MF COMMENT– As a co-organizer of this event, I have asked the IsraKAT, a distant cousin of the IPKAT http://ipkitten.blogspot.com/ to report objectively on the proceedings!
The seminar, which is the fifth in a series of programs co-hosted by JMB, Factor & Co. Israel’s International IP Firm together with the ONO Academic College, was attended by almost 200 people, included faculty members from Israel’s universities, representatives of technology transfer organizations, hospitals and government, attorneys-at-law, patent attorneys, engineers and entrepreneurs.
The event commenced with a reception sponsored by WIPO, which featured plenty of the IsraKat’s favorite smoked-salmon nibbles and was a great opportunity to mingle.
The main program commenced with words of welcome from Managing Partner Jeremy Ben-David of JMB, Fa(c)tor & Co., who compered the first half of the evening; from Professor Dudie Shwartz, Dean of the ONO Law Faculty and from Ms. Li Maor who sits at the Israel desk of WIPO in Geneva and represented WIPO.
The first presentation was given by Dr. Shlomit Yanitsky-Ravid who recently received a Ph.D. for her dissertation on the subject, who explained how she believed the Israel Patent Law could be creatively interpreted to show that employee inventions actually belonged to the inventor employee – and not to the employer as was previously thought by those who read the law without the benefit of her creative legal interpretation.
It is rare for employee rights to get to the Israel courts, and it would not be surprising if the labor courts which tend to favor the employee, were to agree with her reasoning, so though not a fair interpretation of what the legislators intended back in 1967, it is not inconceivable that a judge would follow her exegesis.
In contrast, the IPKat handler and blogmeister, Professor Jeremy Phillips of the Center for Intellectual Property, Queen Mary London, and consultant to Olswang’s a leading London IP firm, gave a humorous presentation relating to international aspects of the subject. In addition to debunking much of Dr Yanitzky Ravid’s thesis, he presented strong arguments to the effect that the issue was actually a non-issue, showing that neither WIPO nor the WTO nor the EU considered it worth regulating and went on to explain suggest that when the UK addressed the issue in 1977, they got it wrong!
After a coffee-break with delicious chocolates and pralines, former Chief Accountant of the State of Israel, Dr Yaron Zelekha (now an economics lecturer in the Ono business school) defended the national interest as he saw it and made a strong case to enforce the Law for government employees. He explained what prompted him to push for an inter-ministry committee to regulate on the issue, believing that the absence of legislation has lead to a situation where state employees, notably doctors, have, by patenting and developing their inventions privately, misappropriated millions of shequels that rightfully belong to the State.
Knesset Member, Dr. Rachel Adato who is a gynaecologist and medical researcher by training, took exception to Dr. Zelekha’s thesis and tried to explain the difference between government hospitals and private hospitals. The difference was lost on the IsraKat who finds both serve similar food, are staffed by doctors and nurses and seem to offer the same services to the same sorts of patients. He suspects that this was the point. Certainly a good case could be made that doctors at both types of institution should have similar opportunities to benefit from their inventions. Dr. Adato’s apparent inability to understand the concept of tax banding, with a decreasing royalty for each increasing income band, somewhat detracted from the forcefulness of her presentation.
Professor Chaggit Messer-Yaron, the Dean of the Open University, Former Chief Scientist to the Department of Trade and Industry and former head of Ramot – the tech transfer organization of Tel Aviv University argued that the current system of giving university researchers 40-50% of the royalties collected by the technology transfer companies was too generous and didn’t take into account the fact that the inventor took no risk, she also, rather bravely challenged the almost universally held consensus that copyright of academic papers should belong to the authors and not to the institutions.
The event, now running hopelessly late, but with a lot of people staying to the end, finished with a panel discussion chaired by Dr. Michael Factor that featured:
- Dr. Shulamit Hirsch of Ramot (the tech transfer organization of Tel Aviv University), who explained how things work in academic research.
- Former Knesset Member Ms. Molly Polishuk Bloch who had chaired the 20o5 Knesset Science and Technology Committee and had proposed a law to regulate the issue of state employees, who explained that in her opinion, the model for university researchers seemed to work and shouldn’t be tampered with, but that there was a need for regulating the rest of the public sector, including army, police, govt. research centers and hospitals.
- Mr Dov Hirschberg currently director of Powermat, an electronics start-up and of Compugen a genetics company. Mr Hirschberg is formerly a director of the BIRD Foundation and had some valuable insights to share.
- Mr. Perry Smith, VP of NDS and head of intellectual property development, who explained, much to Dr. Ravid’s chagrin, why he felt that the fairly draconian contract by which all employees inventions belonged to the company and a token $3000 was sufficient incentive, particularly as their name appeared on the patent certificate.
The program was balanced in that the three main areas: academia, public sector and private industry were addressed. The lack of consensus between speakers the is indicative that despite Professor Phillips’ contention, the topic is at least widely perceived as being relevant.
One suspects that people’s views on the topic reflect their general political persuasions, with those of socialist persuasion favoring greater regulation and those of a more liberal position preferring to minimise the public sector.
Perhaps the only point of general agreement was that care should be taken to prevent a regime that encourages inventors, particularly doctors and academics, to emigrate and file abroad. All in all, a successful event that was very well-attended, that attempted to raise and discuss the issues objectively. Unfortunately though, it seemed to raise more questions than answers.