Forcing Foreign Witnesses to Attend Hearings In Jerusalem When There is a Difficult Security Situation

Courage under fire

It is very unfortunate that Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular suffers from terrorist attacks. The situation is not, of course, limited to Israel.

EBay Inc. is opposing Israel trademark application No. 243223 that was filed by Dotcom Retail LTD for the mark BEAUTYBAY.

Arguing that the US Government has warned its citizens not to travel to Israel, e-Bay Inc has asked to postpone a hearing that was scheduled for 3 November 2014 since it is a US company and one of their witnesses is prevented from coming to Israel because of the security situation. They requested a postponement until January 2015 and were willing to pay any costs caused by the delay. Alternatively, they suggested allowing the witness to testify by video-conference.

Dotcom Retail LTD objects to both requests. They claim that the current warning regarding the security situation in Israel has remained the same for decades, and submitted copies of the US Government’s warnings from 2010 – 2012. They claim that the decision against travel to Israel is an internal policy of eBay and is not an acceptable reason for delaying the hearing, as, say, the state of health of a witness might be. They supported their opposition to the request with reference to 2668/03 Etrade Group vs. Karden technologies LTD.

EBay noted that following the Protective Edge Campaign (War with Hamastan – Gaza) earlier this year, the situation in Israel is not normal and that they have forbidden their employees to travel to Israel. They suggested that the hearing could be held by video conference and noted that the Israel Supreme Court had upheld the possibility of conducting a hearing by video conferencing.

REGARDING DELAYING THE HEARING
In her ruling, the Deputy Commissioner, Ms Jacqueline Bracha, noted that the opposer had already postponed the hearing once and had tried to find someone willing to attend a hearing in November. Not being able to, they were requesting a second postponement.

She noted that in an Opposition to patent application number IL 107741 Unipharm vs. Merck & Co., the then Commissioner ruled that parties wishing to obtain IP rights in Israel or to oppose such rights should be willing to testify and to be cross-examined in Israel.

M Bracha accepted eBay was willing to participate in legal proceedings in Israel, but merely felt that the current time was too dangerous. However, she noted that there is no state of war at present that prevents hearings from taking place in Jerusalem. She noted that in 2006, then Commissioner Noam rejected ‘security considerations’ when there was no actual war taking place, and pointed out that a witness can arrive in an Israel Airport, travel to the Patent Office, give evidence and return on the same day. EBay cannot know from day to day or from month to month what the security situation is and therefore cannot guarantee that any postponement will suffice to reschedule a hearing under better circumstances.

The restriction was an internal decision of the eBay and was not a decision by the US government. It had no legal significance and one cannot simply create travel restrictions and expect the Israel Courts to uphold them.

VIDEO-CONFERENCING
Regarding the Supreme Court precedent regarding video conferencing, Ms Bracha noted that in extreme circumstances where a hearing was postponed four times due to a party being in ill-health, hearings have been held outside of a court room. Where the court sits in a court room but a witness testifies or is cross-examined by video conference, the situation is less than ideal in that the testimony is indirect when compared to a witness in the court room. It may be permitted in some circumstances, but use should be limited, particularly if the other party does not willingly consent.

In 3005/02 SmithKline vs. Unipharm testimony over a video link was allowed since the party could not force the witness to travel to Israel. The current case is different in that eBay is the source of the travel restriction, and can lift it as easily as they imposed it.

Referring back to 2668/03 Etrade Group vs. Karden technologies LTD, Ms Bracha ruled that there is a difference between a minor witness and a major one. The courts have rejected ‘security considerations’ as justification for a witness not turning up in court. Both the request for postponement and the request for video conferencing were both rejected.

COMMENT
I think this decision is correct. Formally, Israel is in an ongoing state of War with various Arab neighbours and has been since 1948. Hamas certainly see themselves as in a perpetual state of war, and at best, accept temporary cease-fires as restraint. The case-law that deals with this issue shows that security problems are ongoing and may be considered a fact of life in Israel.

That said, we note that Operation Protective Edge was not declared as being a war, probably since Hamas are not recognized as being a State. It is not clear, therefore, that when there were rockets hitting the country, and occasionally hitting Jerusalem, that the Patent Office would have recognized a state of war. Security fears may be real and not merely a delaying tactic. On a daily basis there are terrorist attacks and many of these are in Jerusalem. I don’t have enough experience of testimony and cross-examination by video conferencing to know if it is a reasonable alternative to standard cross-examination conditions.

As an Israel citizen working and living here it is difficult for me to put myself in the position of an American. I am sure that things are better here than in Syria, Iraq and Iran. I suspect that they are safer than in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan as well. Let us hope and pray that the security situation in Israel approves.

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