Shabbat Lifts Not for the Public Good

 

shabbat liftG.L. Glatt Lift Company Ltd. filed a patent application for a Shabbat Lift; an elevator that may be used on the Jewish Sabbath without transgression of the holy day. (The term Glatt relates to a standard for Kosher beef that the generally accepted Ashkenazi authorities consider a stringency. By transference, the term implies super-Kosher, or something similar. Many Jewish authorities allow usage of a lift that stops automatically, or riding in a lift in a hospital or similar if someone assumed to be non-Jewish operates it for their benefit. Other authorities are stricter. More discussion on this is given at the end of this article).

Maalit ShabbatIn this instance, the Applicants have filed a patent for a technological Hallachic solution that is allegedly novel and inventive and that is claimed to overcome the reservations of those Hallachic authorities that do not allow usage of the type of ‘Shabbat Lifts’ that are common in apartment blocks with religious residents.

Israel Patent Application No. IL 221842 titled “Shabbat Lift” was submitted on 9 September 2012. The application claims priority from a US provisional application number 61/533,244 that was filed on 11 September 2011, and a corresponding PCT application, No PCT/IB2012/054604 was also filed.

On 13 October 2015, the Applicants received a Notice Prior to Examination to which they responded on 1 February 2016 with a list of prior art. The submission of a response to the Notice Prior to Examination creates a state of affairs by which the application is ready for examination (see section 5.3 of the Examination Procedure for Examiners).

On 1 February 2016 the Applicant also submitted a request for accelerated examination, which is a petition to make special. The justification for the request was that awarding the patent was in the public interest.

The Applicant claimed that the lack of appropriate Shabbat lifts prevented high-rise accommodation for the Ultra-Orthodox and the proposed solution would overcome this barrier. The Applicant considered that his invention would facilitate high-rise Ultra-Orthodox accommodation and thereby minimize land usage (by increasing the population density) and would thereby lower building costs.The solution would also make life easier for the ill, the elderly and children who could not use elevators on Shabbat. Various articles regarding the lack of accommodation for the Ultra-Orthodox were appended.

The statement was not specific, but it appears that the legal support was claimed from Section 19a (v) and (vi) that state that:

An applicant for accelerated examination with reasonable arguments may submit a reasoned request, together with a statement supporting the facts; all of the following, inter alia, may be considered reasonable justification:

(5) common good;

(6) special justifying circumstances.

Generally patents are examined in turn so ‘first come, first served’ as per Section 9 of the Patent Law:

If more than one applicant request a patent for the same invention, he that first applied will prevail. 

The order of examination is generally on a ‘first come, first served’ basis as per Section 34a of the regulations:

34a the applications will be allocated to each internal classification group and within each classification group, will be examined in turn. 

Examination in turn both facilitates Section 9 and also ensures that relevant prior art is available to the Examiner. The first come, first served regime is itself in the public interest – See ruling re Petition to make special Israel Patent Application no. IL 216870 to Cimas Limited, 24 March 2014.

The possibility for making an application special is an exception to the general rule. It undermines the principle of ‘first come first served’, makes the examination more difficult and arguably damages the quality of the examination.  For example, a queue-jumping application may be examined and allowed without realizing that an earlier filed application that was not examined challenges the novelty or inventiveness of the claims. Any fast-tracking results in other applications being delayed and is thus against the public interest.

Fast-tracking risks unfairness, but the legislators allow it under circumstances detailed in Section 19a of the Law where there is an over-riding public interest or special circumstances. Section 19a was legislated in the 10th amendment to the patent law that came into effect on 12 July 2012. From examination of the discussion at the committee state it is clear that the Commissioner has the discretion to explain the law. It is clear that the type of justification that is acceptable is extreme circumstances. For example: there could be circumstances that a dramatic discovery is like an earthquake and is positive for the State of Israel. Isaak Herzog, Knesset legislative committee discussion of 13 March 2012.

The justifications listed in Section 19a were actually those for third parties to request an application be fast-tracked but there is no reason to suppose that they are not applicable to requests by the Applicant himself. Nevertheless it appears that what the legislators intended was something of interest to the entire population as of national interest for the whole population and not for micro-economic interests of one sector or another. There is an underlying assumption of public interest in all patents. The only justification for ever granting a patent (i.e. a monopoly, albeit limited in time and geographical application) is that there is a national interest in micro-economic profits and technological progress.

No-one challenges the fact that each patent provides a different public interest depending on the type of invention and its application. There is no clear economic or social scale that can be used to rank different patents. However the same term is generally understood in the same manner in different legislation to provide coherency (see Aharon Barak, Volume 2, Legislative Interpretation, Nevo 1993 pages 313 and 321. Thus the term “common good” in Section 19a of the patent law is a priori similar to the term in Section 122 which discusses forced licenses. Section 122 states:

The Commissioner, where he comes to consider the request for a compulsory license under Section 117 should consider, inter alia:….

