Statute of Limitation for Compensation for an Employee Invention

January 28, 2018

This ruling considers when the seven year Statute of Limitations starts for an employee to turn to the tribunal for service inventions for a ruling regarding appropriate compensation.

Background

10-american-idol-judges

Section 134 of the Israel Patent Law establishes a tribunal comprising a judge, the Patent Commissioner and an academic, whose job it is to determine an appropriate level of compensation for an employee inventor if asked to do so.

The Law is clear that such inventions are the property of the employer. If there is a contractual arrangement regarding compensation it is usually upheld. Nevertheless, the committee has the authority to hear cases and make rulings, and several such rulings have published in recent years.  See re Barzani.

azilect

In this instance, on 20 April 2015 Dr Ruth Levy who was previously employed by Teva Pharmaceuticals, requested that the committee rule compensation for her employee invention of rasagiline which because the active ingredient of AZILECT™.

teva

Teva opposed based on her tardiness in bringing the claims and the Statute of Limitations for such actions. They also requested that the tribunal set out a timetable for discussing the issues, and that they firstly address whether the case should simply be dismissed out of hand due to the time passed.

The witnesses concerned were aged, and Dr Levy opposed the timetable. Eventually it was decided to collect testimony first and then to establish a time-table for everything else.

After the usual preliminary skirmishes, on 30 June 2016 the tribunal ruled that Professor Cohen should be cross-examined at his home on 12 July 2016 and the other witnesses (including Dr Levy) would be cross-examined on 28-30 August 2016 at the Israel Patent Office.

Professor Cohen was cross-examined as scheduled, and the testimony of the other witnesses was postponed unto December 2016 at request and consent of both parties.

On 29 September 2019, the tribunal set a date for discussing initial questions, and delayed the hearing on the stature of limitations and aging of charges until later on.

On 25 October 2019, Dr Levy submitted her response to the initial requests together with affidavits and appendices and submitted that the affidavit of Professor Eldad Melamed which was part of her original submission, be included in the evidence, despite his having passed away in the meantime, making his cross-examination impossible.

swamped

Being swamped with material, the tribunal cancelled the scheduled cross-examinations and decided to relate to whether the case should be thrown out due to the statute of limitations first, so that if they concluded that the application for compensation was filed too late, it would not need to be addressed substantively.

The Main Claims of the Parties

claimsDr Levy has a PhD in microbiology and was employed by TEVA in various capacities relating to the Research and development of drugs from 1986 until retiring in 2013. She claimed that she was an active participant in a number of significant inventions, the most prominent being the active ingredient rasagiline which is used in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease in the drug AZILECT™ which was marketed in Israel and Europe since 2005 and in the US since 2006.

compensation

TEVA responded that Dr Levy received full compensation for her inventions. I addition to her salary, she received a special grant of _______________ for her contribution to the development of AZILECT™. Teva considers that this grant was beyond that required by law and its acceptance created an implicit agreement between Dr Levy and the company regarding compensation for her inventive contribution. TEVA further claims that all the inventions that Dr Levy requests compensation for were invented over seven years before filing her request for compensation. Even if one counts the time period from when a patent application was filed, this is still seven years previous, and so the statute of limitations applies and she is not entitled to anything else.

Furthermore, Teva contends that by her behavior prior to suing, Dr Levy apparently gave up on any rights to additional compensation by not making any claims beyond her salary and grants, and so the case should be thrown out due to laches.

give up

Dr Levy disagrees. She considers that the special payment or grant that she received from TEVA was an admission that she had inventor rights. Furthermore, she only became aware of the right in 2012, and citing section 9 of the Statute of Limitations argued that the clock only starts ticking from her becoming aware of her rights.

It should be noted that Dr Levy denies that the payments made were compensation for her inventions. However, she claims that the fact that she denies this does not alter the fact that Section 9 of the Statute of Limitations starts with her becoming aware.

Alternatively, Dr Levy claims that if one does not accept the 2012 date, one should consider the period as starting with TEVA acknowledging her rights  which occurs in Paragraph 2.2 of the draft retirement agreement that TEVA drafted and sent her in 2013, and which was not included in the final version that was signed by the parties.

The paragraph remains confidential.

giving-up

Dr Levy claims that had she signed the agreement including paragraph 2.2, this could be considered as being a waiver of her rights. She further alleges that raising the issue of Statute of Limitations is itself an act of bad faith since TEVA failed in their obligation to inform her about her right to compensation and to turn to the tribunal. Furthermore, as long as the parties consider that they have not reached an agreement by not being silent on the compensation issue, and have not performed an action that makes it clear that there remains disagreement between the parties, Section 134 has not been fulfilled and the employee has not yet got the right to claim compensation. So the period for making a concrete claim only starts with her retiring in 2013 when she made her final request for compensation.

Dr Levy considers that section 135(4) of the Patent Law regarding actual exploitation of the invention, is not a necessary condition for the committee under Section 134 to establish grounds for suing. However, it does reset the Statute of Limitations. She considers that there is reciprocity between the exploitation by the employer and the employees right to compensation.

The Applicant bases this assertion on the law under which the statute of limitations for suing for infringement of a patent can only occur from when the infringement first occurs, without any relevance being given to any previous infringements. She considers that every product that exploits a service invention recreates the employee’s grounds for suing. She considers that this is clear from the fact that the tribunal can reconsider its rulings as circumstances change.   Thus there is time limit to when one can approach the tribunal under section 136. Any change in circumstances, such as exploitation of the patent in practice, reestablishes grounds for the employee suing.

window

Were the tribunal to rule differently, pharmaceutical inventions would have two windows, the first within seven years of inventing and the second within seven years of a change of circumstances under section 136. This is inefficient.

Dr Levy further alleges that only after seeking legal advice did she become aware of the her right for compensation under the Israel  Patent Law. She considers that the employer is obliged to explain all rights to employees and should have made a formal approach to her to settle the issue.

Dr Levy further alleges that a narrow window would force the employee to fight the employer during the period of employment and risk dismissal, and would force the negotiation to be from a position of weakness. Furthermore, a narrow seven year period would require her to have fought for each invention separately. This would have required her to approach the tribunal several times sometimes widely spaced, regarding a single pharmaceutical. Finally, she does not acknowledge being a side to any agreement with TEVA regarding employee inventions during her period of employment.

DISCUSSION

The Statute of Limitations does apply to rulings of the Committee for Compensation to Employee Inventors since it is a judicial body, see Appeal 402/77 Goldman vs. Herman, p.d. 32(2) 421 page 428:

When the legislative defined “court” in the Statute of Limitations it bothered to clarify in the definitions section that the term court did not only refer to the law courts or Rabbinic courts but also to any judicial authority, and even to an arbitrator who is not an Authority in that he is not an Institution that generally exists, but is rather an ad hoc authority. This means to say that the legislation specifically opined tat any play where the Law provides judicial authority to any entity, the Statute of Limitations applies.

Section 2 of the Statute of Liberties states that:

A claim for any right is subject to become aged, and if a legal submission is made for an aged right and the one sued claims the defense of the Statute of Limitations, the court need not address the issue, however the Statute of Limitations per say does not cancel the abrogated right.

