A Ruling Concerning Service Invention Compensation by a Worker of a Unionized Industry

August 10, 2017

This is the third decision on employee compensation that issued this month.

In this case, the employee inventor requested that the committee for discussing employee compensation for service inventions rule compensation under Section 134 of the Israel Patent Law. On 22 July 2014, the Company responded by requested three interim rulings:

  1. That the case be thrown out due to the Statute of Limitations.
  2. That the case be thrown out due to tardiness or the employee having given up on receiving compensation
  3. (in absence of above) that the committee set a timetable for the proceeding.

The parties filed responses and further submissions and attended a hearing on 24 December 2015, and the committee decided that the parties should concentrate on the issue of whether or not the committee had standing in this instance.

The Applicant (inventor) submitted his summation on 12 April 2016 and the respondent (company) submitted their summation on 13 December 2016, and a counter response was submitted on 1 March 2017.

The Applicant submitted an affidavit as did Mrs. XXXX (job description not given) and Mr. YYYYY, the head of the patent committee of the respondent.

The facts (censored)

The Applicant started working for the company in 1993 and was employed to_________. In the scope of his duties, he suggested some efficiency improvements and inventions as detailed below.

The company is_____________________.

The applicant detailed eight suggestions that he submitted: Read the rest of this entry »


Employee Inventions – the first of three decisions

August 7, 2017

worker's compensationThere is a procedure by which an inventor can request that a tribunal consisting of a judge, the Commissioner and an academic can consider the appropriate compensation to the inventor for an invention made in the course of his employment.

The most recent and important ruling of this nature concerned the contribution of an inventor working for Isscar. That committee ruling was appealed through the courts. For details of that ruling, see here.

There have been two more rulings that have just published. Presumably they were decided now, as Commissioner Kling came to the end of his term of office. As the identities of the inventors and the companies have been withheld, the rulings lack the juicy details. Nevertheless, I have summarized the two rulings below as they give guidelines regarding how the committee considers the issue following the Supreme Court discussion and the various conferences, etc. that related to the issue, including one that I organized.

In the first ruling Ploni (this is the Biblical term for an unidentified character taken from Ruth 4:1) – i.e. Anon vs. Company.

Ploni requested that the committee rule on appropriate compensation for a service invention under Section 134 of the Israel Law. On 20 November 2014 the company requested that the submission be thrown out, and, following a request from the committee that he do so, Ploni responded on 20 September 2015.

A hearing was held on 11 July 2016, which was attended by the Company, their CEO Mr XXXX, and their attorney Daniel Bostonai. Ploni was not represented.

The Main Facts (censored)

The company was founded in 1999 as a start up company that never got beyond the development stage. The field of activity is withheld.

contractPloni is a mechanical engineer that was employed as an external consultant in July 2002, and became an in-house general manager of the company in December of that year. On 16 December 2012, an employment contract was signed between the company and Ploni. This was intended to formalize the Company’s rights in developments and inventions and Ploni’s compensation for his work. The contract stated that Ploni would have no claims for additional compensation or remuneration. Ploni was also signed onto an options deal under which we would be entitled to some shares immediately, to additional shares after a period of time, and to a third batch of shares that depended on company income from sales. The original options agreement was renegotiated on 31 December 2003, to one that allowed Ploni to purchase 7.5% of the company.

From 2005 onwards, the company made several rounds of investment. In 2006, the company and Ploni exchanged various draft contracts to better define Ploni’s terms of engagement. After four drafts were exchanged and the parties failed to reach agreement, Ploni decided that he was NOT interested in continuing with the company and tendered his resignation on 4 February 2007. This came into effect on 4 March 2007.

Ploni’s Section 134 submission was related to Patent Application Numbers XXXXX and YYY from Date 1 and Date 2. These were both abandoned by the company; one was actively abandoned by applicant deciding not to pay the renewal fee allegedly due to lack of application of the patent, and the other was abandoned prior to it ever issuing.

