Non-licensed Practitioners – Levelling the Playing Field

Finnegan's Wake

I have commented in the past about non-licensed practitioners. These are typically trainee patent attorneys that have a few months experience and have been fired by their employees or are moon-lighting on the side by dong private work. Not being licensed, they are not subjected to any sort of review and cannot be disciplined for unethical behaviour or for shoddy work.

There is a different type of non-licensed practitioner at the other end of the scale. I am referring to Finnegan, a US based firm of patent attorneys and attorneys at law that has set up a local Israeli subsidiary ran by Gerson Panitsch, a rather pleasant US patent professional.  Panitsch’s position is that Israel should allow foreign law offices to open offices in Israel and are treaty bound to do so. He claims not to provide Israel patent services, only US patent services. There is also a basic law of freedom of occupation 1980.

The Israel Law Bar regulations consider legal advice and consultancy as legal services that only an Israel Attorney-at-Law can provide. There are some exceptions, such as Israel Patent Attorneys who are licensed to give patent and trademark related services and advice, and tax consultants and accountants who can provide tax services and consultancy.

So, if Finnegan’s attorneys are US licensed, what’s wrong with them having a ‘front window’, i.e. a virtual company in Israel? What about US licensed attorneys or patent agents living in Israel? Well, for one thing, there is no supervision and no way to maintain standards. There is no one to appeal to when such firms screw up.

I regularly use intellectual property terms in my work and my computer generates and displays Finnegan adverts all the time. I assume therefore, that whenever someone looks for IP services in Israel, he will get a link to a website in Hebrew with the word פינגן offering IP services. Finnegan’s Facts is a webpage listing selective facts about the firm. It doesn’t point out that their services in Israel are illegal.

The code of ethics binding on Israel lawyers prohibits such aggressive marketing. There are also prototyping companies that pretend to be patent attorneys that also have ads popping up all over the place.

The Israel Ministry of Justice has circulated a Draft Statutory Code of Ethics for Israel Patent Attorneys. Ironically, the Official response of the Israel Patent Attorney Association (IPAA) was to request that the draft code be amended to bind patent attorneys to the code binding attorneys-at-law.

Whether or not what Finnegan is doing is illegal, they should not be able to advertise in Israel a way that local firms cannot. This is a problem that, I believe, the Israel Patent Attorney Association, the Israel Patent Forum of the Israel Law Bar and the local chapter of the AIPPI should address.

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