Section 5 of the Statute of Liberties states that apart from real estate issues, the Statute of Limitations is seven years.

Section 6 of the Statute of Liberties states that:

The period from which seven years is counted starts with the incident that created the grounds for filing the complaint.

conception

In Appeal 10192/07 Pisgat Ashdod Civil Engineering LTD vs. Chen Gal Investments and Trading ltd. (24 May 2010) paragraph 17 of the ruling establishes that the time when a claim is conceived for the purposes of starting the Statute of Limitations clock is when the significant facts that are the basis of the requested claim come together. See Uri Goren “Issues in Civil Law” p. 118, 10th edition, 2009, Appeal 242/66 Jacobson vs. Gez p.d. 21(1) 85, 92 (1967). Estate of Williams p. 271, Appeal 244/81 Patent vs. Histadrut Health Fund p.d. 38(3) 673, 678-679 (1984). However, this definition does not fully cover the concept of when a claim is born. As far as the Statute of Limitations clock is concerned, it is insufficient for the claimant to have grounds for suing; he needs a concrete incident that can be proven in court for him to be able to file his claims and win the sanction he applies for. See 1650/00 Zisser vs. Ministry of Housing, p.d. 57(5) 166, 175 (2003).

monkey tribunal

Section 134 of the Israel Patent Law states that the tribunal has the authority to determine that an employee has the right to compensation for Service Inventions in cases where there is no agreement between the employer and employee:

If there is no agreement that prescribes whether, to what extent and on what conditions the employee is entitled to remuneration for a service invention, then the matter shall be decided by the compensation and royalties committee established under Chapter Six.

The Applicant claims that her rights as an employee come into play when the employee invention is made and she is entitled to compensation for inventing. However, she claims that her concrete right to file her complaint under Section 134 come into play only when there is no agreement between the parties regarding the employees rights. So long as it is not clear that there is no agreement, there is no concrete grounds for suing and thus the clock does not start to tick.

The tribunal rejects this claim. Section 134 states that where there is no agreement that regulates the employee’s right, the employee has the right to turn to the tribunal to determine if the employee is entitled to compensation and if so, how much? The requirement for a lack of agreement is a factual one objective one and is not subjective, as claimed by the complainant. As to when the concrete claim from which the clock starts to tick, this will be addressed below.

working together

Unlike other legal systems, the Israel Patent Law does not require that employer and employee will actively work towards forging an agreement as a preliminary action for Section 134 of the Law to come into effect. There is also no need for the parties to have a disagreement regarding compensation. So in accordance with the conditions laid out in re Ashdod Engineering (above), the plaintiff could have turned to the tribunal before negotiating on retirement, and the tribunal could have ruled that the plaintiff is entitled to compensation. In light of this legal situation, there is no basis for the claim that the employer is obliged to approach the employee and offer compensation. However, it is good for the employer to do so. Similarly, it is fitting for the legislation to consider including an obligation of this nature in light of the respective power of the parties, in light of Judge Rubinstein’s comments in re Barzani which are related to below.

concrete

The time when a concrete obligation was born

It is pertinent to discuss when an employee invention as defined in the Israel Patent Law comes into being for the purposes of the Statute of Limitation. One possibility is that the employee invention comes into being at the moment that the employee informs his employer that he has come up with an invention due to his employment or during his employment, as per Section 131 of the Law and the employer decides to monopolize the Invention under Section 132(a). There is an assumption that the parties do not disagree that this is a service invention. The logic behind this choice is that from the moment that the employee and employer fulfill their obligations under Sections 131 and 132 of the law, the parties are aware that there is a service inventions and have declared their interest regarding ownership, and this is the first opportunity to relate to the question of compensation. It is noted that by this approach the conceptual right and the concrete right.

A second possibility for when the right to compensation starts, is either when a patent application is filed or when a patent issues. These periods are periods when the employer shows interest in the invention. However, these dates are problematic since there are cases when an employee invents something that the employer does not apply for a patent for.

A third possibility for the concrete right is when the employer exploits the patent as per section 135(4) of the law. On the face of it, it seems that until the patent is utilized, it is not clear that the parties can really evaluate the worth of the patent. However, this approach is also problematic: exploitation does not occur in a single unequivocal event but is rather an ongoing process  during which various variables can affect the profitability of the invention. Similarly, it raises the question of whether the worker is entitled to a share in the profits if the employer sells the patent and does not exploit it directly.

That said, both the second option, and particularly the third one raise a further problem which it whether a concrete ground for suing as opposed to a conceptual ground for suing is cause to turn to the tribunal? Perhaps there is a difference from when the clock starts to tick, and the time period when the tribunal has the authority to relate to the employee’s claim for compensation. This means to say that it may be sufficient for there to be a conceptual claim for the tribunal to have authority, but a concrete right is required for the Statute of Limitations clock to start ticking. In the regard one should note that in Actelis Networks vs. Yishai Ilani (3 Feb 2010) discussed below, the tribunal concluded that one can request compensation prior to actual exploitation occurring.

In this instance, the tribunal sees no reason to rule on the issue of when the seven years Statute of Limitations period starts since the Complainant’s case was filed more than seven years after all the candidate dates.  Below claims by complainant to prevent the Statute of Limitations applying are discussed.

The Statute of Limitations as per re Schechter

Seven_year_itch.jpg

The Applicant relates to the decision ruled in217/86 Mordechai Schechter vs. Abmatz LTD, p.d. 44(2) 846, following which Section 73b of the Israel Paten Law was amended to state that the Statute of Limitations does not apply to patent cancellation requests. Dr Levy considers that the Schechter right to request a patent cancellation comes into effect when the Applicant for Cancellation has an interest in the patent being cancelled. So there is no single Statute of Limitations of seven years from when a patent issues, as stated in paragraph 5 of the decision:

When is the point at which the right to sue becomes grounds to sue? If we use a metaphor, what is the point at which a grain of sand in an oyster becomes a pearl? When translating this picture to the issue before us and to answer the question, when does the right to challenge the validity of a patent become grounds for filing a cancellation proceeding that starts the Statute of Limitation clock? In this instance, the cancellation period for filing a cancellation proceeding only starts when the Applicant for cancellation has a personal right to have a patent thrown out of the register.  (which also serves the public interest).  

In re Schechter, Judge Netanyahu explains that the rationale behind the establishment of the time frame in this manner is to enable the public to challenge the validity of the patent. The rationale for this is the purity of the register:

To block the possibility of attacking a patent on grounds of the Statute of Limitations or laches would lead to the result that after the period has passed, the patent would become an absolute right which contradicts the spirit behind The Patent Law. There is no policy or logic to justify a patent becoming inviolate from direct attack by cancellation proceedings after seven  years when the same reasoning allows a patent to be enforced for 27 years or more. What logic is there to make things difficult for a responsible person who wars that applicant to check the status of a patent in advance and to make is easier for someone to defend himself during infringement proceedings for an ‘at risk’ product launch? The logical conclusion from the perspective of Patent Law is that Patent Law is incompatible with laches and Statute of Limitations and does not coexist with it.

