Moshe Lavi owns Israel Patent No. 157035 titled “MODULAR SUPPORT BRACKET” which describes a support bracket for an air-conditioner unit. He’s tried to enforce it in the past against Zach Oz Airconditioners LTD, and the parties came to an out-of-court settlement.
Lavi then sued again, and Zach Oz countered by applying to have the patent cancelled. This attempt was unsuccessful and a ruling upholding the patent issued on 5 March 2017.
Lavi then applied for costs under Circular MN 80. According to Lavi and his attorneys, Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer Brats, the costs incurred in fighting the Opposition were a fairly massive 526,750.058 Shekels!? We assume that there is a typo here, and the costs requested were just over half a million Shekels and not just over half a billion shekels, as that would be ridiculous even for Pearl Cohen. It seems that they charge in dollars and not Shekels, and are unaware of the need to round up to the nearest 5 agarot.
Lavi claims that he is entitled to the real costs incurred, which are reasonable, necessarily incurred and proportional in the circumstances. He accuses Zach Oz of acting in bad faith by challenging the validity of the patent. His counsel appended a list of legal counsel’s hours, invoices, and an affidavit by Moshe Lavi.
The Respondents Zach Oz, confusingly represented by an Adv. Pearl (not Zeev, even he is aware that fighting both sides of an opposition proceeding is not acceptable) claimed that the costs were unreasonable and some were unnecessary or disproportional. They also claimed that it was Moshe Lavi who acted inequitably. They note that the case-law states that costs are not meant to be a punishment, and the costs in this case were unreasonable and were incurred due to unnecessary wariness by the patentee. Furthermore, the adjudicator is supposed to take into account the public interest and importance in maintaining the integrity of the patent register. Awarding inflated costs in cases that they lose, would discourage people from challenging the validity of patents and would prevent access to legal recourse.
The winning party is entitled to costs incurred in legal proceedings. However, the arbitrator is not obliged to rule actual costs, and is required to consider the specifics of the case and judicial policy. See paragraph 19 of Appeal 6793/08 Loar LTD vs Meshulam Levinsten Engineering and Subcontracting Ltd. 28 June 2009.
In the case-law it was ruled that for the Applicant for actual costs to prove that they are reasonable, proportional and necessary in the specific circumstances. See Bagatz 891/05 Tnuva Cooperative for Marketing Agricultural Produce in Israel Ltd. et al. vs. The Authority for granting Import licenses et al. p.d. 70(1) 600, 615 from 30 June 2005. The limitation of costs to being necessary and proportional is:
To prevent a situation wherein the costs awarded are too great, and will discourage parties from seeking justice, will create inequalities and make court proceedings unnecessarily costly, limiting access to the courts. (Appeal 2617/00 Kinneret Quarries ltd. cs. The Nazareth Ilit, Planning and Building Committee, p.d. 70(1) 600, (2005) paragraph 20.
The amount of work invested in preparing submissions, their legal and technical complexity, the stage reached in the proceedings, the behavior of the parties before the court of the patent office and with regard to opposing party, inequitable behavior of the parties, etc. All these are considerations that should be taken into account when considering “the specifics of the case”.
In this instance, the patentee did win his case and is entitled to recoup costs, and the losing party does not dispute this. However, in this instance, the patentee is not entitled to the requested costs for reasons detailed below.
Firstly, after consideration of the case and the submissions, none of the parties appear to have acted inequitably. It is not irrelevant that neither party has related to the decisions made in this instance, including the main ruling. This is because there is no evidence of inequitable behavior by the parties. Similarly the affidavits are acceptable. In this regard, it is not reasonable to accept the patentee’s allegation that the challenge to their patent was baseless. The file wrapper shows that the challenger made a reasonable and fair attempt to show that the patent was void, based, inter alia, on prior art.
Furthermore, as to the costs requested, the adjudicator, Ms Shoshani Caspi did not think that they were reasonable, essential or proportional, as required by the Tnuva ruling.
The expert opinion of the expert who attended the hearing, costs of 29,685 Shekels including VAT were incurred. This was considered reasonable. It also appears to have been necessarily incurred. However, the Applicants did not need to use lawyers to prepare the expert opinion’s opinion for him, whilst claiming costs for him preparing his opinion as well. This is a double request for costs and should be eradicated.
In his Affidavit, Mr Lavi claimed that the challenge to his patent caused him to spend $137,901.37 including VAT. This is the 499,065.058 Shekels requested by the Applicant, excluding the expert opinion. The Affidavit explains that this sum includes his legal counsel’s work, couriers, printing, etc., however, no evidence of couriers and printing costs were given, and it appears that these incidentals were included in the invoices from his legal representative. To provide evidence for the legal costs incurred, invoices from PCZL were appended which included the hours spent by attorneys working on the case.
One cannot ignore the fact that the list of work done included demanding extensions, attempts to negotiate an out-of-court settlement, interim proceedings that the opposing party won, an appeal of the refusal to throw the case out, https://blog.ipfactor.co.il/2015/03/08/il-157035-if-one-accused-of-infringing-a-patent-does-not-challenge-its-validity-is-the-accused-estoppeled/
and other costs that are not essential and thus not reasonably chargeable to the other side.
The attempt to roll these unnecessary costs to the losing side and the double charging for the expert witness are inappropriate to use an understatement, and one assumes that these requests were made inadvertently as they were signed by educated attorneys that are well versed in the relevant legal processes.
Furthermore, after a detailed review of the file, Ms Yaara Shashani Caspi concluded that the case was relatively simple and there were neither particularly complicated legal or factual questions. Consequently, it is difficult to accept that the request for costs of 499,065.058 Shekels [sic] including VAT is reasonable, essential or proportional in the circumstances. It will be noted that as ruled in the Tnuva case (paragraph 19). The real costs that the patentee incurred is only the starting point and not the end point of the costs ruling.
It transpires that the time spent in each round was very large. For example, 65 hours was spent on a request to cancel an expert opinion, and 44 hours on the request for costs, etc. The Applicant did not provide an acceptable justification for these figures.
In light of the above, legal costs will be awarded by estimation, and in addition to the 27,685 Shekels (including VAT) to the expert witness, a further 150,000 Shekels (including VAT) are awarded in legal fees.
The deadline for paying the costs is 30 days, then interest will be incurred.
Legal Costs Ruling by Ms Shoshani Caspi in cancellation proceedings of IL 157035 Moshe Lavie vs. Zach Oz, 25 October 2017.
The whole case was mishandled by Zach Oz, who could and should have won the original infringement case in court, but decided to accept a poorly worded out-of-court settlement. By any reasonable attempt to construe the claims so that the patent was not anticipated by support brackets for shelves, Zach Oz’ supports were not infringing. In other words, they could have used the Gillette defense.
Ms Shoshani Caspi’s criticism of PCZL overcharging and double dipping is appropriate in this instance. The attempt to have the case thrown out on a creative estoppel based on not having challenged the validity of the patent when sued for infringement was ridiculous. Ironically, this patent is not worth the costs spent on litigating it. This is a clear instance of lose-lose by all concerned except the lawyers.