When a patent application goes abandoned due to a misunderstanding between Attorney and Applicant

August 8, 2018

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.

Applicant’s Claims

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.

Hearing

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.

COMMENT

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.

 


Can a Knowingly Abandoned Patent Application be Reinstated?

May 22, 2018

BioMarin

IL 206845 to BioMarin Pharmaceuticals Inc. was refused under Section 21a of the Israel Patent Law 1967. The patent application was the national phase of a PCT application submitted on 6 January 2009. The national phase entry was submitted on 6 July 2010 and claims priority from US applications filed on 7 January 2008 and 22 April 2008.

On 30 January 2013, the Applicant was sent an Office Action to which the Applicant had four months to respond. No response was forthcoming. Following the extensions available under Circular 005/2011 then in force, on 5 March 2014 the Applicant was informed that the file would be closed if no response was submitted within 30 days. This letter went unanswered and the file was closed on 23 June 2014.

3 years

Three years and three months later, on 15 October 2015, the Applicant requested a retroactive extension to respond to the notice of abandonment.

The request was accompanied by an Affidavit that testified to the developments leading to the case becoming abandoned.

  1. In 2005, Merck Serono purchased all rights to the Kuvan medical product, and to the process for manufacturing the active ingredient claimed in the application.
  2. This transfer of rights was not recorded in the patent register and the Application was filed in the name of Biomarin.
  3. In 2012, Merck Serono decided that it was not interested in the patent issuing in Israel and told Biomarin not to respond to the Office Action.
  4. In 2015, Biomarin repurchased their rights to the invention and in 2016-2017 reviewed the usefulness of getting the patent to issue in Israel.
  5. Following the reconsideration, the present request for extension of time to respond was submitted in October 2017.

change-my-mindThe Applicants argued that their repurchasing of their rights and their reconsideration of the portfolio provides sufficient justification for reconsidering the refusal of the patent. Furthermore, unlike in the US and Europe, there is no legal requirement for abandonment so thus, even if the abandonment was following an intentional decision by Applicants or the predecessor thereof, this does not mean that, following a change of circumstances, this cannot be reconsidered and they are entitled to a further opportunity

mistake EinsteinThe Applicants presented their arguments at a hearing on 14 February 2018, during which they claimed that the Applicants can be considered as having made a mistake that they now wish to rectify. They also claimed that returning the application to examination will not cause damage to third parties. Finally, they argued that in Appeal 8127/15 Association of Israel Industrialists vs. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. et  al. (15 June 2016), certainly is no more important than other considerations.

Sections 21 and 21a of the Law set out the normative arrangement for these matters as follows:

21.  If the Applicant did not remove the grounds for the Application not being approved within the timetable set out in the regulations or did not correct the lacunae under Section 20, the Commissioner will refuse to allow the patent.
21a. If the Commissioner refuses the patent under Section 21, he can, at the request of the Applicant, reconsider the refusal provided that the request to do so was submitted within 12 months of the refusal.

reasonable

The period laid out in Section 21a of the law is extendable under Section 164 of the Law at the Commissioner’s discretion. The Commissioner’s discretion is summed up in the phrase “if he sees a reasonable basis for so-doing” which is found in Section 164a. The Commissioner’s considerations will change with circumstances, and as Judge Naor stated in Appeal 826/04 Commissioner of Patents vs. Recordati Ireland Ltd (26 June 2004):

The policy regarding different requests for extending deadlines that are brought before the Commissioner, will change with circumstances and with the nature of the proceedings for which an extension is requested.  

 Similarly, the Commissioner has the authority to make the extension dependent on “conditions that he considers to be correct” as stated in Section 164b of the Law.

In cases such as this, there are two main interests. Firstly, that of the Applicant who wishes to protect his invention and, secondly, that of the public which can benefit from inventions that are not patent-protected and are thus in the public domain. It is noted that this case is the national phase of a PCT application and the application and its status is published under section 16a of the Law.

limited

The Deputy Commissioner Ms Jacqueline Bracha considers that the period given in Section 21a, though long, is limited. This protects the public and brings matters to a close. The period given in the Law is a balance between the competing interests.

To extend the 12 month period after the file closes under Section 164 requires ‘reasonable grounds’, as defined in Opposition to IL 110548 Shmuel Sadovsky vs. Huglat Kimberly Marketing ltd, 12 August 2010. The relevant considerations for ‘reasonable grounds’ are the duration of the extension requested and the existence of a real cause for the delay.

Ms Bracha does not consider that the Applicants’ request can be considered reasonable with respect to the delay incurred or the justification to reopen the file. The request to reopen the file was received 39 months after the case was closed. This is 27 months after the usual deadline which is a long time.