Judge Netanyahu explains that the conceptual right is a public right to have patents cancelled. However, only if someone is interested in cancelling the patent is there a concrete right to request for cancellation. The period for so doing starts with the day that the concrete right comes into effect:

This way, that differentiates between the conceptual right and the concrete grounds for an action lead to the following conclusion: The right to cancel a patent is a ‘right open to every person’, it is a fundamental concrete right that remains simple until it aggregates into a concrete right and an issue develops for the Applicant for Cancellation. Only then does the clock start running. So where the cancellation request is filed by a third party, and not the patentee who is owns the invention, the public is drawn in by virtue of their conceptual right to the concrete private claim. However, this is not the claim of the appellant. The claim is made on behalf of the public –that the invention is not patentable. Until there is a private concrete claim to use the patented invention, the clock does not start ticking.

The present case is different. The right to submit for a patent to be cancelled is a right that the Patent Law gives the public; that means to say that anyone can submit a cancellation request. The claims for compensation for inventing is conceptually limited to the employee inventor as a personal right that he has by virtue of inventing. The employer’s obligation is, to the extent that the tribunal decides that it exists, is an in personam contractual right to the specific employee and not a general in rem public right. Thus the conceptual right, i.e. that of compensation and the concrete right, which is that which initiates the seven year period of the statute of limitations- both are private rights that exist between employee and employer and do not extend beyond this relationship.

The reciprocity of the relationship between the Exploiting the Invention and Claims for Compensation

reciprocity

The supplicant Dr Levy claims that there is a reciprocity between the Exploiting the invention by the employer and the ability of the inventor to claim compensation. She claims that as long as the employer exploits the inventions, the worker’s right to compensation is continuously regenerating.

The tribunal rejects the supplicant’s claim in this regard. Such reciprocity does not accord with the wording of the Patent Law and does not accord with the underlying logic.

In re Schechter, Judge Netanyahu stood firm in her belief that the rationale was to allow the public to attack registered patents, and stated that:

As stated previously that the perspective at the base of the patent law and the public aspect is to ensure the ‘purity of the register’. I also explained that since the commissioner has limited tools to test that patents have correctly issued, the system relies on the public and encourages them to submit challenges. However, the most effective challenge is by persons with a personal interest, whether claiming that he is the true inventor, or claiming that he is exploiting the invention and considers that it does not deserve patent protection, and whether he attacks it directly [by cancellation proceedings] or indirectly by at risk product launch, allowing the patentee to sue him, and him being able to use invalidity defense], no one will exert the effort or costs for a thorough inquiry into the questions raised, which may be complicated and require expert testimony, as well as someone with a personal interest.

In parallel with the public right to challenge the validity of a patent, the patentee has the right to claim damages for patent infringement. This right mirrors the right to attack the patent. The patentee has a monopolistic right to the invention but only if it is held to be protected by a valid patent.  Thus he can protect his invention  from infringement, but only as long as there is a valid patent.

In cases of expensive infringement, the infringer infringers the patentee’s rights each time that he uses the patented invention without permission. So each act of infringement is free standing.  However, individual acts of exploitation by the patentee are not individual grounds for the employer inventor to claim compensation that each reset the clock. Section 132 of the Patent Law fixes that a service invention “shall become the property of the employer”.  Due to his contribution, the employee inventor has a right to compensation. So the action creating rights for the inventor is a single event.

Nevertheless, the patent law does not ignore the complicated employer-employee relationship, and the conditions that can develop during the life of an invention.  The inventor can return to the tribunal if it can proven that “the conditions existed at the time of the ruling have changed”.  As stated in Section 136 of the Law, there has to have been an earlier ruling for the worker to be entitled to return to the tribunal. Thus section 136 is a special arrangement that that Law provides the worker, so as not to leave him unprovided for. But one should not assume asymmetry between the employers utilization of a patent and the right of the employee inventor to compensation such that each utilization restarts the Statute of Limitations period.

(The arrangement of Section 136 is similar to the entitlement of the estranged wife to support by the husband pending divorce. The financial support is not final and can be revisited if circumstances change, as, for example in Appeal 442/83 Moshe Pam vs. Deborah Kam, p.s. 38(1) 767 on page 771).

However, this is not really relevant to the issue of finality in the employer-employee case. The issue is when the employee can first request compensation? In marital support, personal law applies and there is a tendency to consider a woman that is tardy regarding claiming support, as giving up on it. In cases where the general law applies, the period of aging is very short in the amendment to Section 11 of the Family Law (Support) 1959. Nevertheless, if there is a submission for support prior to the period of the appropriate Statute of Limitations, the parties can claim for changes due to changes in circumstances.

It is noted that the significance of Section 135 of the Law is not the aggregation of circumstances that makes it possible to sue for compensation for making an employee invention. The purposes is established in the heading “Guidelines for Establishing Compensation”, and these are only the guidelines for the tribune to use when considering compensation:

  1. In making a decision under section 134, the compensation and royalties committee shall also take into account the following factors:
  • the capacity in which the employee was employed;
  • the nature of the connection between the invention and the employee’s work;
  • the employee’s initiative in making the invention;
  • the possibilities of exploiting the invention and its actual exploitation
  • (expenses reasonable under the circumstances incurred by the employee in order to secure protection for the invention in Israel.

One could argue that clause (4) regarding actual exploitation of the invention is forward looking and does not require a certain knowledge that this will be the case. This was why the Legislative also included Section 136 which enables the tribunal to revisit and reconsider cases rule don under section 134 if they consider that the circumstances have changed. From here it can be seen that if a first request was filed during the seven year period, the conditions underpinning the Statute of Limitations apply and both the employee and his employer have certainty that the issue can be reconsidered. This is whilst the tribunal can request possibilities of the invention being utilized at all times, and even early on, before there is practical usage.

As the tribunal ruled in re Actelis Networks vs. Yishai Ilani (3 Feb 2010) in Section 9 of the ruling, that actual usage is not required to give the employee the right of standing before the tribunal:

The claim that the request is theoretical and premature since there is no actual exploitation in practice is rejected. Section 135 states that one of the conditions for determining the amount of compensation is the possibility of implementation if the invention. So there is no need for actual implementation and the request for compensation is not premature.

In the Actiles case it is noted that the previous tribunal considered it had authority to hear the case despite no actual exploitation. The content of the ruling is based on tests in law, and it is possible that the tribunal will postpone ruling until a later date, such as when there is actual exploitation, if this circumstances require this, as per section 136 of the Law.

Not knowing the Law

ignorance.jpg

Contrary to her assertion, the question of whether or not the Applicant had knowledge of her right to turn to the tribunal is not relevant to the concrete basis of her claims under Section 134. Section 8 of the Statute of Liberty states as follows:

If the claimant is not aware of the main grounds for claiming due to reasons beyond claimant’s control, and which with reasonable care, would still have been unable to prevent, the period for calculating the claim aging is calculated from when the claimant was first aware.