Prior to requesting that the committee calculate a value for the service inventions, Ploni started a proceeding against the Company in the Labour Court. Essentially Ploni requested that the court order the company to allocate 7.5% of all the shares issued by the company to Ploni. The Labour Court ruled the agreements and draft agreements as relating to 7.5% of the company prior to dilution as a result of fund raising. This was appealed to the Supreme Labour Court, and returned to the Labour Court. More details follow below.

The Company’s Claims

  1. The company claims that since the parties had signed a work agreement that ruled out any additional compensation, the committee has no authority to rule compensation and the case should be dismissed. This claim was strengthened by the practice of the company and Ploni over the years.
  2. Since Ploni had signed agreements with investors that stated that the company had no other obligations, he was estopelled from claiming that the company owed him anything.
  3. The allegations that Ploni was owed something for a service invention should be considered moot in light of the statute of limitations, since the latest date by which any right could be considered was the filing date of the respective patent application.
  4. Thus the request for compensation was filed after a significant delay which indicates that Ploni had given up on any and all claims for compensation. \

Ploni’s Claims

  1. Ploni counter claimed that the signed work contract did not relate to compensation for patentable inventions and the parties did not reach agreement on compensation for these.
  2. The statute of limitations had not passed since the relevant date is Ploni’s final date of employment by the company.
  3. The Company were tardy in requesting that the case be thrown out.

RULING

The legal basis of the committee is defined in Section 134 of the Law as follows:

In the absence of an agreement that determines whether the inventor is entitled to compensation and what the compensation should be, appropriate compensation will be determined by the Committee for Compensation established under Section VI.

In the Committee ruling concerning Barzani vs. Isscar Ltd from 4 May 2014, which withstood an Appeal to the Supreme Court 4353/14 Barzani vs. Isscar Ltd, from 8 July 2015, it was determined that Section 134 is non-cogent in that the parties can come to some other arrangement.

“The committee came to the conclusion that Section 134 is not a cogent right and is not employment law that, as socialist rights has special protection. On the face of things, and in line with the wording of the Law, it appears that the committee was correct (the Article states ‘where there is no agreement that sets employee compensation’). That as may be, with the limited right to meddle with committee decisions, the court does not see fit to interfere in this instance.

In this instance, the respondent (Ploni) had the opportunity to purchase company shares. As states in the share option agreement of 16 December 2002, the respondent received his share options as a general manager of the company. As agreed in agreement of 31 December 2002, this was dependent on performance as manager:

“… In the event that vesting of all or any of the Awards is contingent upon fulfillment of certain conditions (“Vesting Conditions”), such as the achievement of certain targets by the Company or Grantee, the details thereof will be set forth in a separate Appendix that will be attached to this Award Agreement as Appendix B.

Appendix B was not submitted. Nevertheless, the respondent agrees that the share allocation was to closely follow the development of the invention by the company. In a hearing on 11 July 2016 the respondent stated that the options were for the profit of the patent.

As stated in the Isscar ruling, the purpose of the arrangement between the parties is understood from the parties’ actions. It is clear that the respondent saw the options as compensation for the service inventions in question. The directives regarding the distribution of options that were signed on 31 December 2003 are understood as being a giving up of any and all other compensation. The court deliberations of the Labour Court may be understood as being the day in court that Ploni was entitled to with respect to options that were not actualized. These ended in a settlement under which Ploni was awarded 40,000 Shekels for options that were not actualized and Ploni himself saw these as the basis for this complaint.

This conclusion renders moot further discussion regarding statute of limitation and estoppels.

The committee accepts that the case should be thrown out. However, as Ploni was unrepresented, they did not award costs against him.


Reinstatement of IL 122846 to Tyco Fire and Security rejected

January 11, 2017

The fourth renewal of Israel Patent No. 122846 to Tyco Fire & Security was not paid by the deadline of 4 January 2012. A request for reinstatement together with an affidavit was submitted on 9 November 2016, following an earlier request without an appropriate Affidavit that was filed on 1 August 2016 which was rejected in a ruling of 4 August 2016, that without an affidavit such a request could not be considered and that the date of resubmission with an Affidavit would be considered the date of submission. The submission of 1 August included an update that the renewal fee had been paid and a request for reinstatement without any reasons.

