This case relates to a request to revive an abandoned Application, where the Agent of Record was under the impression that he was instructed to abandon, and thus failed to respond to the office action and to the Notice of Imminent Abandonment and the Notice of Abandonment (which gives a 12 month window to reopen the case as of right). He also failed to report the issuance of these notices to the client. The client denies instructing the Agent to abandon the case.
Israel Patent Application Number 191364 to Pro Natura Gesellschadt for Gresunde Ernahdrung MBH is titled “Agent for Reducing the Usable Calorie Content of Food and for Therapeutic Reduction of Weight in particular in the case of Adiposity (Obesity)”.
The Application was filed on 16 September 2015, and when an Office Action was not responded to, a notice of Imminent Abandonment was sent to the Applicant’s Agent on 2 November 2016, and a Notice of Abandonment was sent on 8 February 2017.
(This wasn’t the first time that this application was considered abandoned due to a lack of response being filed. On 20 August 2015, the case was abandoned, but shortly afterwards, on 16 September 2015, it was reopened by the Chief Examiner under Circular 026/2014 ”Returning Closed or Abandoned Applications to Examination).
On 14 March 2018, i.e. over 12 months after the case was closed a second time, the Applicant petitioned for it to be reopened under Section 164 of the Law.
Daniel Feigelson, the Agent of Record, claimed that Mr. Virovnik, the Applicant’s representative, only learned that the case had been abandoned in January 2018. The request for reinstatement was submitted two months later because he had to submit affidavits in support of the Application to reinstate the case, together with a detailed response to the Office Action.
Mr Feigelson also claims that in a meeting with Mr. Vorovnik in December 2015, the Applicant requested to delay the Examination in Israel for as long as possible, pending a decision on patentability of the corresponding Application before the European Patent Office. In a phone call of August 2016, Mr. Feigelson understood that he should not do anything to further the allowance of the Israel Application.
The request to revive the case was supported by two Affidavits; one from Mr. Vorovnik and the other from Daniel Feigelson, the legal representative. Mr. Vorovnik’s Affidavit stated that contrary to Daniel Feigelston’s understanding, he never ordered him to let the Israeli Application lapse. Contrary to that stated in Mr. Vorovnik’s Affidavit, Patent Attorney Feigelston stated that he’d understood from the August 2016 conversation, that Mr. Vorovnik was not interested in pursuing allowance of the Israel Application. However, unlike his usual practice, Mr. Faigelston did not document the conversation or send a written notice stating that he would abandon the case as instructed, for Mr. Vorovnik to confirm.
In a hearing on 25 April 2018, Mr. Feigelston clarified that following the conversation of August 2016, he did not update Mr. Vorovnik regarding correspondence from the Israel Patent Office, thus Mr. Vorovnik did not know that the case had become abandoned. At that hearing, the Deputy Commissioner Ms Jacqueline Bracha ordered that Mr. Faigelston obtain a further Affidavit from Mr. Vorovnik expanding on what he did remember from the August 2016 conversation.
In accordance with this order, a further Affidavit from Mr. Vorovnik was submitted on 27 May 2017. However, this Affidavit does not clarify that there was a conversation in August 2018, as Mr. Vorovnik neither confirms nor denies that this conversation took place. It merely states that Mr. Vorovnik does not remember instructing that the case be abandoned. It is noted, however, that in the original Affidavit, Mr. Vorovnik was unequivocal that he did not give such an instruction.
Section 21a of the Law defines the time period for requesting reinstatement of an abandoned patent as follows:
Where the Commissioner refuses a patent under Section 21a, he can reconsider the refusal if requested to do so within 12 months.
Section 164a of the Law allows the Commissioner to extend this period on reasonable grounds:
The Commissioner has the discretion, if he sees fit to do so, to extend any deadline of the Patent Office or proceedings before the Commissioner….
Considerations for extending a time period should be based on context and the interests in question. This was clarified by Judge Naor in Appeal 2826/04 Commissioner of Patents vs. Recordati Ireland Ltd, 26 September 2004:
The policy for ruling on the various requests before the Patent Office will change with the context, and depend on the deadline under consideration.
In a ruling concerning extending the 12 month period for reconsideration of a decision to close a file concerning IL 221116 Yaakov Dichtenberg et al. from 7 September 2016, the Deputy Commissioner stated that such requests should consider the interest of the Applicant on one hand, and that of the public interest for certainty on the other.
The relevant considerations are whether reasonable grounds for granting the extension were provided, the size of the delay and the reasons for the delay. See Opposition to IL 110548 Shmuel Sadovsky vs. Hugla Kimberly Marketing ltd, 122 August 2010, and the ruling concerning IL 157563 to Icos Corporation from 21 October 2013.
As to the first consideration, the period of the extension is only a little more than one month over the 12 month period set out in Section 21a, which makes it relatively easy to allow such a short extension.
On the other hand, the case went abandoned due to an apparent misunderstanding between client and attorney that could have been avoided by sending a written summary of the conversation or similar documentation. Furthermore, it was not even properly clarified what instructions the Applicant understood he’d given his attorney during that conversation which he doesn’t remember.
Ms Bracha notes that relying solely on a telephone conversation as grounds for abandoning an application does not seem to her to be reasonable or appropriate behavior. This should be clear since this isn’t even the first case that this application was closed due to not responding to an office action, and consequently one could expect the Agent for Applicant to be more careful.
Furthermore, on discovering that the case had become abandoned, the Applicant could have acted immediately, within the 12 month window under Section 21a. However, she accepts that he preferred to submit a full response to the office action, as was finally submitted.
When weighing up the relatively short delay on one side, and the nature of the mistake on the other, which is far from being reasonable, Ms Bracha applies her discretionary authority under Section 164 to allow the case to be reopened, but on condition that there will be no further extensions whatsoever, for any reason.
Ruling re reopening abandoned application IL 191364, 18 June 2018.
Apart from the stated desirability to confirm instructions of this sort in writing, I would add that even when having received instructions to abandon a case, it is good practice for the Agent of Record to report the Notice of Imminent Abandonment and/or the Notice of Abandonment as a courtesy, since even if there was no misunderstanding and the Applicant does request abandonment, applicants have been known to change their minds.
In cases where a client’s desire to reinstate a mark becomes known to the Agent of Record within 12 months, the request should be made before the 12 month window closes, even if an extension is requested to obtain affidavits and to prepare a response to the outstanding Office Action. It makes sense to obtain reinstatement as a matter of legal right under the law rather than to attempt to reinstate based on the Commissioner’s discretion. This is particularly the case where there is a contradiction between the testimonies of the Applicant and that of the Agent of Record regarding the chain of events leading to the case becoming abandoned. In this instance, the Deputy Commissioner was amenable. Had she not been, the client could sue the Attorney for malpractice, and his defence would be that he was acting on verbal instruction that he did not bother confirming. Not the best situation to be in.