However, Appeal 1960/11 Almog vs. General Medical Services, 6 May 2013, page 7 states that Section 8 of the Statute of Limitations includes the objective test regarding when the period starts, but the burden of proof of its existence was only leaned later falls on plaintiff:

This claim is incompatible with the Guy Lipel, Donenfeld and Ganaim rule. It is difficult to argue that the period for reckoning the Statute of Limitations will start with receiving a professional medical opinion or when the law or a precedent becomes known. Otherwise, the clock for the Statute of Limitations is in the plaintiff’s control, which contradicts the rationale underlying the concept of claims aging. Section 8 of the Statute of Limitations gives both objective and subjective tests:

I will also note that since Section 8 of the law is an exception to the general rule of cases becoming aged, the burden of proof regarding retroactive awareness lies with the party claiming it (See Guy Lipel paragraph 41 and appendages.

It is true that not knowing the Law is not comparable to not knowing facts that would could have caused the plaintiff to file their suit; see Appeal 2919/07 State of Israel – Committee for Atomic Energy vs. Edna Guy Lipel, p.d. 64(2) 82, and paragraph 42 of the ruling:

The extent of the revelation: the law contains four conditions:

  • the existence of facts that were concealed from the plaintiff
  • the facts are significant and central to the claim
  • The plaintiff was unaware of these facts for reasons beyond his control
  • The plaintiff could not have prevented these reasons by taking due case

See Yehudai, page 204 and 1164/04 Herzliya vs. Yitzhaki, 5 Dec 2006. And note, the ruling states facts and not law, and so lately becoming aware of one’s legal rights is not considered retroactively becoming aware.

Furthermore, the facts required for the plaintiff to turn to the tribunal were known to her in fact long before the argument broke out on her retirement in 2013. The plaintiff claims a right to compensation for a number of inventions that she invented during her employment, the last being in 2006 at the latest. Dr Levy was aware of her contribution back then, and also was aware that TEVA had filed patent applications for these inventions.

In light of the above, the tribunal concludes that whichever date one considers as the period at which Dr Levy could have sought compensation, over seven years has passed and the complaint is thus aged.

Application of Section 9 of the Statute of Limitations

The Applicant added and claimed that even if the complaint has aged under section 6 of the Statute of Limitations, the defendant has admitted her right in section 2.2 of the agreement, and that some of the right___________________________________. Consequently, the Statute of Limitation should be calculated from when the defendant acknowledged her right.

Section 9 of the Statute of Limitations states that:

If the defendant admits in writing or before a court, whether during the seven year period or subsequently, that the plaintiff has rights, the period for the Statute of Limitations starts with that admission; and an action that pays out some of the rights is considered as such an admission.

In this section, the term ‘admit’ excludes an admission that accompanies the Statute of Limitations.  

expiredThe defendant denies the allegation that the conditions of Section 9 should be implemented. TEVA argues that to reset the clock, they have to admit that the complainant has the right to turn to the tribunal, and has to admit that there is both an employee invention and a lack of agreement regarding appropriate compensation. TEVA considers that these have to be clearly and explicitly stated, both formally and in terms of content. They argue that this remains the case even if some compensation is paid by the defendant.

time out

Under Section 9 of the Statute of Limitations, the new period starts notice. Since the Complainant submitted her case for compensation for her worker invention on 20 April 2015, the notification restarting the clock has to have been submitted in the previous seven years. So the question is whether there was such a notification within the relevant period, such that the seven years have not passed.

Section 2 of the Statute of Limitations states that aging alone does not cancel the right. The question is whether the respondent’s behavior can be considered an admission, in the sense of Section 9 of the Law, that revives the plaintiff’s claim? The tribunal does not consider this to be the case. One should remember that the applicant’s right to sue depends on the fact that there is no agreement between the parties regarding compensation. Thus any time that the defendant claims that there is an agreement, he does not accept the right of the Applicant to turn to the tribunal, and this cancels the authority of the tribunal. The result is that not only does he not agree with the right to file a complaint with the tribunal but he denies the right of the tribunal. Paragraph 3.3 of the draft retirement agreement  that was offered in the negotiations is not an admission of the right to file a complaint to the committee. The draft agreement states “and will not have further monetary demands beyond that paid by TEVA. This means that the claim for compensation is a claim that cancels the committee’s authority.

The Relative Strengths of the Employee and Employer

tug of war.jpg

The Applicant claims that the Statute of Limitations requires that the understanding that the worker should request compensation for the employee invention close to when the invention was conceived forces the worker to enter into a fight with the employer. Such a fight could risk the future employment and this means that the employee is in a weakened position with respect to the employer.

In general, the employer-employee relationship favors the employer, as Head of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak stated in Appeal 6601/96 AES Systems  vs. Saar, p.d. 44(2) 850, paragraph 12:

Not only this. In the contractual relationship, the employer and the employee are not equals The Employer generally has the upper hand, and can dictate the terms of the employment. Judge Berenson discusses “the Employees weakness with respect to the employer who dictates employment terms”  (Appeal 4/75 Berman vs. The Office for Lorry Transport Pardes Chana –Carcur “Amal”” ltd [12] on page 722. The national Labor Court of Appeal stressed that “labor law assumes a basic condition that there is a fundamental lack of equality between employer and employee (re Checkpoint [29] page 312. It will be appreciated that this inequality changes over time. It is affected by the market and the workers’ unions. Nevertheless, as a principle one can state that the worker’s and the public  interest is to protect the employee’s creativity and work.

As to the assumption of inequality between employee and employer in the workplace, see. The words of the Head of Labor Court Steve Adler in Case 164/99 Dan Fromer s. Red-guard ltd. pd”a 34 294 (1999) paragraph 14:

Labor law takes it as granted that there is an inequality between the employer and employee and so certain clauses in the work contract are not upheld by the court, if one can assume that a reasonable worker would not have agreed to them without this coercion. This is similar to the worker signing a waiver of rights he is entitled to under labor law. It is stressed that as a rule, the worker signs such clauses out of lack of choice; since the worker wishes to be accepted to the workplace, since it is reasonable to assume that failure to sign would result in him not be employed.

However, alongside the determination that the worker is in a position of weakness, and the binding nature of the relevant legislation the case-law does recognize a legitimate employer interest, see Red-Guard paragraph 16:

 True, the Employer has his interests, and the worker, his interest. These interests are different from the public interest. However, we are not concerned in the interests of the parties. We are concerned with the legitimate interests of the parties. The legitimacy is determined by general considerations, principles and assumptions of the legal system. The legitimate public interest and the legitimateinterests of the parties are the same. Although one refers to thelegitimate interests of the parties, the intention is the public order in which some of the parties interests are defended and others are not.

It seems that an arrangement based on an assumption that the employee is always in a position of weakness vis a vis the employer will create undesirable results. The purpose of the Patent Law is to incentivize the parties – both employee and employer, to create employee inventions, whilst regulating the property rights of the employer and the monetary rights of the employee. The employee’s rights are protected by a contractual agreement that arranges them or by the Tribunal for Compensation. Section 131 of the Law obliges the worker to inform the employer of the service invention as close to the time of inventing as possible. Section 132(a) of the Law obliges the employer to inform the employee of whether or not they intend to take ownership of the invention within six month of the notification under Section 131.

The arrangement of the Patent Law chooses to incentivize the parties to reach an agreement as early as possible. Neither the language of the law nor the context imply a separation between the period for informing the employer and the time frame for compensation.