As to the submission that the client changing their mind is grounds for opening an intentionally abandoned application, the Deputy Commissioner does not find this convincing. She finds support in Appeal 83/86 Sokol vs. Yismach, p.d. 40(1) 577 cited in the Sadovsky case, where it is stated that:

The discretionary authority to extent deadlines is intended to overcome mishaps and externalities that are beyond the litigant’s control.

One cannot consider a decision not to continue prosecuting as being an external cause, a mishap or an error. Ms Bracha notes that the circumstances described in the Affidavit show that the error we are dealing with is imported from Contract Law and is at best “a mistake in the equity of the deal” which is not grounds for cancelling a contract.

In a similar manner, it has been determined that not paying a renewal of a patent due to a determination that it is not worthwhile to do so is NOT considered as a reasonable ground for reinstatement, and that is where we are dealing with an actual right that the patentee was awarded and not with a pending application as in this case. See Request for Reinstatement of IL 177522 of “Yad Conena Ltd from 9 June 2014:

The circumstances of the case before me do not fulfill the above requirements. A decision was taken not to pay the Renewal fee. The patentee knew that the there was a need to pay the renewal fee as this was not the first time that he had needed to pay it. One can assume that after the case lapsed and was reinstated in 2011, the patentee made inquiries regarding the next renewal. From the Affidavit it transpires that the patentee made an informed decision NOT to pay the fee. In these circumstances one cannot conclude that the fee was not paid in reasonable circumstances that justify reinstatement.  The economic difficulties that the Applicant noted are not considered reasonable grounds for not paying the renewal, particularly where no evidence of the debit was submitted.

As a footnote, Ms Bracha relates to the claim that the request finds support in Appeal 8127/15 Association of Israel Industrialists vs. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. et  al. (15 June 2016), that in patent law, fidelity and consistency is no more important than other considerations. Ms Bracha considers that certainty is not all-seeing and that sometimes certainty will be sacrificed for other interests. In  re Association of Israel Industrialists, it was stated:

True, there is validity to the suspicion that certainty may be damaged when a court comes to interpret the Law (Aharon Barak Legal Interpretation, Interpreting Legislation Volume 2 583 (1993). Nevertheless, this is one consideration amongst many that can be used where there is nothing in the wording of the Law or elsewhere to directly contradict this. In this instance, it appears that the legislators did not put the question of certainly regarding when a patent lapses as the main consideration.

In other words, the consideration of certainty is an important consideration but where the wording of the Law or its purpose indicate that the legislators preferred some other consideration, the Court will interpret the Law accordingly.

Ms Bracha does not consider that in this instance the Law or the case-law expounding the Law indicate that the legislators preferred the interest of the Applicant over that of public certainty, She considers that to the extent that there is a legal tradition for interpreting Sections 21a and 164 of the Law, it is one that requires the Applicants to provide a real and reasonable cause for incurring a delay, and this is necessary since there is public reliance on the patent lapsing.

revival-2

The Applicants also requested to learn from what is stated in foreign legislation, that what is not stated in our Law is not a requirement. That is, that whereas other laws explicitly state “unintentional” this implies that there is no such requirement in Israel Law. Whilst it is true that Section 21 does not require abandonment to be unintentional, it does provide a normative timeframe for reinstatement, whereas the US and European law do not.  Any deviation from this period is considered in the mirror of Section 164 which is interpreted in light of the nature of the deadline to be extended and the type of proceeding before the Commissioner. This was detailed above, and will not be repeated. It is sufficient to note that one cannot rely on the inclusion or omission of a word in the Israel Law as the basis for its interpretation whilst ignoring the case-law.

It seems that the circumstances are such that the case was abandoned intentionally and can only be rectified if this was not legal. The request is refused.

IL 206845 to Biomarin: refusal to reinstate application, Deputy Commissioner Ms  Jacqueline Bracha, 17 April 2018.     

COMMENT

In extraordinary circumstances, long-dead applications have been reinstated. See for example IL 194015 to Natapov, Perstnev, Perstnev and Vilacer titled “the Insulating Material”. Here the patent had lapsed three years earlier, but had not published. The record is probably Israel Patent Number 139892 “INNER WORKINGS FOR A WATER TREATMENT UNIT” to Yigal Tsabri  which was revived seven years after it lapsed.

I am frankly surprised by the audacity of the Applicants’ representative for trying to  argue that this knowingly abandoned patent application could be revived more than 12 months after going abandoned and am pleased that the Deputy Commissioner came to the decision that it could not be.