I attended the Premier Cercle I Pee Summit in Brussels last week. It was freezing cold, and no wonder the manikin was
pissed off suffering from incontinence.
The center of town is full of shops selling chocolate, pralines, waffles, beer, chocolate, souvenirs, chocolate, pralines, chocolate, waffles, meringues, chocolate, marshmallows, chocolate and chocolate. There were also special Christmas markets selling beer, chocolate and the like.
Our luggage did not arrive, so I threw my socks, shirt and underwear into the bath and hung them up to dry on a radiator. I felt under-dressed when attending the first day of the conference in a comfortable old jumper, rather than a suit. I also would have preferred to have been able to shave and to have a coat with me. Then again, my wife came along for the trip, and pottering around the rented apartment room in the nude was something we can’t do at home with the kids around. Miri collected the luggage on the second evening so I was better dressed on the Friday and over the weekend.
Every transport system has its foibles. In Brussels there were automatic ticket dispensers that accepted credit cards or cash. They had two buttons. Neither Miri nor I could work out how to get the dispensers to print out tickets. We tried pushing areas of the screen, but it wasn’t a touch screen. We also tried kicking the obnoxious automaton. Eventually we asked a local who helped us out. The ring around the push button could be rotated to scroll through the selections, and then the button could be used to make a choice. I tried flagging down a taxi to get to the conference, but apparently that is not the Belgian way, and they have to be ordered unless one is at a taxi stand where they wait for passing trade.
The conference was fairly intimate with a couple of hundred participants (although less intimate than the apartment, sans-culottes and other apparel). The lectures were on subject matter of topical interest and were given by competent if not particularly inspiring panelists. Keynote lecturers seemed chosen for their World Customs Organization affiliation rather than for having something interesting to say. In this regard, I suspect that presentations from leading IP academics would probably have been more insightful and also better presented, since university lecturers are used to addressing audiences, and are often more-cutting edge. That said, panelists were mostly practitioners, whether in-house counsel or in private practice, and most of the presentations were of practical relevance.
I came away from a session on the European unitary patent and unitary patent court with an understanding that after Britain’s Brexit vote, the unitary patent could come into effect as planned without the United Kingdom, or could include the United Kingdom as they had ratified it. On the other hand, maybe it would not happen on time, and maybe it would not happen at all.
There was a session on three dimensional printing with representatives of Lego Juris, of law firms, and of a three-dimensional printing company. We saw a couple of examples and film clips showing the flexibility of three dimensional printing (additive manufacture) and I found myself wondering if printing wing mirror covers for my car or replacement Scrabble pieces would be considered fair use. Generally, functional internal car parts are exceptions to design law to prevent car manufacturers forcing customers to purchase genuine spare parts at exorbitant prices. Wing mirrors are external elements that can be protected as designs. The thing is that when the plastic cover was knocked off by a passing lorry, I discovered that I could not purchase individual covers, and had to replace the whole wing mirror, including the mirrored glass, the motor and mechanism for a cost of about $200. Now the part that was lost is about 50 grams of plastic. It is non-functional and easily printed using the other mirror as a basis, and inverting the file. Scrabble was invented by Alfred Butts in 1938. The game is sold by Hasbro in the US and by Mattel elsewhere. Neither manufacturer supplies replacement tiles. The manufacturers keep changing the shape of the tiles, so if one has two sets that each are missing one or two pieces, one can rarely combine them to create a full set. One wonders whether the game is in the public domain 79 years after it was invented, and whether printing three dimensional replacement tiles is fair use or not.