One should remember that the employer has a real interest in knowing the employee’s intention to seek compensation for the service invention. This may be significant and can affect the management of the company and should be reflected in the balance sheet. So there is an importance for the employer that there is a Statute of Limitations to prevent the issue of compensation first being raised many years later, which could surprise the employer and cause significant financial difficulties.

It should be noted that the section 134 rights are not cognitive and do not provide social rights requiring special protection see the Application for Compensation (preliminary requests) Gideon Barzani vs. Isscar LTD, 4 May 2015 paragraph 30:

 We consider that section 134 which provides compensation,  are not cognitive. These are not social rights requiring special protection. In this light, but in a different context, the District Court ruled in Appeal 1843/-1 S.G.D. Engineering vs. Baruch Sharon, 25 January 1993, that  the question of employee inventions is not a social right, but a right in the invention under the Patent law. The conclusion that the right is dispositive concurs with the general cognitive nature of the write in re Shocker as ruled by judge Heishin.

In Barzani paragraph 32 it is stated:

Since conceptually the right is not a social right that requires protecting, as testified by Section 135, the legislation did not decide a cognitive right to compensation similar to the right to be named as an inventor under Section 42 of the Law. In these circumstances, the lack of such a condition in the law forces the understanding that the tribunal gives way to any agreement. It is noted that Dr Shlomit Yanivski-Ravid who champions the cause that the employees rights should be cognitive, establishes in her book IP and Innovention at Work, Theory, Practice and Comparative Law 2013, that the law as it is, is dispositive and if there is a contractual agreement, the tribunal does not have the right to intervene (see pages 305, 311).

The Supreme Court decided not to intervene in our ruling on re Barzani See Bagatz 4353/`4 Barzani vs. Isscar ltd. 8 July 2015.

The legislative body chose to apply the regular Statute of Limitations to employee invention compensation. Had it intended something else, it would have written this into the Patent Law, as indeed, some other legal systems have done. Dr Levy has related to special laws in Germany and the UK.  There is also reference to the law in France, Switzerland and Austria. It is accepted that there is interest in the balances found in these laws but it is the job of the legislative body to consider this, and we can only advise the Knesset to consider these arrangements and to adopt them if it finds it appropriate to do so.

We conclude that the request for compensation was submitted too late and the request for a ruling is rejected.

Bearing in mind the conclusion and the relative resources of the parties, each party will bear their own costs.

As a final comment we note that the arguments put forwards by the parties were of great help to the committee in addressing the issues raised which were considered for the first time and the legal counsel of the parties (Richard Luthi for Dr Levy, and Shin Horowitz for Teva) were of great help in understanding and ruling this complicated case.

The decision is of interest and will be published with the names of the parties, but the sides will have seven days to request that certain details remain confidential.

Ruling in Tribunal for Employee Compensation Levy vs. Teva, 25 May 2017 ruling by Prof. Engelhard, (then Commissioner) Asa Kling and Professor Doron Urbach.

COMMENT

I accept that there should be a Statute of Limitations for claiming an employee right but I do not find this ruling particularly convincing in its analysis regarding cancellation of a patent. I think the correct perspective is that an issued patent has a rebuttable assumption of validity but it may be challenged at any time by bringing evidence of lack of novelty or inventiveness, and doing so does not so much as cancel a patent in the way that a trademark is cancelled, but rather it shows that the patent should never have been granted it demonstrates that it is invalid rather than invalidates.


Cost Ruling in Moshe Lavi vs. Zach Oz – A failed attempt to get a poorly written patent canceled.

December 20, 2017

Figs for ACMoshe 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.

Ruling

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.

double dipThe 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.

Comment

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.


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.


Big Deal!

January 19, 2016

in a side skirmish, H.A.B. Trading LTD filed a request to throw out  Yidiot Internet’s cancellation action against their trademark no. 131862 for Big Deal. Yidiot Internet filed a response to this and added evidence from the main case.

The request to cancel the case was based on Sections 8(a) and 11(10) of the Ordinance and the argument that Big Deal is a generic term which should not be monopolized, preventing the public from using the term. Yidiot Internet further argued that the filing of the generic term without even a graphical rendering thereof was inequitable behaviour on the part of the applicants, designed to prevent fair use of the term ‘big deal’ by others. They proposed a disclaimer from rights in the combination of words.

The mark owner, H.A.B. Trading LTD noted that they had registered the mark in September 2003 and the cancellation request was only filed in July 2014 which is more than five years after it was filed as provided for in Section 39a of the Ordinance, and that the challenger was therefore prevented from raising such arguments that the mark should not have been registered and was invalid, justifying that the request be thrown out and a basis for allegations that the request to cancel the mark was filed in bad faith.

Discussion

The burden of proof for cancelling a mark lies with the challenger who files the cancellation request. See Bagatz 144/85 Klil Non-Ferrous Metals vs. Commissioner of Patents 44(1) 30, page 318. Section 64 of the Ordinance determines that the registration of a mark is a prima facie indication of its validity. The burden of proof will, however, oscillate from side to side throughout the proceeding as each party brings evidence to support its case.

Section 39 relates to grounds for cancellation under Sections 38 and disallows arguments of registerability found in Sections 7 to 11 if more than five years has passed since the mark was registered. However, Section 39(a) states categorically that arguments of inequitable behaviour when filing the mark may be raised as grounds for cancellation of the mark at any time.  Thus the issue is the alleged inequitable behaviour and whether this is persuasive.

The Opposer sees the registration of a generic term and failure to pay the renewal in a timely manner as evidence of inequitable behaviour.  The  Adjudicator of Intellectual Property Ms Yaara Shoshani Caspi rejected the late payment argument as sufficient to cancel the mark on equitable behaviour grounds. However, she felt it reasonable to consider if even at the time of filing the term Big Deal was a generic distinctive mark among traders such that its filing was inequitable behaviour. The authority and obligation of the Registrar of Trademarks is to protect the public interest inherent in a clean trademark registry over and beyond the business interests of the parties in a contentious proceedings.

Inequitable behaviour is something objective that has to be proven with solid evidence and not merely alleged.See for example, section 7 of the ruling from March 2009 concerning Tobishi Trading vs. Herman International Industries which related to Israel Trademark No. 175594 which stated that the Challenger to a mark on basis of inequitable behaviour at the time of filing has to provide evidence of alleged inequitable behaviour.

Since Section 21a discusses disclaiming monopolistic rights to words and phrases, and since Section 39a relates to Sections 7 to 11 but not to Section 21 as having a five year limit for raising such issues, this issue of generic nature of the mark can fairly be raised as grounds for cancelling a mark even after 5 years has passed.

Following the above analysis, it is better to allow the cancellation proceedings to proceed and to deal with the validity of the mark on its merits rather than to throw out the cancellation proceedings. Costs of 1000 Shekels excluding VAT were awarded against the mark holder.

Interim Decision by Adjudicator Ms Yaara Shoshani Caspi re validity of Israel trademark no. 131862 for Big Deal, 14 December 2015.

COMMENT

Quite apart from whether the mark should have registered, a mark can become generic at any time – think elevator, escalator, aspirin, thermos, so the mere fact of registration cannot be used to prevent a discussion of the invalidity of a mark on generic grounds.