On 9 November 2016, an affidavit by Michael Lahat, an employee of Visonic, was submitted. Mr Lahat claimed that Visonic had transferred the rights of the subject patent to the present owners back in July 2013. He further claimed that he was a member of the IP committee of TYCO and consequently, could testify on behalf of the company.

When the renewal fee was due, an employee of Visonic informed the Israel Representative that the company intended to renew the patent themselves, without assistance. In practice the renewal was not accomplished and no explanation was provided. The employee in question left the company hack in November 2013, but prior to her leaving, the rensponsibility for paying renewals was transferred to CPI. In July 2013, this and other Visionic patents were transferred to Tyco. The transfer of ownership was recorded in the Patent register on 31 December 2014, but by this time, the patent in question had already lapsed over a year earlier.

Close to what would have been the fifth renewal date had the patent not lapsed (years 18-20), on 4 January 2016, CPI [MF- Probably CPA – Computer Patent Annuities] tried to perform the renewal, but, since the patent had lapsed, were unsuccessful in this attempt. In March 2016 the renewal company informed the patentee that the mark had lapsed. The attempt to  revive was submitted eight months later.

Section 60 of the Patent Law 1967 states that there are  three conditions for restoring a patent subject to public opposition:

  1. that the payment was not made due to reasonable causes
  2. That the Patentee had not wanted the patent to lapse
  3. That the  request to reinstate was filed as soon as the patent lapsing was known to the applicant or to his representative

The Deputy Commissioner Ms Jacqueline Bracha was not convinced that these conditions were met since it was not clear why the fee was not originally paid in a timely manner since the instructions given to the former employee were not made of record.

The fact that details of the patent were provided to the renewal company does make it clear that the patentee did not want the patent to lapse, so the second requirement is fulfilled, although the after a delay.

No suitable explanation was provided for months passing from when it was discovered that the patent had lapsed until the affidavit was filed.  In this regard it is noted that the patentee was an Israel company that was not difficult to communicate with. That said, even if the patentee was a foreign entity there is no justification for eight months passing in the modern age with modern communication channels.

Since two out of three of the essential conditions were not met, the request for reinstatement is refused.

 

 


Wet-wipes, The Issue of Inventorship and the Responsibilities of the Patent Attorney

September 22, 2016

wetnap-were-ready-for-any-messThis ruling concerns a product that resulting from the contributions of two people who were formerly friends. A patent application was filed that named both people as both inventors and applicants. Later, after powers-of-attorney signed by each of the named inventor – applicants had been filed, there was an attempt to ‘correct an office error’, to list one of them as an inventor only. The corresponding PCT application and the national phase entry applications, including two issued patents in the United States only bore the name of one inventor and applicant. In an Opposition ruling the Israel Patent Office has now accepted that the second named inventor is indeed an inventor and also an owner.

Apart from emphasizing the need to determine who is the inventor and who is the owner of an invention when the patent is filed, the need to put everything into writing, and the dangers of working with friends, the case raises interesting questions regarding what contribution to reducing a patent to practice entitles someone to recognition as an inventor and whether this standard is the same in all jurisdictions. It also raises interesting questions regarding the duties and responsibilities of the patent attorney to ascertain the facts, or at least to avoid signing on contradictory statements regarding ownership and invention in different jurisdictions.

BACKGROUND

IL 152867 titled “Tissue Container With Auxiliary Compartment”is a patent application for a package of wet-wipes
rc-chairswith an adjacent container for nappy cream. The Application was filed back in November 2002 and listed Boaz Krystal and Liat De-Vries as inventors and owners. The patent application was allowed at the end of June 2010.