I found the patent valuation sessions disappointing. I felt that in a scenario where I were to give the panelists the IP portfolios of three or four different clients to value, there would be no agreement between the panelists as to the worth of the portfolios, and little correlation with the real worth as reflected by market impact and the like. I understand that one needs to look at the wider picture, and not get bogged down with the claims if one is to quote values for large IP portfolios, but I don’t see this as a substitute for careful reading of the patent and preferably the file wrapper. I also discussed valuation with someone that was selling software for valuation who explained that his software used an algorithm with two variables: forward citations and the number of countries a patent was registered or pending in. Forward citations are an indication of how much competition there is a field, and generally the earlier patents are broader than later ones. There may be a correlation between the number of countries a patent application is filed in and the worth of a patent. However, this valuation scheme does not differentiate between technologies and doesn’t relate to the scope of the claims or how well they are written.
There was an interesting session on patents for secondary medical uses. It seems that different European countries understand the scope of such patents differently, and they are more or less enforceable in different jurisdictions. One cannot sue doctors for prescribing a generic alternative, but possibly one can sue pharmacists, at least in theory. Secondary use patents may enable one to prevent generic equivalents being indicated for treating diseases that they cover.
The coffee was awful. The buffet lunches looked spectacular. I had ordered and received Kosher options, and also helped myself to salads, fruit salads and gravlax.
Thursday evening included a cocktail party at the Chalet Robinson: Sentier de l’Embarcadère 1, 1000 Bruxelles, which is on an island, accessible by a ferry that was pulled by thestrals which was rather spooky to the muggles who couldn’t see them. The champagne flowed liberally. Gastronomique magnifique. There were oysters, sushi shrimps, foi-de-gras, butter fried mushrooms, thinly sliced bacon and Belgian waffles with whipped cream. Apparently European’s leading patent attorneys are immune from the effects of high cholesterol. I did order Kosher food and the Premier Cercle people promised there would be some. In practice, there wasn’t any, but there were a couple of vegetarian options available.
Friday’s program included a cocktail reception at Belgium’s famous cartoon museum. However, with Shabbat coming in at 4:30pm, I missed this, but understand it was very much enjoyed by the other participants.
Both the Great Synagogue and the Chabad minyan we attended Friday night started at 6:30pm with the evening service, some two hours after the commencement of the Sabbath. It seems that unlike Antwerp, the Brussels Jewish community is not particularly devout. That said, on the Sunday, we passed many churches and cathedrals that seemed to be mostly empty, so it seems that the Brussels Christian community is not as devout as it once was either. Near Chabad we saw a couple of appartments that were servubg as mosques. Apparently, the Arab immigrant community is more religious.
The Great Synagogue was accessed through a side-door that was guarded by soldiers with sub-machines. Similar soldiers were to be seen outside the courts and museums. There was a police patrol car outside Chabad Friday night, during the service. Despite the security, I did not feel uncomfortable wandering around Brussels in a kippa (skull-cap). Unlike when I attended a Premier Cercle conference in Paris a couple of years ago and heard several anti-Semitic remarks on the streets, I did not encounter any Anti-Semitism in Belgium. Indeed, people on the streets were very friendly.
The Great Synagogue in Brussels seats 1000 and is an impressive building, with a ladies gallery supported by pillars and arches, that were themselves supported by flying buttresses covering the passage to the
pissoirs toilets. The Torah reading was from the front facing the congregation in the High German (Reform) tradition, rather than from a central bima (bema in Ancient Greece). With less than 25 participants at the Saturday morning service, including women and non-Jews, the building looked rather empty. There was a choir that was surprisingly rather pleasant to listen to. As shown in the photo alongside, there is a centrally placed wooden pulpit for sermons which is an architectural feature that I’ve never seen in a Synagogue, and which seemed rather Christian, and also similar to the minbar found in mosques. My French was not good enough to follow the Rabbi who spoke from the front, and was clearly an accomplished speaker. I did manage to work out the what he was talking about before the end though – his text being the midrash where Bruriah chastised her husband Rabbi Meir by a creative interpretation of Psalms 104:35 “Let the sinners be consumed from the earth, and the wicked shall be no more” The service was followed by a Kiddush with Cholent that was warming, if rather bland.