….

(2) the common good generally obliges that all inventions should provide the protected goods by manufacturing or import, so enable widest possible supply in the circumstances, without delay.. 

The District Court ruled in 881/94 Eli Lilly and Company vs. TEVA Pharmaceuticals LTD 25 November 1998:

In the field of patents, the common interest is the main and dominant cause for determining balances and rights. There may be a specific basis for worrying for private interest of the specific owners, and a patent an be considered as a reward that the legislators bestows on the entrepreneur. But the main justification of the patent system is the public considerations of utility and profit that affect the community taken as a whole. Whilst it is true that a patent provides protection to an individual, the existence of the right and its extent are determined by how much they fulfill the public interest. In this regard a patent is like a compulsory license. In both cases a personal right is provided to an individual but the underlying rationale for granting the rights is the common good. Just as the compulsory license is not granted for the benefit of the applicant, similarly a patent is only granted to the owners because it is in the public interest. It is not a balance between private rights and the public interest, but rather a balance between different public interests that together define the common good.

Thus the common good in this instance, as with compulsory licenses, is the result of balancing different public interests. Where the Applicant desires to depart from the general balance of interests including the principle of ‘first come first served’, the justification for jumping the queue has to be something weighty of significance to the wider public or a positive macro economic effect.

Furthermore, from when the application is filed until it eventually issues as a patent, there is nothing preventing the applicant from implementing the invention described in the patent application, enabling the public to benefit immediately. The enforcement of a patent is of economic interest to the patentee only. First tracking is not in the public interest at all. It only serves the applicant.

Without addressing the issue of patentability at all at this stage, the Commissioner does not thing that the present invention is more ‘public good’ than other inventions and, as the applicant himself testified, it serves a specific population segment only. The petition to make special did not include any economic calculation to show why it was justified.

Although the above arguments relate to the ‘public good’ they are equally applicable to the ‘special reasons justifying advancing the examination’. Consequently the application for fast-tracking is rejected and the application will be examined in turn.

Ruling by Commissioner Asa Kling Concerning Making Special Israel Patent Application Number IL 221842 to Glatt Lifts LTD., 14 June 2016 

COMMENTS

Very few inventions positively affect everyone. If something could help 10% of the population, it seems to me that it should be considered of significance, whether the population is women, AIDS sufferers, people living near the Gazan border, parents of small children or the Ultra-Orthodox. I don’t see any reason why common good should be interpreted as of value to people across the population without regard to race, age, religion, religiosity or sexual orientation.

The underlying presumption of the Applicant is that conventional elevators do more electrical work for each passenger riding in the elevator and that this is against the laws of Shabbat to rely on Shabbat settings on lists. If this assumption is true, it affects all Jews and most of Israel’s population is Jewish. Even if many Jews are not Observant, and many more are not persuaded that using currently available Shabbat lifts are not acceptable I suspect that from the Applicant’s perspective, Shabbat observance is of value and desecration is problematic regardless of the religious philosophy of the Jew in question. It may be what’s preventing the Messiah from coming. Furthermore, the State of Israel accepts the principle of Shabbat observance as being of national interest by not allowing trading on Shabbat and by not having Shabbat desecration by the Head of State, ambassadors, etc. and by requiring Shabbat observance on army bases apart from where security considerations take precedence.

For more details of the ruling (wrongly???) attributed to Rav Elyashiv, see here. See also a report in the Yeshiva World (sic) and one from the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Rabbi Yisrael Rozen’s ruling allowing both ascending and descending in Shabbat Elevators and listing what modifications are required to enable an elevator to be used on Shabbat may be found here (Tchumin 5, 75; see also article by Professor Lev in same volume, page 58).

I took the liberty of reviewing IL 221842 to Glatt Lifts LTD and its claims. If I was examining it for patentability, I would disallow it as not being enabled. It may be enabled from the perspective of the Hallachic problem it is trying to solve, but in my opinion, it does not provide a solution that enables a person of the art to go away and build a working lift without undue experimentation which is the standard for which patent applications are judged.

2 Responses to Shabbat Lifts Not for the Public Good

  1. Helena Levin says:

    Thank you. In my opinion, the Registrar’s Decision was fully justified and moreover, it was interesting to read your commentary.

    • I think the lift decision was correct. My comments to the contrary were tongue-in-cheek. I do think the shoe design decision was wrong though.

      Also, thinking about the lift some more. Possibly the biggest social issue is the cost of new housing. I have no doubt that if there were more building allowed in West Bank settlements, the house prices in greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas would drop. Conversely, if there were to be a withdrawal from the West Bank, settlers working in the center would not move to the Negev and prices would rocket, making it impossible for any first time buyers to get a mortgage. It is certainly possible that if a sector like Ultra-Orthodox started building higher blocks there would be an effect on house prices in other sectors, accross the market.

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