Subsequently, an Opposition was filed by WET-NAPS LTD and Liat De-Vries on 4 October 2010 under Section 31(3) of the Israel Patent Law 1967 on the grounds that Boaz Krystal was not in fact an owner, and that the patent was exclusively owned by Ms Liat De-Vries.
affidavitsMr Boaz Krystal and his wife Mrs Dorit Krystal each submitted affidavits. Mrs Liat De-Vries submitted a primary affidavit and a supplementary one in response to Mr Boaz Krystal’s affidavit. Wet-Naps Ltd. is owned by Mr Ilan De-Vries, who is Mrs Liat De-Vries’ husband. He also submitted an affidavit on behalf of the company.  Mr David De-Vries, a patent attorney at Reinhold Cohn & Partners who drafted and filed the application and is a cousin of Mr Ilan De-Vries, Ms Ronit Tal who is an acquaintance of Liat De-Vries and Mr Yoram Hadar who is an industrial designer, also submitted affidavits. A hearing was held and the parties submitted their summaries.

wetnapWet-Nap Ltd manufactures, exports and markets wet-wipes. The company had a business relationship with Packtop Ltd., a company directed by Mr Boaz Krystal that distributes wet-wipes amongst other things.   At the time of filing, both the Krystals and the De-Vries couple were good friends.

roobarbs-shedThere is no argument that Mr Boaz Krystal and Mrs Liat De-Vries met at the Wet-Nap Ltd factory, where Mr Boaz Krystal heard the idea of including baby ointment together with a package of wet-wipes from Mrs Liat De-Vries. There is also no argument that Mr Boaz Krystal and Mrs Liat De-Vries had some kind of collaboration, to develop and improve this invention and to file a patent application for it. Eventually a joint application was filed in both Mr Boaz Krystal and Mrs Liat De-Vries names. However, the parties disagree regarding Mr Krystal’s contribution to the development of the invention and consequently disagree regarding whether he is to be considered an inventor and owner of the patent.

The Main Documents in the Prosecution File Wrapper

roobard-and-custard-friendsThe Application was filed in November 2002 by Reinhold Cohn Patent Attorneys. The Application form lists both Mr Boaz Krystal and Mrs Liat De-Vries as joint owners due to them being inventions. Both parties filed Powers of Attorney, and the Filing Certificate gives both names.

On 10 December 2002, Adv. David De-Vries of Reinhold Cohn Patent Attorneys submitted a notice stating:

office-error“Due to an office error, the name of the inventor, Mr Boaz Krystal was inserted as an Applicant. With our apologies for this, we are submitting a new cover sheet and application form in duplicate, listing Mr Boaz Krystal and Mrs Liat De-Vries as joint inventors, but Mrs Liat De-Vries as the sole owner.”

On 10 December 2002, Adv. Edna Haruti, now Mr Krystal’s representative, submitted a letter in which it was stated that Mr Krystal was a joint owner together with Mrs Liat De-Vries as he had invented the tissue container with auxiliary compartment together with her.  Adv. Edna Haruti also noted that registration of the patent in the name of Mrs Liat De-Vries only was contrary to the agreement between the parties.

shimon-shalitOn 2 February 2003 Patent Attorney Shimon Shalit, then Senior Examiner in charge of formalities at the Israel Patent Office, responded to both Reinhold Cohn and to Mr Krystal that Mr Krystal could not be removed as an owner in the application as filed, since there was no indication that he had assigned his invention to Mrs Liat De-Vries prior to the application being filed. In absence of such proof, since Mr Krystal was not an employee of Mrs De-Vries, by virtue of being a co-inventor, he was also a co-owner.

(As an aside – On 12 March 2006 Mrs De-Vries submitted a divisional application of IL 152867 for certain applications of the invention. This divisional application (IL 174309) was examined, allowed and issued as a patent. On 1 December 2010 IL 174309 lapsed due to failure to pay the renewal fees. That patent is not directly relevant to this Opposition, but Wet-Naps Ltd and Liat De-Vries related to it in their claims).

procrastinateIn the protocol of a hearing held on 5 February 2007 before then Deputy Commissioner Noah Smulevezh it was decided to defer the issue of ownership until the examination of the application was completed. It was further ruled that Reinhold Cohn would be address of record, but would update Mr Krystal or his representative regarding actions taken to get his input before responding to office actions. The patent application was eventually allowed and published for opposition purposes, resulting in this opposition proceeding.

