, nevertheless, justified. What may not have been justified, is to apply the extensions on cases that were already filed, granting the pharma industry a massive handout that perhaps resulted in them NOT investing in developing new drugs.

Drug developing companies can fairly be accused of ever-greening, and their tactics in filing for secondary uses are commercially driven. However, despite the Special 301 Reports, the generic drug industry are not Robin Hood like outlaws. It is there right to challenge the validity of patents, and some applications are allowed that shouldn’t be. Nevertheless, I suspect that sometimes oppositions are filed for commercial rather than solid legal reasons.

The Swiss Claim (use claim) format is a legal work-around the method of therapeutic treatment clause. Use claims are acceptable in European and Israeli law and are essentially method claims. They do not exist in the US, however in the US one can file methods for therapeutic treatment. What one cannot do, is enforce them against the doctor or surgeon.

After TRIPS, it is clear that one cannot exclude drugs from patent protection. One can still have a principle against patenting methods of treatment. However, countries have to allow patent protection for drugs.

As David Gilat reminded us, patent term extensions were indeed allowed as a package with and justified by a bone thrown to the generic industry – the so-called TEVA amendment, allowing the generic companies to experiment and obtain marketing approval, but not to stock-pile generic patents prior to the patent terminating.  However, one right does not balance the other. Mr Zebulun Tomer is correct that the current balance is the result of lobbying. There were lobbyists on both sides. The ‘one size fits all’ patent law does fail for pharmaceutical patents if such patents have, in the past, been allowed after the 20 year expiry date.

As to second use, the first thing to understand is that use claims are method claims and should be treated as such. The Rav Bareakh crook-lock ruling by the Israel Supreme Court allows contributory infringement and inducement to infringe. However, in Srori vs. Regba, the fact that a sink could be mounted flush with the work surface was insufficient grounds to grant an injunction against the importer, since, As Adi Levit argued effectively, the sinks in question could be mounted under the work-surface, or could be mounted with the lip overlapping the work surface (over-mounted) or could be filled with earth and used as a flower-pot.  Thus, the proper infringers were the kitchen installation companies, and there was no effective bottle neck to sue in the supply chain.  Getting back to secondary uses for drugs, lets assume that using aspirin to dilute blood to prevent thrombosis is indeed novel and inventive. This does not prevent patients buying aspirin over the counter for treating aches and pains and then using it for the new patented use. Manufacturers of aspirin are not infringing the secondary use patent. Similarly, generally speaking, patents for secondary uses are not for the drug itself, but for its use in treating a particular illness. They are method claims. I agree with Dr Ron Tomer that the manufacturer is generally not the infringing party. The physician or patient might be, that the US exception against suing health care officials should apply. There are, of course, some particular dosages that are borderline cases. In such cases, the newly packaged drug is a new product. Whether or not, it is also inventive, is arguable.

Referring back to the blackboard; Ena is correct, it was not a new product, nor was its method of manufacture new. The novelty lay in the method of use, i.e. for projecting an image thereonto. The patent provided grounds for suing schools and teachers for direct infringing – both customers of the patentee and of competitors. This is a patent without teeth. If competing manufacturers note that their blackboards may also serve as a screen, is this inducement to infringe? Maybe it would be better for them to note that although the blackboards may be used as screens, this use is protected by Israel Patent Number IL XXXX, and as long as the patent is valid, is not allowed. This is very different from the crook-lock case where the imported part was designed and manufactured for combining with two common elements to provide the crook-lock, and could only be used for infringing the patent, or for a trivial use such as a paper-weight or land fill.

At the end of the day, it is the job of the patent attorney to draft patentable and enforceable claims. I note that in the US, the pendulum has recently swung away from secondary infringement. See US Supreme Court Ruling 12–786 Limelight Networks v Akamai Technologies Inc et al., June 2, 2014. I believe that often these cases result from poor claim drafting, as do Marksman disagreements. In the past, I drafted and successfully prosecuted a  patent for a kitchen sink AFTER Tsrori vs. Negba. See  US6782593B1.  I’ve also had fun drafting together with Adv. and Patent Attorney Tami Winitz a patent for a new method of using an existing heart valve, where I believe the creative claim-set provides enforceability. See US8408214B2.  Patent attorneys drafting applications try to protect their client’s inventions and stretch the law. Litigators opposing patents do the opposite. We all have our roles to play.

 


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