This 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.
IL 152867 titled “Tissue Container With Auxiliary Compartment”is a patent application for a package of wet-wipes
with 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.
Mr 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.
Wet-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.
There 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
The 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:
“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.
On 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).
In 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
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 »