Patenting Israeli ingenuity

The Israel Trademark and Patent Office has some 200 employees and is responsible for examining applications and registering patents, designs and trademarks within the country.Few Israelis are Einsteins, but the great Jewish physicist, who was hired as a Swiss patent …

The Israel Trademark and Patent Office has some 200 employees and is responsible for examining applications and registering patents, designs and trademarks within the country.Few Israelis are Einsteins, but the great Jewish physicist, who was hired as a Swiss patent clerk a century ago and who later turned down an offer to be Israel’s president, would surely have been pleased by Israeli inventiveness.

In 2002, the country’s citizens registered 1,046 patents in the US, or 174 per million residents. This figure puts Israel third in the world, behind only the US and Japan, in per capita figures, nearly three times the British number, and quite a bit ahead of Germany.

When taking into account how often Israeli patent applications form the basis for subsequent patent requests abroad, and using actual (rather than per capita) figures, Israel comes out in 13th place even though it has a much smaller population than the 12 leaders.

Why are Israelis so prolific? Hypotheses explaining this achievement are many: Perhaps it derives from skills or genetic traits that promoted Jewish survival over the millennia, mental dexterity from Talmud study or the risk-taking (even reckless) behavior promoted by young people’s military experience.

But in any case, the golden wave of aliya from the former Soviet Union undoubtedly added punch to these statistics, and many patent applications have been filed in recent years by new immigrants connected to the Industry and Trade Ministry’s “incubator” program, which has helped people with good ideas but little money or business experience to turn their innovations into marketable products.

But even the most ingenious inventor would not likely succeed in protecting his rights if he tried to patent his invention or register a trademark or design by himself, without retaining a qualified and licensed patent attorney. As the old adage goes, a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.

Researching and registering patents, trademarks, designs, symbols and other intellectual property is the work of a patent attorney. Jeremy Ben-David heads a growing patent-attorney firm which was established nearly a decade ago in Jerusalem’s Har Hahotzvim industrial park. He has a degree in engineering from his native London. Ben-David’s partner is his father, Dr. Stanley Davis, a pharmaceutical patent specialist who has degrees in both law and chemistry, and started as an examiner in the British Patent Office in 1958, moving to Israel two decades ago. Their company, named Jeremy M. Ben-David & Co., was recently listed among the five largest patent firms in the country by Dun & Bradstreet.

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design or a combination of these that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work, while a patent protects an invention. If a patent is infringed, its owner has a firm basis to sue. The vast majority of patents are not infringed, but there are exceptions.

There is no formal study needed to become a patent attorney, but there are strict and formal requirements, including a bachelor’s degree in engineering or science, a two-year internship with a licensed patent attorney, and oral and written licensing exams. The professional also needs a strong grasp of languages, especially English, in order to do research – which explains why many patent attorneys here are from English-speaking countries.

The company’s patent team has a diverse range of skills in all the major technological fields, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, engineering, homeland security, biometrics, encryption, manufacturing processes, software systems and telecommunications – the main fields in which Israeli inventors excel. But some Israelis manage to create and patent household inventions that make life easier or more enjoyable – from more comfortable toilet seats to kitchen gadgets and karaoke systems.

The Israel Trademark and Patent Office, which operates in Jerusalem’s Talpiot quarter, is now run by patent-attorney-by-training Dr. Meir Noam under the aegis of the Justice Ministry, and has some 200 employees. It’s responsible for examining applications and registering patents, designs and trademarks within the country.
A patent grants the owner exclusivity for up to 20 years from the application date, Ben-David explained, but are most needed during the first half of this period. During the second 10 years, patented objects often become outdated, so their owners don’t bother to renew the patent protection.

The severe economic downturn during the past five years has caused a marked decline in local patent applications, Ben-David continued, as less venture capital – especially from abroad – has been available to fund new ideas. But he expects that the recovery, which has shown signs of arriving, will reverse this trend.

Local inventors used to register patents mostly in Israel, the US and Europe, said the patent attorney, but in recent years, China has become an important place to get protection for intellectual property.

“That country has become a real powerhouse because it offers a huge market for products,” said Ben-David.

Despite the expansion of the European Unions, there is no single European address where one can file for patents, although Ben-David said this is being planned.
Until the arrival of the Internet, patent offices and patent attorneys had to rely on printed material in archives to collect information and to dispatch applications via courier. Today, the World Wide Web’s search engines provide instant data, and some applications can even be processed online. But a great deal of painstaking research must still be done before a patent application is filed.

He advises inventors and researchers to be very tightlipped before their earliest filing date, as prior publication of an invention can destroy its “novelty” – a basic requirement for registration. Inventions and discoveries should also not even be described in scientific papers until protection has been obtained. In many jurisdictions, some time after an application is filed, many details and drawings become open for scrutiny.

But not all patents end up making money for their inventors. Ben-David recalled the case of a mosquito trap that released carbon dioxide and other substances so that the pests mistook it for a human being. The mosquito, once lured into the box, met its end on a sheet of sticky paper. The invention was sold to a giant chain – but then that chain filed for bankruptcy.

While most people know that it’s worth patenting a unique invention, Ben-David says that most regard the registering of a logo, design or related object as “a luxury,” even though they are in effect here indefinitely if renewed every 10 years. A separate trademark team works in Ben-David’s office to obtain high-quality protection for leading corporations in diverse areas.

Jeremy M. Ben-David & Co. has even registered unique designs for its client, Lili Diamonds in Ramat Gan, that look like flowers and other unique shapes. Even some sounds can be registered as a trademark. The European Court of Justice recently handed down a landmark decision that a sound can be registered if it’s capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking from those of others, and is capable of being represented graphically. A Dutch trademark agent called Shield Mark had applied to the court after receiving many requests from clients to register sounds – such as the first nine notes of Beethoven’s “F r Elise” and the sound of a crow. The court said yes, if the sound can be represented by a musical stave divided into measures, but trying to register cock-a-doodle-doo was considered to be “going too far.”

(Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post)