 


GHI – Can a mark be cancelled for non-use if the non-use was the result of opposition proceedings?

March 11, 2015
Gemstones...

Gemstones…

Sections 39 of the Israel Trademark Ordinance allows trademarks to be opposed for various grounds. Section 41 of the Israel Trademark Ordinance legislates that trademarks may be cancelled due to lack of use. This decision relates to the issue of whether a mark that is not in use allegedly due to an ongoing opposition to its registration can be cancelled as a result of the lack of use

Gemology Headquarters International LLC registered Israel trademarks 187385 and 187386 for the letters GHI in December 2007. The marks cover gemological services such as identification, authentication and ranking of diamonds, precious stones and for providing certification of precious metals, diamonds, gemstones and pearls in classes 42 and 16.

Under Section 41 of the Trademark Regulations, in December 2011 the Gemology Institute of America Inc. filed cancellation proceedings alleging that the marks weren’t in use.

The cancellation proceeding was filed whilst the same parties were fighting an ongoing opposition proceeding against the marks under Section 39 that claimed unfair competition and that that marks were not-registerable. That proceeding was combined with another opposition relating to stylized trademark numbers 200701 and 200702 for GHI. Those oppositions were eventually rejected and the marks were considered registerable. However, before the ruling, the Opposer filed to cancel the marks on grounds of lack of use, arguing that they could not initiate cancellation proceedings earlier as the minimum period of three years of lack of use hadn’t occurred when the mark was opposition proceedings was filed.

Evidence for and against the alleged lack of use included statements by the management of the two companies and also an affidavit by a private detective.

Section 41 states:

[a] Without prejudice to the generality of the provision of sections 38 to 40, application for the cancellation of the Registration of a trade markregarding some or all of the goods or classes of goods in respect of which a trade mark is registered (hereinafter – goods regarding which the cancellation is requested) may be made by any person interested on the ground that there was no bona fide intention to use the trade mark in connection with the goods for which it is registered in connection with the goods regarding which there is a request to cancel the registration and that there has in fact been no bona fide use of the trade mark in connection with those goods in connection with the goods regarding which there is a request to cancel the registration, or that there had not been any such use during the three years preceding the application for cancellation. 

[b] The provisions of subsection (a) shall not apply where it is proved that the non-use is due to special circumstances in the trade and not to any intention not to use, or to abandon, the mark in respect of the said goods. 

[c] For the purpose of this section, there shall be deemed not to have been bona fide use of the trade mark in the event of any of the following: (1) use of the trade mark in Israel in advertising only whether in the local press or in foreign newspapers reaching Israel unless there are special circumstances which in the opinion of the Court or the Register justify the non-use of the mark on goods manufactured or sold in Israel. (2) cancellation of an authorisation to use the mark given to a manufacturer in Israel under section 50 unless the authorisation is cancelled following an infringement of conditions or because the person who gave the authorisation intends himself to manufacture the goods for which the mark is to be used or to grant the authorisation to another manufacturer in Israel. 

[d] Application for cancellation may be made in the prescribed manner either to the Supreme Court or, at the option of the applicant, may be made in the first instance to the Registrar. 

[e] The Registrar may at any stage of the proceedings refer the application to the Supreme Court, or he may, after hearing the parties, determine the question between them subject to appeal to the Supreme Court.

[f] in this section, “use” of a trade mark shall include [1] use of a registered trade mark by its proprietor or by an authorized person under section 50 in a manner that differs from that noted on the register in such a way as not to change the distinct character of the mark as it is registered; [2] use by an authorized person under section 50 on condition that such use is subject to the control of the proprietor of the mark.

 The Mark holder first tried to get the proceedings dismissed on grounds that cancellation due to lack of use can only be initiated by an “interested party” and that the Opposer does not fall into this category. The Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks ruled against throwing the request out and decided that the issue would be judged on its merits. Then, based on a close reading of Section 41a and 41b and the case law, the Commissioner ruled that a mark not in use should be cancelled unless extraordinary justification for lack of use is given, and that such extraordinary justification should be more than simply the business considerations of the parties concerned. Accepting such an extraordinary justification was the prerogative of the commissioner who did not feel that it was warranted in this case.

Legal Arguments for not throwing the case out due to lack of standing

In an Appeal to the Supreme Court from 1971, (67/71 “Pharmo LTD vs. the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks P.D. 28(1) 802, 8/6/71, Judge Vitcon addressed the issue of interested parties by contrasting with the term “injured party” as it appears in Section 38. The Israel Law does not relate to injured parties, but to ‘interested parties” and even the more limited term “injured parties” has been interpreted broadly in the English rulings, such that one can generally assume that parties requesting cancellation of a mark have standing. Even if one disputes the general applicability of Pharmo, in 144/85 Klil vs. Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks PD 42 (1) 309 a similar conclusion was reached, i.e. that interested parties are not just aggrieved parties.

In the present case, the requester for cancellation is anyway an aggrieved party, in that he opposed registration on grounds of unfair competition. Consequently, even if one holds that the term interested party should be considered narrowly, the requester for cancellation fulfils the requirements and has standing. Even though the Requester for cancellation is at a disadvantage having lost the opposition, he nevertheless has standing which is considered in Klil to be a basic constitutional right and has the right to request cancellation. Thus, even if not considered an injured party, he may be considered an interested party, and the change of terminology indicates that the two groups are different and the interested party is wider than an injured party.

Anyway, in Appeal 2209/08 Gigiesse Confezioni S.P.A. vs. Amphom, it was stated that Section 41 is to prevent defensive registrations and to keep the maintain the integrity of the register. Where the claim is lack of use, this is precisely what Section 41 is for. Furthermore, the Commissioner should take into account public interest and clearly the Requester for cancellation has at least the standing of disinterested parties. In this regard, even were the request to be filed and then dropped, the Commissioner would have a duty to examine the evidence and to consider canceling the mark due to lack of use.

 

Legal arguments on the merits for not considering this instance as an exception justifying lack of use.

From Bagatz 302/84 Nicholas it is clear that 41a states that lack of actual use is a basis for cancellation and under certain circumstances 41b allows intent to use to be considered as a defense against cancellation. In other words, the first thing to be considered is whether there is use, and if not, the mark should be considered voidable unless a good reason for lack of actual use is brought, in which case the mark may be maintained at the Commissioner’s discretion.

In this instance there is consensus that the mark was not in use, and the question is simply whether the Commissioner is persuaded that the lack of use is justified in the circumstances.

Citing 95/54 Chanel vs. Commissioner, the term extenuating circumstances is understood to be something general and not company specific.

Nicholas and Mig both give guidelines for extenuating circumstances.

GHI claim an intent to use the mark as their world wide branding apart from in US where EGL is used. GHI further claim actual use in India and the fact that they are fighting for the TM in China, Canada, Israel and Hong Kong is, itself proof of intent to use. That as may be, apart from in India, GHI have postponed launching the mark.

Without wishing to nail the lid down, the Commissioner was not convinced that legal battles constitutes proof of intent to use. The investment in a laboratory is not considered evidence of proof to use the mark, only of investment to provide services, which could be provided under a different mark. In addition to not using the GHI mark, there is a further mark GIH, also not in use. When this was opposed, the mark owner did not show actual use.

