A Meeting With Israel Trademark Examiners

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The Israel Patent and Trademark Office held a meeting with practitioners on 25 November 2014.

The event was held at the rather odd time of 12 AM to 2 PM which made meeting colleagues for lunch before or after a little difficult. However, refreshments of the cake and biscuit, tea coffee and soft drinks kind were provided.

The chairs in the main hall in the patent office were arranged in a couple of concentric circles, and, although most of the trademark examiners sat next to each other, there was still no clear ‘us and them’ divide. The lawyers had mostly not worn their dark suit and no black ties were in evidence. Even the commissioner was casually clad in an open-necked shirt and no jacket. The informal setting was, I felt, very conducive to creating an atmosphere of working together to further the examination process. There were about 10 patent office employees and perhaps 50 practitioners present. These included former employers, colleagues and employees of mine and a fair sprinkling of competitors, some of whom we’ve crossed swords with in opposition, cancellation or infringement proceedings. There were more attorneys-at-law and less patent attorneys than what one usually sees at patent events, but considering the subject matter, this was to be expected. All in all, it was a good opportunity to meet up with people.

From the questions asked, it seemed that many practitioners felt that the need to translate lists of goods into Hebrew was burdensome and superfluous, and something that the commissioner could do away with by issuing an appropriate Circular. This was considered to be particularly the case as Madrid Applications are filed in English only, without a need to translate the list of goods. The Commissioner merely noted that he was not sure that he agreed that doing so was a good idea, and anyway, it was beyond his authority. I think that such complaints seemed to miss the point that registering trademarks is not just a way of protecting rights for clients, but enables third parties doing business in Israel to see whether a mark is available. This is the point of having a trademark register, and Hebrew is the official language and many Israeli businessmen may not be fluent in English. Nevertheless, former commissioner and current head of the AIPA, Dr Meir Noam, had a good point when he noted that English is a richer language than Hebrew, with more specific terms for lists of goods. I think that lists of goods should be transcribed into Hebrew in a Biblical fashion, so instead of having to find different words for Parkas, Duffle Coats and Anoraks, a term such as ‘hooded coats and their kinds’ could be used. Instead of laboriously translating a list of three hundred electronic components, a general phrase such as electronic components for telecommunications could be used.

One lawyer who complained about the large amount of work involved in translating lists of words. He felt that this caused trademark filings to be unnecessarily expensive. He also complained about the official fees, compared to some other jurisdictions.  It is not clear to me whether the official fees should reflect the relatively small local population or the size of the economy. I suspect that some product sales reflect one and some the other. I note that in some places marks are registered but not examined and so the fees are generally cheaper.

It was difficult to feel sorry for the lawyer having to translate lists of terms into Hebrew. Trademark filing is fairly profitable and doesn’t involve much more than form filling, so if there is sometimes a little translation work, so what? The lawyer’s argument that he charges a standard fee per mark, and sometimes there is a lot of translation work to do seemed a little ludicrous. If he was unimaginative enough to not consider a basic filing fee and supplementary translation fees where appropriate, why should the law be changed?

Other gripes raised concerned the competing marks procedure wherein the applicants of two co-pending applications for the same or similar marks have to persuade the Patent Office that their rights in the mark are better. Of particular chagrin is the fact that once one application is considered as preferable to be examined first, after a long and often expensive and protracted procedure, the application is only then examined and may be rejected as generic, non-distinctive, or too similar to a registered patent.

Some present felt that an indication of the likelihood of being registerable should be given prior to embarking on the competing marks procedure.

We suspect that a reasonable practitioner should be able to anticipate reasonable rejections of this nature and if they are not reasonable, should be able to overcome them. I felt that the complaint reflected a basic laziness more than anything. One presumes that if there were no hiccups with trademark filing, one wouldn’t need trademark attorneys. There seems to be no problem biting the hand that feeds.

Another bone of contention raised was if the parties to a competing marks procedure are willing to coexist, why should the patent office decide to over-rule them? These type of questions are what Israelis refer to as kit-bag questions. The patent office never merely over-rules the parties. Occasionally, the parties will be over-ruled if the patent office adjudicator considers that an agreement reached is not in the public interest and leaves a likelihood of confusion or could create a cartel or otherwise impede fair competition. Where the parties are over-ruled that patent office gives reasons. If the party (parties) is (are) not satisfied, it (they) can appeal to the courts.

Discussing the event afterwards, one ex-employee told me that he found the discussion re formalities very boring. Another told me that he’d waited a long time for a meeting like this, to discuss the issues raised. In general, I got the impression that most participants were quite happy, and the trademark examiners told me that they found the opportunity to get feedback from the practitioners very worthwhile.

Regarding substantive changes to trademark law, I don’t think that many of the suggestions raised will be implemented. I suspect that if they were, those who raised the issues would then complain of having less work.

Regarding procedural issues, some suggestions will be implemented, and I suspect that putting faces to names, many practitioners will be more likely to pick up the phone to the Examiner to try to resolve issues, which may save time all round.

Apparently Dr Kfir Luzzatto took it upon himself to collate the questions from the profession, and is to be thanked for so doing. Appreciation is also extended to Dr Meir Noam of the Association of Israel Patent Attorneys and to the present commissioner Asa Kling for setting the event up, and to the trademark examiners for preparing for the event.

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