A few minutes from now, the Knesset’s Constitution, Statute and Law Committee will continue its consideration of the bill to enable 18-month publication of patent applications. The Committee’s first hearing on this bill took place on December 7, and consisted primarily of grandiose, grandstanding statements by socialist-leaning members of Knesset (who generally made statements about “social justice” which weren’t germane to the issue of 18-month publication) and lawyers for innovator and generic pharmaceutical companies (who also included irrelevant statements), although there were also a few statements from ostensibly neutral people, viz. representatives of the Israel Bar Association (an organization to which all lawyers in Israel must belong) and a volunteer group called the Association of Patent Attorneys in Israel. A colleague who works in-house for the local branch of a global innovator drug company characterized the proceedings as “surreal”.
Very little headway on the substantive provisions was made at the first meeting; presumably such headway will be made today, accompanied by fireworks as the local generic drug industry (which has been lobbying heavily to amend this bill so as to strip the statute of teeth) attempts to impose its will. If the past is any indication, no other industries or even individuals are interested in the goings-on regarding this bill, which is a shame, since, as a law school professor of mine put it, politics is played by those who show up.
A fuller accounting of the bill and the proceedings will follow in future post. However, there is one subtle aspect in which the December 7 proceedings were more surreal than my colleague may have appreciated. That has to with the way in which Supreme Court decisions are used in political discourse in Israel. Specifically, it’s not unusual for politicians to point to statements by the Israel Supreme Court as providing moral grounding for their proposals. (Perhaps in a future post I’ll go into what I see as the sociology of this phenomenon, but in a nutshell it related in part to the fact that the same court sits as the land’s highest appellate court as well as a court of first instance in certain administrative or constitutional law proceedings.) This was certainly the case at the December 7 hearings, in which several of the speakers pointed to statements by the ILSC regarding the need to balance incentives to innovate with the public’s need for cheap drugs.
What I found ironic was that one of the recent Supreme Court cases that contains language to similar effect (Unipharm v Smithkline Beecham, Civil Appeal No. 8802/06) itself support its position by quoting an earlier Supreme Court decision (Civil Appeal By Leave 5768/94, the so-called “AShIR decision”) that the present bill seeks to overturn. AShIR is a 1998 decision in which, under a theory of unjust enrichment based in Israel’s Unjust Enrichment statute, the Court recognized intellectual property rights in certain manufactured goods for which statutory IP rights (patent or design) were not available, either because the manufacturers did not seek such rights, such rights had been obtained but expired, or the items were already known and therefore not susceptible of patent or design protection. The bill currently under consideration would preclude suits such as AShIR from being brought again in the future.
If you’re going to quote someone in support of your position, you probably shouldn’t simultaneously be trying to undermine that person with the very legislation for which you seek support. But memories in the Knesset don’t seem to be very persistent.