AIPPI Conference in Israel from IP to NP (net profit) – Part I

 danhotel1aippi israelconference

I spent the last couple of days thoroughly enjoying myself in the intellectually and socially stimulating environment of an AIPPI Conference in Israel.  The  two-day conference titled IP to NP (Net Profit)  spanned 10 and 11 November 2013, and was held in the  Dan Panorama Convention Center on Tel-Aviv’s beach front. The full program and other information may be found here.

The event attracted in excess of 400 participants, including some 100 patent and trademark professionals from abroad, and has set new standards for IP Conferences in Israel. Mr Marshal Phelps, the former head of IP for IBM, Microsoft and other companies of similar size, summarized it best, saying that he can’t think of another small country that is able to pull off a conference of this quality.

Rare for serious IP conferences, the vast majority of participants attended the vast majority of sessions. There was, however, also time to mingle over lunch and tea breaks, where, indeed, the refreshments were world class, in terms of both quality and choice. Whereas the lunches offered a plenteous and varied repast in buffet style, the gala dinner had a fixed menu, which was, however, superb. Furthermore, unlike the major AIPPI biannual conferences in Boston and Paris that I have attended in the past where there was no provision of Kosher food, in this case, the refreshments were Kosher and thus also Halal, catering to both Jews and Muslims. Vegetarians were also catered for.

Keilim Shluvim, responsible for the administrative arrangements, did an excellent job. Ms Dorit Korine who pulled everything together seemed remarkably unflustered, calm and professional. Although the sessions didn’t run absolutely to time, the timetable was followed to a far greater extent than is typical for Israeli conferences, particularly IP events.

In the past, I have twice organized IP conferences that have attracted in excess of 200 participants, which, until now, seems to have been the Israel record. One was a half day program on the practical topic of employer-employee relations, and the other, a full day event on the somewhat esoteric topic of Intellectual Property in Jewish Law. I have never attempted more than a one day event, and the two day IP events in Israel that I have attended in the past have been highly academic and detached from all reality. This AIPPI event was not merely a two day event with a line up of top speakers, but apart from the keynote lectures, offered two or three choices of program in adjacent halls, so, in terms of the number of speakers to arrange and coordinate, was more like a 4 or 5 day conference. Unusually but usefully, there was an honorary proof-reader, Dr Samara Bel. The hoardings, detailed program and several slides did include odd typos and grammatical errors. These were, however, both fewer and further between than is traditional at Israeli conferences, and I note that the conference was in English, which is the second language for most speakers.

In short – a tribute to Israel, putting the country on the IP Map and a hard act to follow.

No-one would bother reading my reviews if I didn’t find some criticisms as well, so I will try to relate to the program and speakers in more detail, and intersperse with some of my thoughts.

We heard greetings by Professor Dina K. Prialnik, the Vice Rector of Tel Aviv University, and then a keynote lecture by Professor Daniel Zajfman, the President of the Weizmann Institute. Later on, Yaakov Michlin from Yissum Tech Transfer of the Hebrew University spoke (I was in a parallel session, but Professor Phillips of the IP Kat reports here). It was rather embarrassing and unseemly to see these representatives of Israel’s premier institutions bickering over which institution was better in general and better at tech transfer in particular.  To some extent, Professor Haggit Messer Yaron who currently heads the association of teaching universities in Israel made some order in her keynote lecture at the end of the conference, but I think an agreed presentation of relevant facts and the different colleagues arguing about their different strategies in an open debate would have been better than the snide pot-shots they took at each other. After all, Israel needs a high level post-graduate research institute such as the Weizmann Institute, but does need places offering undergraduate degrees as well. Fundamental research into the natural world has tremendous value but Israeli industry also needs and benefits from applied research conducted in coordination with the universities.  On a national scale, all three institutes, and, indeed, Ben Gurion, Weizmann, the Technion, Haifa and Ariel University all have a part to play, and the bickering over who is the better seemed out of place to me. After all, despite the fact that the vast majority of the audience had or were studying at one or more of these institutions or were putting their children through them, very few of us had any influence regarding how the national budget for higher education is divvied up, or had the resources to make worthwhile donations.

The second Keynote Lecture was delivered by David Kappos (former Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, currently with Cravath, Swaine & Moore, LLP, speaking on “The role of IP in the future world development”.  Mr Kappos spoke on why IP was unpopular, suggesting that it was due to it being a medium term investment. He also argued that software should be properly protectable since it was an important aspect of many innovative products, and it was difficult to see why it should be less worthy of patent protection than the physical parts of modern systems. I found this lecture was a little disappointing. I was anticipating more thought provoking insights from someone with David Kappos’ experience.

When it comes to IP firms in Israel, the Reinhold Cohn group is far and away the biggest local IP firm and one of the few that can claim an 80 year history. It was therefore appropriate for them to take on the not inconsiderable financial burden of being a Gold Sponsor, which few other Israeli IP firms can. I suspect that without Dr Ilan Cohn’s active participation on the organizing committee, and Ms Michal Hackmey on the steering committee, this conference may well have not come together. I can appreciate why Dr Cohn saw fit to introduce Guest Speaker Marshal Phelps at the Gala Dinner, and can understand why the firm’s name was on the ribbon for the name tags. However I am not sure why he saw fit to moderate one panel and sit on another himself. As Dr Cohn heads a firm of over 250 employees with dozens of attorneys and patent attorneys, as we learned from the advertising flyer discretely left on every seat in the room, I wondered why some of this work wasn’t delegated?