Whatever the reason, the mark owner has not actually used the mark and the Supreme Court has already ruled that not using the mark for defensive reasons is not sufficient to maintain the registration.

The mark owner is entitled to weigh up the pros and cons of using a challenged mark, but if he decides not to use it, he cannot then object to cancellation due to lack of use. There are insufficient grounds to justify an exception under 41b and the Commissioner therefore declined to use his prerogative to maintain the mark under 41b.

The commissioner considered the case to be analogous to Amphom and, like Judge Danziger, held that the mark was void through lack of use.

Cancellation Ruling re GHI, Asa Kling 2 February 2015


IL 157,035 – If one accused of infringing a patent does not challenge its validity, is the accused estoppeled?

March 8, 2015

Fig. 3Fig. 6

Israel Patent Number 157,035 is owned by Moshe Lavi. It relates to a shelf for the compressor of an air conditioning unit.

The main claim is as follows:

 A modular bracket for an air conditioner compressor, said bracket comprising a substantially rectangular frame composed of at least two portions, being “U” or “L” shaped provided with surplus holes allowing adjustments to suit the thickness of an air-conditioning compressor to be seated thereon, at least one further structure being attachable to said rectangular frame to provide support thereto.

The patent application was filed in July 2003 and issued in May 2007. In April 2014, Zach Raz, represented by Pearl Adv. filed a cancellation proceedings and, on 27 July 2014 Moshe Lavi, represented by Pearl Cohen Tzedek Latzer Barats filed a request to have the case thrown out.

Note, the Pearls concerned are different lawyers with the same name. To differentiate between them, we will call one firm Pearl and the other Pearl Cohen – Brats.

In an earlier dispute, 47000-02-12 Moshe Lavi vs. Zach Oz Air Conditioning LTD., the parties agreed to an out-of-court settlement in which the applicants for cancellation undertook not to infringe the patent, and, consequently, Pearl Cohen Brats argued that they were estopelled from challenging the validity of the patent.

At this stage Pearl Cohen Brats claims that Zach Oz never raised validity issues which are generally the first line of defense that infringers take, and at this stage, they are estoppled and it is too late for the them to challenge the validity of the patent whether or not the grounds for so doing were known at the time of the previous ruling.

Moshe Lavi represented by Pearl Cohen Brats further alleged that Zach OZ was behaving inequitably and was misusing the legal procedures. This argument was based on the compensation damages awarded in the out-of-court settlement were minimum as the parties were keen to put the legal battles behind them, and, were Moshe Lavi to know that the validity would subsequently be challenged, they would never have agreed to reducing the compensation.

Zach Oz argued that there was no positive declaration of validity or admission of validity in the court case or in the out of court settlement. They further argued that the grounds for invalidating the patent were only discovered after the out-of-court settlement. They further opined that throwing a case out without discussing its merits should only be considered in extreme cases where it is clear that the case is frivolous. Since the issue of infringement and that of validity are not the same, one cannot consider that the previous court ruling prevents the patent office from hearing the case.

Ruling

The Commissioner, Asa Kling noted that throwing out a case on a technicality without hearing it on its merits was an extreme step, and that the Israel Patent Office had an obligation to ensure the integrity of the patent register (see section 73b of the Israel Patent Law 1967) so that the validity of any patent that arguably should never have issued should be challengeable.

Citing Judge Zamir in Appeal 3833/93 Levine vs. Levine:

Access to the Courts is a constitutional right despite there not being a constitution and this right is not yet written into the basic laws, and the courts will uphold this right.

Judge Heishin in 733/95 Orpal Aluminium vs. Klil Industries LTD PD 51(3) 755, 628:

Access to the courts is a basic right as basic rights are commonly understood.
Furthermore, access to the courts is considered a basic right, even if not literally stated in the Basic Laws. It is the air that allows the courts to breathe and is the basis of the judiciary and of the rule of law.

In other words, Heishin was noting that the courts need to be able to hear cases to function and so were loath to throw cases out on a technicality.

Commissioner Kling accepted the need for finality, but ruled that the need for access to courts  and for cleaning the patent register by voiding  a priori non-valid patents was a greater need. He didn’t consider that civil procedures were merely for the benefit of the warring parties and there was an overriding national interest in allowing cancellation proceedings to be judged on their merits. Section 73b rules that such cancellation proceedings could be submitted by anyone.

Based on the statements of case, this instance was not one of those rare cases where access to the courts should be denied.

In paragraph 2 of the statement of case, Lavi (represented by Pearl Cohen Brats) stated that “the patent was granted on 12 May 2007 and is in force for all purposes”. In paragraph 14 of the counter claims Zach Oz represented by Pearl stated that the patent is in force until 21 July 2013, i.e. a further year. It seems that this was simply a misreading of the register. One cannot deduce from this that they accepted that the patent was inviolate and could not be challenged.

Since anyway, anyone can challenge the validity of a patent, and in so doing, serves the public interest, the whole concept of judicial estoppels is irrelevant and this skirmish is simply a waste of precious judicial time.

Essentially the infringer, can, of right, challenge the validity of the patent in the patent office whilst defending himself from allegations of infringement. The legislators intentionally allowed this and the estoppel simply does not exist.

It appears that Lavi (represented by Pearl Cohen Brats) are attempting to learn ex silencio assent to the validity of a patent whose validity was never formally asserted. Although Section 182 allows the alleged infringer to raise invalidity issues in his defense, he is not obliged to do so.

The mere fact that in the previous court case, there were vague references to validity issues, the court never addressed those issues and it cannot be construed that the previous court had affirmed that the patent is valid.

Citing Zaltzman in Court Actions 1991, , the Commissioner ruled that an out-of-court settlement undertaking not to infringe that was subsequently endorsed by the court cannot be considered as if the parties had accepted validity of the patent or that there was indeed infringement. They had merely decided not to bother to have an adversarial dispute that could create estoppels.

Arguably, the claim that the token compensation would not have been accepted had the patentee known that the validity of the patent would subsequently be challenged might be grounds for ruling that the agreement was broken or for claiming inequitable behavior in an appropriate forum but this could not be used to argue that the case should be thrown out without relating to the issues raised, thereby preventing the validity of the patent from being challenged in the patent office.

The Commissioner ruled that each side should bear their own costs for this request to throw out the case.

The patentee was given three months to relate to the validity issue.

COMMENT

Disclosure – Way back in 2007 when Lavi sued Zach Oz, I was approached by Soroker-Agmon on behalf of the defendant to give an expert opinion concerning whether the patent was infringed. I came to the conclusion that there was no infringement unless the claims would be interpreted so broadly that they would be voidable as lacking novelty (the Gillette Defence). I requested a minimal budget to search the prior art as it seemed clear to me that the patent was for a shelf bracket with a triangular brace and it should never have issued anyway. The budget was not forthcoming, and I never got to present my arguments of non-infringement in court as the defendant got cold feet and agreed to the out-of-court settlement so my arguments were never heard. It was and is my belief that the patent in question was not infringed, could easily be voided as lacking inventive step and, with a little searching, should be easy to show was anticipated. No substantive judgment was given.

