Accelerating Patent Examination when Inventor is Aged

old inventor

Background

In Israel, applications are sorted into tentative technology groups on filing and then, within each technology group, are examined approximately in order of priority date. Periodically, when the ratio of examiners to applications under examination drops sufficiently, the Israel Patent Office sends out Notices Prior to Examination for another batch of applications. There is no need to request examination and no special fee for so doing.

Under Section 19a of the Israel Patent Law, the applicant may pay a fee and request accelerated examination. If there are sufficient grounds for so doing, the patent office will allow the examination of a pending case to proceed, and the examiner should prioritize examination of that case on receiving a response to office actions.

This model has been confused somewhat by the various bilateral and multilateral patent prosecution highway agreements, where positive examination results from the country of first filing may be used as the basis of accelerating examination elsewhere.

The case

On 9 December 2012, Cimas Limited requested accelerated examination of Israel Patent Application No. 216870 on the grounds that the inventor, Professor Shimon Slavin, was born in 1941. Examiner Itay Katz noted that section 19aa1 allowed acceleration based on the age of the applicant, but not of the inventor. Since the applicant was a company, he rejected the request.

Applicant responded that Section 19aa6 allows acceleration in special cases where it is warranted. Whilst section 19aa1 does indeed relate to applicants, the fact that a company may be formed and a patent assigned to it for economic reasons was not supposed to shut the door in the face of elderly inventors who might benefit from acknowledgement of their inventive contributions.

The ruling

The amendment to Section 19 in 2012 was an attempt to codify patent office practice.

Within the discipline covered, Applications should generally be examined in order of filing. Not only is this fair, but otherwise a later filed patent could become a bar to practicing an earlier filed invention. Section 19 is an open list. As of 15 January 2014, requests for accelerating examination should be brought to the Commissioner’s attention.

There is no doubt that 70-year-old applicants are entitled to accelerated examination. Sections 39-43 of the Law states that inventors are entitled to recognition as such, but not to be entitled to anything else. The Commissioner was skeptical that this throws light on the issue in question. Citing Dr Shlomit Yanitzky Ravid, the Commissioner argued that being recognized as an inventor has indirect financial ramifications. Noting government decision 431 from 2006 to address the needs of the elderly which eventually resulted in a ministry for the elderly, and concerns for them to be able to remain in the workforce, the Commissioner ruled that there was a public interest in allowing elderly inventors to enjoy the fruit of their creation. He also went on to rule that the mere fact that the patent is assigned only partially negates the rights of the elderly inventor, for example, forfeiting the discount in filing fees.

Conclusion

The commissioner ruled that the application could proceed to Examination.

Comments

Age of inventor is certainly grounds for acceleration in the US, even now, after the America Invents Act, when the applicant may be a company.

However, arguably the Ministry for the Elderly and the Pensioner’s Party had plenty of opportunity to create an age of inventor clause in this amendment and didn’t. Age of Applicant is a general consideration not an exceptional circumstance and in absence of clear legislation, I am not sure that this interpretation is fair. If we accept age of inventor as being relevant, then what is the cut off age? Retirement age? 70? 80?   Then again, since the Law clearly states that age of applicant is grounds for acceleration, presumably companies such as IBM, Kodak, Coca Cola and the like, should have an advantage over start-up companies! The ruling opens the door to fraud by grandfathering in the inventor, i.e. adding grand-dad as an inventor to skip the queue.

Commissioner Kling has noted that advancing the interests of senior citizens is on the government agenda and used this as the basis for accelerating examination when the inventor is a senior citizen. What about other groups that the government wishes to advance? Former Chief Justice Barak ruled in favour of preferential treatment to rectify this situation. If women and men apply for a senior position and a woman candidate is as qualified as a man, the Supreme Court under Barak would have the woman chosen. Women are certainly under-represented as inventors. Very few applications list women as inventors. Possibly women inventors could request accelerated examination on grounds of their gender? Similar arguments could be proposed to accelerate examination for minorities (Caucasians, Beduin, Israeli Arabs, or for people living in the periphery, or settlers. There is a difference in that the aged are less likely to be around in 2 or 3 years when their application comes around for examination, but that may be true of citizens living on the Gazan border or actively serving in the army or doing reserve duty, minorities such as lifeguards and frequent flyers. I think this may be what the courts refer to as a slippery slope…

 

Over all, I think the decision is wiser than the wording of the amendment.

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