Particularly in the first parallel session on “The Role of IP in Seeking and Securing Investments from Angels, Capital Ventures and Private Equities” I felt Dr Cohn’s participation in the panel was wrong. I will attempt to explain why. The panel in question also included Dr Hadar Ron, the Managing Partner of Israel Healthcare Ventures, a healthcare venture capital fund. It also included Mr Yaky Yanay, the VP Finance and CFO of Pluristem Therapeutics, Inc. – a life science company. The fourth panelist was the head of the PCT division of WIPO whose advice was to use the PCT system, one I generally endorse, but hardly thought provoking. He didn’t even discuss intelligent ways of optimizing usage of the PCT system, and there is certainly what to say on the topic.  Not surprisingly,  the experience and advice of the other two Israeli speakers was heavily focused on life science initiatives. Dr Ilan Cohn is also a practitioner with a background in the life sciences, and I suspect that if he gets involved at all in advising clients in other fields, as the senior partner of a large firm with experienced he does so primarily, if not exclusively, with the clients having the larger, more significant portfolios, as befits the senior partner of a large firm. Dr Ilan Cohn argued in favour of filing widely, particularly in the Far East, China being essential. I would, however, have expected that as the only patent attorney on the panel, he would have stated that there are no hard and fast rules, and every entrepreneur or CFO should discuss this issue with their IP counsel, whether in house or external, and inform him or her of the wider picture affecting the company and the industry so that the patent attorney can give scenario specific advice. There are various considerations relating to where competitors are situated, where the markets are, where certain technologies are considered patentable and  time to market and lifespan considerations that should be taken into account and balanced with the fact that filing widely costs money and utilizes precious resources. I suspect that the panel would have been better served by a different Reinhold Cohn patent attorney, such as an attorney who meets new clients in different technologies, perhaps Yehuda Seruya – if only by virtue of him sitting in the Jerusalem Office and thus perhaps being the first port of call for a geographical location rather than a technology field, or maybe a partner specializing in strategy. What is clear is that entrepreneurs blindly following this advice would not generally be optimizing their IP portfolio, and in some cases would simply bankrupt themselves. Please note, these comments do not in any way detract from my esteem of Dr Ilan Cohn, both personally and professionally. 

I note that the moderator of this session asked a large number of pre-arranged questions to the panel. I suspect that if more time has been available for questions from the audience, the issues I raise here would have come out.   If the experts on the panel have genuine expertise they would have managed to answer questions from the audience. The purpose of the session as indicated by its title was to explain the role of IP in raising funding from Angels, Capital Ventures and Private Equities. I think the audience was short-changed. There is nothing wrong with panelists promoting themselves, but this wasn’t the primary purpose of the session, or at least not from the perspective of the participants who had paid good money to attend.  

Concurrently with the session I attended, which was aimed primarily at entrepreneurs , there was a session aimed primarily at IP Professionals titled Copyright and the Future of Open Source, and one titled “Commercialization of Know-how and IP rights: the Role of Government, Academia and Industry”   and one aimed at Senior IP Management at Stakeholders titled ” Commercialization of Know-How and IP rights: the Role of Government, Academia and Industry”.  Professor Phillips attended this session and his review may be found here. Of note, apart from Yaakov Michlin’s response to Professor Daniel Zajfman, that it was actually Yissum and the Hebrew University (where I obtained my Ph.D) that is bigger and better than Yeda and Weizmann, was an interesting suggestion from Aharon Schwartz, a Consultant and former Head of Teva Innovative Ventures, who suggested a new paradigm for pharmaceutical development, wherein anyone could develop a drug and bring it to market and the first to reach market would receive exclusivity for a period ranging from 3 years to 12 years depending on the level of innovation. This first to reach market would pay royalties to the patentee. In terms of the creativity of this suggestion as food for thought, it strikes me that I was in the wrong session. I suspect that the idea is unworkable and am skeptical if it would increase new drug development. Nevertheless, it would be potentially very profitable, not just for Teva, but also for IP litigators, and I suspect was accordingly well received. Certainly, the applause I heard from next-door was noticeable.

 The third parallel session on Copyright and the Future of Open Source was mediated by Professor Michael Birnhack of Tel Aviv University and featured MS Suzanne Erez, IP Counsel of IBM and Adv. Haim Ravia.  The other speakers at this session included Mr Muli ben-Yehuda and Dr Ron Rymon.  Professor Phillips is attempting to get this session summarized on the 1709 copyright blog. I have no idea by whom or when though. 

Regarding aiming parallel sessions at market segments such as IP practitioners, entrepreneurs and senior management, that is perfectly legitimate.  I am not sure that it was necessary to write who the session was intended for on the program though. I feel generally old enough and self confident enough to choose which sessions most interested me, and suspect this was true of other conventioneers. I think that focusing some of the parallel sessions on different market segments, such as life sciences, software & telecommunications and traditional manufacturing or something similar might have been more appropriate.

The morning session was followed by a delicious and varied lunch buffet with some particularly creative salads, and there was a sizable quorum participating in (the purely voluntary) afternoon prayers before the second set of parallel session got underway.

Professor Jeremy Phillips, the blogmeister behind the IPKAT flew in specially to cover the conference, and not for the first time whilst watching him work, I marveled at how he managed to post brief, amusing and generally complimentary summaries of proceedings in real-time. Personally, I hate working on a laptop and much prefer to arrange my thoughts and write up my summary ex ante. I think that his efforts to bring this event to the attention of the thousands of subscribers of the IP KAT is a true service to IP in Israel. In general, I decided to attend different sessions from the ones that Jeremy attended, to report on different lectures and presentations as much as possible.

I think this blog posting is long enough. I will cover the rest of the conference in a series of additional posts and will try to do so by the end of the week.

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