The issue before the Commissioner was a legal one and was simply whether the arguments for cancellation should be considered on their merits, or whether the party requesting cancellation should be legally prevented from presenting their arguments.

The commissioner is, of course correct to throw out the request to throw out the case on a technicality. Furthermore, as the request was frivolous, and as noted by the commissioner, the request was a waste of Judicial resources, I think he was more than generous in ruling that the parties should bear their own costs.

I understand that back when the infringement case was filed, Zach Oz had minimal resources to fight the patentee and was effectively bullied into submission. As with the Source Vagabond case, a more vigorous defense would have been that the whole lawsuit was frivolous, that the patent was not infringed. Maybe now they’ll do what they should have back then and show that the patent never should have issued.


“The Duchess! The Duchess! Oh my dear paws! Oh my fur and whiskers!”

February 15, 2015

The Hunter Group Ltd. Pty which is a Thai company filed Israel Trademark Application No. 190,755 for a design including the word ‘Sleeky’ together with a couple of paw prints. The application is in class 31 and covers pet food including dog food and cat food; all included in class 31. The mark is shown here:

sleeky

The Iams Company (a US manufacturer) have a registered mark 91789 for a footprint as follows:

Iams poor-print

Their mark also covers foodstuff for animals in the same class.

In practice, the Iams company markets pet foods as the brands Eukanuba and IAMS together with the footprint as below:

Eukanuba nad Iams

When the Israel Patent Office allowed the 190,755 mark, the Iams Company filed an Opposition which was presided over by then Deputy Commissioner Noah Shalev Shmulevezh, and eventually rejected in a ruling in June 2012 by the Israel Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, Asa Kling, based on the material in the file (without a hearing).

The Commissioner applied the ‘triple test’, and noted that although the goods and channels of marketing are similar, there is no likelihood of confusion since the marks sound different and look different, although the Hunter Group’s mark includes a couple of footprints that are somewhat similar to the Iams trademark protected footprint.

Under Section 25 of the Trademark Ordinance, Iams, represented by Dr Shlomo Cohen, filed an Appeal to the Tel Aviv District Court.

The Hunter Group Ltd. Part was represented by Adv. Yossi Bregman (Wolf Goller Bregman) and by my brother Adv. Aharon Factor acting Of Counsel.

Judge Ginat of the Tel Aviv District Court ruled that the issue is likelihood of confusion and the triple test serves as an indication of whether or not there is likelihood of confusion.

Iams considered that their mark was well-known, both in Israel and abroad, and Hunter’s mark was an infringing copy.

Iams tried to show that Hunter’s ‘expert witness’ was merely a local sales representative and no ‘expert’. Judge Ginat retaliated by noting that Iams expert has argued that Eukanuba was used for dog food and IAMS was used for ipkat cat food, whereas in practice it is the other way around.

Although Iams’ well-known mark has been in use since 1980, the paw prints are different. Also, Nestle Purina Petcare Company has a paw print mark 87,529 that was originally owned by Spillers and is also used for pet food in the same class. Their paw print is shown below:

nestle's paw print

When pushed, Iams’ expert acknowledged that Nestle’s mark bore some similarity to theirs, but argued that they weren’t filing suit against Nestle at present. Judge Ginat found it astounding that their expert claimed to be unaware of Nestle’s mark. Particularly as in their statement in the Opposition they claimed that Nestle’s mark was only registered with the Opposer’s consent.

Dr Shlomo Cohen claimed that since the Applicant in that case was the well-known company Nestle, Iams was prepared to allow them to register their mark but this does not confer any rights whatsoever to third parties.

Judge Gilat rejected this. He considered that the very argument countered the requirement of equitable behaviour and Iams are estopped from claiming confusion of the public, since no license was granted by Iams to Nestle, and one can’t selectively apply one’s rights against an insignificant player claiming a likelihood of confusion, whilst ignoring a serious competitor with a large market share.

To support this contention, Judge Ginat quoted Sir Nicolas Browne-Wilkinson V-C in Express Newspapers plc vs. News (UK) LTD, concerning claims and counter claims regarding copyright in articles that

“There is a principle of law of general application that it is not possible to approbate and reprobate. That means that you are not allowed to blow hot and cold in the attitude that you adopt. A man cannot adopt two inconsistent attitudes towards another: he must elect between them and, having elected to adopt one stance, cannot thereafter be permitted to do back and adopt an inconsistent stance”.

In the hearing before the Commissioner, Iams expert witness expressed a certainty that when the products are displayed side by side the consumer (i.e. the purchaser, not the pet) would be misled by the similarity. The Commissioner noted that this was speculative and no evidence was given for this beyond hearsay from store owners. No confused customers came forward to complain. Being unsubstantiated, Judge Ginat felt that the Appellant had failed to show that customers were confused and that their profits had suffered. Although the Opposer to the mark is not required to substantiate these allegations, Judge Ginat noted that it would have been wise to do so.  Furthermore, the marks seems to coexist quite happily in main jurisdictions including IAM’s home country, the USA, and there have been no TM oppositions in any other jurisdiction apart from Israel.

As to the triple test, Judge Ginat noted that in addition to the sight and sound of a mark, and to the goods and channels, the third strand of the five part trilogy was the “common sense test”, and noted that there were significant differences that ruled out customer confusion including the fact that the paw prints were appended by the Thai applicant to the brand name Sleeky. Sleeky sounds COMPLETELY different to both Iams and Eukanuba. The Appellant tried bringing the Supreme Court Decision 3976/10 Akisionerno Droujesto vs. Phillip Morrison to support the contention that there was a likelihood of confusion, but Judge Ginat considered that even accepting the fact the English is a second language and words could be mispronounced, the differences between Sleeky and Iams and Eukanuba were rather more striking than the similarity between Eve and Eva as cigarette brands, and didn’t see that this argument really advanced the appellant’s case.

In conclusion, Judge Ginat upheld the Commissioner’s ruling that the marks could coexistent and that both product lines could be sold side by side as they were worldwide Furthermore, the public interest was served by competition in the pet-food industry. Costs of 10,000 Shekels for legal fees was awarded to The Hunter Group Ltd.

Civil Appeal 3066.09.12 the Iams Company vs. Hunter Group Ltd. Part, re IL TM 190,755 before Judge Ginat of the Tel Aviv District Court, 11 February 2015.

COMMENT

Granted, I don’t purchase cat or dog food and have better English than most Israelis – some of whom have English as only a third language. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that a paw-print, at best, indicates that the product contains pet food, and is for animal consumption, not human consumption. A paw print is at least strongly indicative that the product is intended for cats and dogs and so interpretation should be narrow and only a very similar footprint should be considered infringing. Two footprints of one form are not confusingly similar to one simplified footprint. With the brand-names clearly shown and so completely different, there is no likelihood of confusion so Judge Ginat is correct. However, no doubt IPKATS and ipdogs ip litigators everywhere will wait with bated breath to see if Iams and their representative appeals this decision to the Israel Supreme Court.

More Paws for thought:

“Pooh looked at his two paws. He knew that one of them was the right, and he knew that when you had decided which one of them was the right, then the other was the left, but he never could remember how to begin”

David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee.”

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” ― Mark Twain (R.L. Clements)