The Opposers’ (Wet-Naps Ltd and Mrs Liat De-Vries) Main Claims
wetnap

Mrs De-Vries and Wet-Naps Ltd claimed to have thought of the idea and developed the invention whereas Mr Krystal had merely provided technical drawings and a business plan for commercializing the product. They alleged that during the period in question, Mr Krystal provided technical and consultancy services to the company as almost an in-house service provider and as such, was exposed to the invention. They further claimed that Mr Yoram Hadar (industrial designer) and Patent Attorney David De-Vries provided sketches for the product that eventually evolved into the patent application. They further alleged that Mr Krystal had suggested a specific implementation (embodiment?) – storing the cream in a blister pack or sachets, which developed into  Read the rest of this entry »


Missed Opportunity to Prevent Abuse of Trainee Patent Attorneys

March 23, 2016

articled clerk

In Israel, in addition to written and oral exams, trainee patent attorneys have to work for two years full-time or the equivalent number of hours part-time doing at least half a job training under a licensed patent attorney with at least three years of post-qualification experience him or herself.

The Israel Commissioner of Patents Asa Kling has issued an updated Circular rregulating the training of such trainee patent attorneys. Those attempting to qualify should familiarize themselves with the requirement.

There are a number of licensed professionals that take on trainees, give them work on an ad-hoc basis and provide little training. Some of these pay the employees on the basis of a percentage of the collected billing but first deduct training costs in the form of the hours of those higher up in the pecking order. The would-be patent attorneys are not explained the system before they start. I suspect that the system is illegal anyway. The trainees are university graduates that often have higher degrees. Those that fail to thrive in the system often join the ranks of non-licensed practitioners, often quick and dirty sub-standard patent services in an attempt to earn a living.

Although, strictly speaking, this is an employment issue, I think it is a shame that the commissioner has not taken the opportunity to regulate payment of trainees to ensure that they are guaranteed a minimal number of hours of work and are paid minimally a salary equivalent at least to the minimum wage. Beyond this, so long as it is not abused and that both sides understand the deal, I suppose that the percentage-of-billing model is not inherently unfair. if employers can’t commit to paying a minimal salary and providing training, they shouldn’t be allowed to take on trainees.

The payment should be as salary NOT as subcontractor. People are entitled to work conditions that meet minimal legal standards. The work of trainees should be in the office so that the trainees see all aspects of the business, rather than working from home drafting applications, only.

Furthermore, I believe there should be a complaints mechanism so that mentors that abuse their position can lose the right to have trainees.

As usual, feedback and comments are welcomed.


Inventor Compensation Under Section 134 of the Patent Law

January 13, 2016

compensation       employment-agreement (1)

Section 134 of the Israel Patent Law allows for a committee including the Commissioner of Patents, a judge and one other to decide whether an employee is entitled to compensation for a service invention, and how much this should be.

In Barzani vs. Iscar, the Supreme Court through out Barzani’s appeal of the committee ruling and denied his request for compensation.

The Israel Supreme Court (Appeal 3564/12 Dr Nimrod Bayer vs Florality LTD) overturned a District Court decision that upheld a waiver signed by Dr Bayer and Dr Nimrod Bayer requested that the committee decide on appropriate compensation. The committee chaired by Judge Professor Itzhak Engelard and including the Commissioner of Patents Asa Kling and Professor Shmuel Peleg. issued a ruling on 24 December 2015.

It seems that in this instance, the parties came to an agreement. Consequently the request for compensation submitted to the committee was refused. The ruling clarifies that this decision does not affect Dr Beyer’s moral rights to be considered the technological driver of the company or affect third party rights. It puts an end to the issue and no costs are awarded but the decision is published with the names of the parties at their request.

