The IPAA, Voting and Democracy

Voter_Apathy_Party

Constitution corrected. Legal, but hardly democratic.

“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”
Mark Twain

“Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.” Joseph Stalin.

I missed the general meeting of the IPAA –  the Israel Patent Attorney Association last month. I fully intended going, but had to wait around for a cash delivery for paying PCT filing fees from a client on the last day. My obligation to clients has to take priority over lectures and meetings.

I asked for the minutes a month ago and was promised them by Pesach. I was asked NOT to blog about the AGM before the minutes were published which I agreed to do. It is now, however, two weeks after Pesach. I have had a couple of email exchanges with the secretary of the organization. I will not let failure to publish an official version prevent me from publishing my comments. I’d like to have been able to confirm from the minutes what I was told by one of the few attendees. I can’t. I would not publish minutes on this blog, but believe that I should be able to refer paid up members to the committee for an official summary. I believe in transparency. Apparently, others do not.

I understand that there were approximately 30 people present at the AGM. It did not include representatives of any sizeable firm other than Polina Be Ami and Reinhold Cohn Group represented by Ilan Cohn, Bosmat Gonen, and a couple of others. Most of the profession that bother paying membership (as and I do), voted with their feet.

Prior to the last AGM I applied for a court order to prevent proxy voting, since it was unconstitutional. The judge corrected ruled that I’d left things too late, that arguably proxy votes were not against the one person one vote of the constitution and that the results of the election could be challenged ex ante. The ruling was procedural not substantive.

Apparently, Dr Cohn misrepresented that ruling and implied that the judge had dismissed the substantive issue. Nevertheless, he took the opportunity at the General Meeting to push through a motion to allow proxy block votes. I therefore can no longer claim that this is unconstitutional since the constitution has been amended. What I can and do claim is that this development is a sad one. It may, perhaps, be compared to ritual immersion whilst holding a dead rat. The participants at the meeting who let it happen may one day regret it, as may practitioners such as myself that were absent. I suspect that Dr Cohn himself may one day regret this as well.

Essentially this development has made the fairly irrelevant IPAA totally irrelevant. I will attempt to explain why. Currently the Reinhold group boasts about 40 patent attorneys. This is more than the number of people who attended the AGM. Using the proxy block vote Dr Cohn can make any amendment to the constitution that he likes.  I am aware that Reinhold Cohn has more patent attorneys than any other IP firms and can bus people in to vote on issues. I simply think that they should have to do that. Furthermore, members of the firm should be able to dissent and vote with their conscience and suffer the consequences, or, on occasion, there should be secret ballots.

In Ramat Bet Shemesh, proxy voting in municipal elections resulted in a reelection. It didn’t change the result, but the important principle of one person one vote was upheld. Some residents of Ramat Bet Shemesh may be dissatisfied with the outcome. That happens in elections. The important thing is that the vote reflects the views of those that bothered to turn out. I think the same thing should be required in our representative organization if it is to represent Israel patent attorneys and not patent firms.

It is not surprising that Reinhold Cohn should have influence. One of the partners, Yehuda Seruya is on the committee of the IPAA. I have the highest respect for his integrity and competence. I would expect him to be aware of the issues from the perspective of Israel’s largest firm of patent attorneys. Having influence is one thing. Having veto power is something else and is very unhealthy. If the organization ever gets statutory status like the Israel Attorney Bar, things will be worse. One of the organization’s aims is to obtain statutory status.

Despite reservations, I once again paid my membership dues this year. I don’t think the IPAA represents my interests though. I established an informal forum for sole practitioners and raised the ire of our esteemed chairperson, Dr Noam. His position, apparently, is that the IPAA serves the interests of all patent attorneys and there is no room for any initiative not authorized and controlled by that organization.

When we last met, at the AIPPI conference, Dr Noam told me that he knew what the issues for sole practitioners were, after all he’d been one. I’d have preferred an attitude of listening and asking rather than an aggressive show of complacency in his knowledge. Dr Noam has not practiced as a sole-practitioner for over a decade. Possibly during his stint as Commissioner he developed a streak of autocracy.

Is it not impossible to consider that the issues that bother me and other smaller firms are different from the ones that bothered him a decade ago? It may be that different firms operating in different market segments have different issues.

Note: my criticism of election rigging is that it is undemocratic. I don’t accuse Dr Cohn of abusing his power. To my certain knowledge, some senior partners of other large Israel IP firms are far more abusive to both their staff and to their competitors. I think Dr Cohn is a positive influence on the profession.  I also think that the IPAA is better run now than it was under Dr Noam’s predecessor. The meetings between the organization and Israel patent examiners are healthy. The subsequent reporting is of a high quality and the patent office reports on these meetings independently.

My attempts to network with other sole practitioners were not done behind the back of the IPAA. Indeed I invited both Ed Langer and Dr Noam as sole practitioners. I was looking for something complimentary to the work of the IPAA, that would deal with other issues.

It is definitely tempting to establish something new that is healthier, and, dare I say, more democratic?

3 Responses to The IPAA, Voting and Democracy

  1. Henry Einav, Patent Attorney says:

    Michael, I have no idea where you get your information from, but proxy voting, as it was in the past has been abolished.

    What the IPAA has now is a form that lists all the items that will come up for a vote, and each member who does not attend, must list each and every vote, either for or against for each item on the list.

    This was done by the new Vaad and has NOTHING to with Dr. Cohn.

    You have the right to criticize, but any complaints should be based on facts, not on rumors.

    Henry Einav

    • Henry,

      I received a report from an attorney of good standing that participated in the meeting. I did make a reasonable effort to obtain minutes, asking three times and being stalled.

      I am more than delighted if your account turns out to be true. That would mean that my efforts to reform the organization have ultimately bore fruit. I believe there is room for a representative organization what I support. Personally, I have no interest in joining the committee if it functions well and there are hard working and competent people on it, as I prefer to be on the outside and able to criticize what I don’t like.

      I am still narked that a complaint sent by then Commissioner Noam some years ago to the committee about an improper blog post was discussed by former chairperson with her colleagues at RCIP> This is definitely the case since said partner who I am not sure is even a patent attorney, spoke to me about it afterwards. Noam was right and proper to complain. Allowing me to apologize and rectify the situation was correct. What wasn’t correct was the committee discussing with non-committee members.

      I am happy to take down or at least modify my comments and to apologize if what I’ve written is wrong. I am inclined to wait for the official minutes if and when they publish, and am happy to receive other accounts from participants.

      For the moment, I am posting your comments and this response.

  2. One more thing:

    “proxy voting, as it was in the past has been abolished.

    What the IPAA has now is a form that lists all the items that will come up for a vote, and each member who does not attend, must list each and every vote, either for or against for each item on the list.

    This was done by the new Vaad”

    HMM…

    I note that in the invitation to the AGM held last month there was an announcement that proxy voting would be allowed. (This was a welcome change, in that at least members knew in advance, which previously wasn’t the case.

    If the ‘new committee’ has abolished previous practice and instituted new practice, when did this happen? Why wasn’t it reported to members? I think my blogging seems to be having some effect after all…

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