Can Non-Israelis be Subpoenaed to testify in Opposition Proceedings?

novartis

Israel Patent Application No. 176831 to Novartis is titled “COMPRESSED PHARMACEUTICAL TABLETS OR DIRECT COMPRESSION PHARMACEUTICAL TABLETS COMPRISING DPP-IV INHIBITOR CONTAINING PARTICLES AND PROCESSES FOR THEIR PREPARATION”. It is the national phase entry of PCT/EP2005/000400.

Unipharm

On allowance, Unipharm filed an Opposition to the patent application being granted.  Within the Opposition proceeding, Unipharm, who for this case, have dispensed with the services of Adv. Adi Levit, their legal counsel and have been handling the Opposition unaided by attorneys, have requested that the Israel Patent Office subpoena  John Hutchinson and Mr Kowalski, workers at Novartis to give testimony.

This request follows an earlier request to reveal documentation regarding testing that was appended to the Expert Witness testimony of Professor Davies, Novartis’ expert witness, which was ordered in an earlier interim ruling of 3 January 2018.

Discovery

In response to the discovery request, Novartis submitted an Affidavit with various appended papers. In light of this, Unipharm now alleges that the Affidavit implies that Novartis has not revealed all documents it should have. Unipharm further indicates that the explanation proffered by Hutchinson, who is signed on the Affidavit, “appears to be odd”. Therefore, Unipharm wish to Subpoena him to cross-examine him on this.

lab bookUnipharm further claims that a document titled “Certificate of Authenticity” was included with respect to the laboratory notebook, parts of which were included in the appendices attached to the affidavit. According to Unipharm, Mr Kowalski, who was one of the named inventors, is signed on this document. Consequently, Unipharm requested to cross-examine him as well.

Novartis requests that Unipharm’s request be rejected. They claim that the Commissioner does not have the authority to subpoena witnesses not within the judicial territory of the State of Israel, who are not direct parties in a proceeding. Novartis also notes that Mr Hutchinson’s signature on the Affidavit accompanying the discovery documents was done in the framework of his employment as a patent attorney in the Legal Department of Novartis. Novartis claims that ALL information regarding the management of the proceeding is subject to legal confidentiality and may also be considered as being a trade-secret.

As to Mr Kowalski, he never signed an Affidavit of Evidence in the process and is not a party to it. Similarly Novartis claims that Unipharm has not stated why they need to cross-examine that inventor who was one of three named inventors.

Discussion

The witnesses that the Opposer wished to interrogate are beyond the territorial jurisdiction of Israel and are not parties in the case. Thus the Applicant is correct that Section 163b of the Patent Law 1967 that Unipharm referred to is not a legal basis for their being subpoenaed. The references that Unipharm related to in their request, dealt with witnesses that gave Affidavits or expert witness testimony, and thus could be subpoenaed for cross-examination purposes.

A party that wishes to subpoena a citizen or foreign resident to testify must do so under the International Inter-State Legal Assistance Law 1998. See Appeal 3810/06 Dori and Zacovsky Building and Investments Ltd vs. Shamai Goldstein, paragraph 17, 24 September 2007.

Section 47 of the Legal Assistance Law states:

The Authority is allowed to request from another country, that testimony be collected, including that physical evidence be transferred for display in Israel, if the court allows that the evidence is required to hold the trial in Israel; regarding this law, and where the case is pending, the term court refers to the tribunal that is hearing the case.

From the wording of this Section, it transpires that the court will open a proceeding to summon foreign witnesses to a hearing only if it is convinced that their testimony is necessary to conduct the proceeding. In this instance, the Commissioner considers that there is significant doubt as to whether the presence of the witnesses for cross-examination purposes is really required.

Unipharm has requested to cross-examination Mr Kowalski regarding an Affidavit for discovery that he is signed on. The purpose of the discovery process is to enable the main proceeding to be handled efficiently; legal proceedings with face-up cards where each party knows what documents the other parties hold to prevent surprises at the hearing. By this means, unexpected delays are prevented, allowing the court to reveal the truth. Appeal 4235/05 Bank Mizrachi United vs. Ronit Peletz, 14 August 2015.

Opposite the principle of discovery, there are other interests such as efficiency of the court proceeding, defense of the legitimate interests of the party revealing documents, and preventing damage to the interests of third parties – See Appeal 2534/02 Yehuda Shimshon vs. Bank HaPoalim ltd. p.d. 56(5) 193. So the case-law has ruled more than once that it will not allow cross-examination of affidavits of this kind, if they are properly presented (see Appeal 2376/13 Rami Levy Shikma Marketing Ltd vs. Moshe Dagan 8 July 2014, and Zusman Civil Procedures 7th Edition, page 436.

This general rule has two exceptions: The first is that where reading of the Affidavit alone or with reference to its citations, that the Affidavit is defective, the court can order the party revealing documents to file a further Affidavit. Second, where the issue of confidentiality is used, the court can examine the document and decide if this claim is reasonable (see for example, Appeal 240/73 Baruch Vilker vs. Dov Tishler, 205, 2 December 1971 and Appeal 6823/05 Abraham Roimi vs. Bank Leumi of Israel, 12 January 2016.

In this instance, Unipharm did not append an Affidavit, detail or justify why they considered that the current case is one of these exceptions. Thus the Commissioner cannot rule that this is the case, and so the request is rejected.

As to the evidence of Mr Kowalski, Unipharm did not claim that there was any connection between the documents appended to the Affidavit of the Discovery and to the experiments that were appended to Novartis’ evidence, which was the basis of the original discovery request. Note, Mr Kowalski’s signature is only on the Certificate of Authenticity taken from the lab-book that was appended to some pages therefrom that were submitted in the discovery documents. In these circumstances, it is not clear what value Mr Kowalski’s testimony has, even were he to be subpoenaed.

In light of this, the Commissioner does not consider that the requirements of Section 47 of the Law of Legal Assistance are fulfilled with regard to Mr Hutchinson or Mr Kowalski.

The Request is refused. Unipharm will cover Novartis’ costs and their legal expenses to the tune of 2000 Shekels + VAT. These costs will be paid within 30 days.

Interim Ruling in Opposition to IL 175831 Ofer Alon, 30 April 2018.

Comment

It is possible that Mr Tomer has indeed bitten off more than he can chew by handling legal issues procedural issues such as requesting subpoenaing witnesses without legal counsel. However, the costs ruled against him are trivial when considering the issue in question. The Unipharm’s Expert Witness cannot testify to things that he does not know such as what else was in the lab-book, and in Opposition proceedings there is no assumption of validity of the patent. Thus it would be premature to write this request off as a strategic or even a tactical error.

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