COMMENT

We suspect that the anonymous suspension procedure we reported in 2014 related to this case. Not much can be learned from this ruling except that the committee does meet. At least occasionally.


Israel Supreme Court Issues Long Awaited Decision regarding Service Inventions

July 23, 2015

employment agreement

Isscar is a leading Israel company that manufactures hard metal cutting tools. As an employee at Isscar, Gidon Barzani was involved in the development of hard metal cutting tools at Isscar during the years 1992 to 1995, and again between 1997 and 2001 and was involved in a certain service invention, his actual contribution being a matter of contention. The employee signed various documents that gave up on monetary claims.

In Israel, an employee invention is owned by the employer. However, under Section  134 of the Law, the employee is entitled to compensation, the amount of which is determined by a special committee under Section 109.

The Committee, at the head of which sits the retired Supreme Court Justice, Itzak Englard, the Commissioner of Patents and an university professor, rejected Barzani’s claims as he had had waived his rights to consideration for the inventions when he signed on the general waiver.

Barzani appealed to the Supreme Court as a High Court of Justice (BAGATZ) see here which resulted in the committee freezing its actions.

One of the more interesting legal questions is whether a general waiver as part of the employment contract, where no invention is yet conceived can be considered as legally binding. (Talmudist’s may note a similarity to discussion of unlaid eggs).

The Supreme Court rejected the appeal arguing that it had limited power to interfere since under Section 111, the Bagatz ruling was final. The Supreme Court ruled that Section 134 describes a non-cogent right that is not a socialist employee right that requires special defense. On the face of things and with deference to the language of the clause, the decision appears to be correct, and certainly is sufficiently reasonable that there is no justification for court interference.

Nevertheless, the court noted that in a dynamic and changing world there is room for additional legislation or for companies to come up with voluntary compensation schemes. However, there is no reason for the court to interfere.

Judge Reuven, Deputy President of the Supreme Court quoted Section 109 of the Law as follows:

Where there is no agreement providing compensation to the employee for his service invention, regarding the amount of compensation and the conditions, these will be determined by the Committee for Compensation and Royalties.

Section 111 fixes the finality of the committee’s decision, but there is no doubt that in extreme circumstances, the Supreme Court sitting as a High Court of Justice can interfere. Since, however, the committee includes a retired senior court justice, the commissioner and an academic, interference in its conclusions are likely to be minimal, and this instance does not justify the court’s involvement.

The main argument, following the Actelis ruling of 2010 is concerned with the question of whether Section 134 should be considered cogent or dispositive. The committee came to the conclusion that it is not a cogent right and is not an example of employer-employee labour law where (due to the inherent differences in power between the sides) workers’ rights require special protection. The ruling seems to be correct, but anyway, since the Law states that the committee’s rulings are final, there is no room for the court to interfere.

Nevertheless, the court has criticized the current situation and noted that common sense and natural justice indicate that there is room for a more equitable arrangement,  whether the result of voluntary agreement or of legislation, and such arrangements exist in the private sector.

4353/14 Appeal to Supreme Court, Barzani vs. Isscar, Ruling by Rubinstein Fogelman and Mazuz 8/7/15

COMMENT

There was a lot of interest in this case, and we believe that employers will be giving deep sighs of relief. Employees will probably feel that the system favours the company against the individual. I am aware that some academics have strong feelings, see for example, Dr Shlomit Ravid’s position here and here.

Since the court has criticized the committee’s ruling and is not prepared to get involved, it is not inconceivable that a future committee could reach the opposite conclusion. Indeed, one of the judges of this ruling might, on retirement, sit in such a committee. There may, therefore, be room for clear legislation on the issue.

Personally, I think the Supreme Court decision is correct. I encourage corporate clients to institute compensation programs or at least weekend breaks and the like to encourage employees to come forwards with ideas, but think that changing the law in Israel may result in multi-nationals taking their R&D centers elsewhere, and that is not good for the economy or the workers.