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GRS: Israel, the High-Tech Nation

June 08, 2022

Extending learning beyond the classroom and across borders, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Global Research Seminars (GRSs) are semester- or year-long intensive research courses that culminate in overseas field research visits, during which students and faculty meet jointly with primary stakeholders on significant topics in public and private international law.

The 2021-2022 GRS focused on Israel’s inordinate successes in high-tech industry. The class discussed the economic and legal drivers of the industry with a special emphasis on intellectual property (IP) law. A central goal of the seminar was to identify characteristics of Israel’s high-tech sector and analyze what could be replicated in other countries and contexts.

This year’s course was taught by Gideon Parchomovsky, Robert G. Fuller, Jr. Professor of Law, a respected expert in intellectual property and cyber law, in collaboration with Muhammad Sarahne LLM’17, SJD’20.

Parchomovsky and Sarahne are both based primarily in Israel. Drawing on their networks, the instructors organized a diverse schedule of virtual guest speakers for the class throughout the fall semester, representing a range of high-tech industries and organizations.

Over the Law School’s spring break, the week of March 5–12, 2022, students and faculty headed to Israel to meet in person with industry leaders, attorneys, scholars, and other experts to obtain an in-depth understanding of the current state of the local tech sector, culminating in independent research papers.

For Tyler Gruttadauria L’23, taking the class was a “no-brainer”: “I have a tech background and I’m interested in pursuing an IP career path. I thought the course was a really nice mix of tech and law, in an area of the world where there’s an abundance of high tech.”

Michael Gniwisch L’22 plans to work in IP litigation.

“I thought [the GRS] would be a good opportunity to meet interesting people in the industry and develop a network, and to learn about the IP space in a different country,” Gniwisch said. “I’d like to think that the connections I made with people through the course, even small connections with presenters that came, will be useful in the future.”

Zhixin “Julie” Han LLM’22, whose interest is in venture capital (VC), explained that she was attracted to this GRS because “entrepreneurship is such a big theme in Israel,” and her previous employer, a VC firm, had been active in the high-tech industry. The travel component was a strong draw for her as well, as she has had a long-standing interest in Israel.

The March GRS trip began on Monday in Jerusalem, with visits to Hebrew University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Supreme Court, and the Knesset.

“The Knesset was fascinating; that was an incredible tour,” said Gniwisch. “And it was so interesting to get an inner look, meet Knesset members, meet an Israeli Supreme Court judge.”

Tuesday morning featured dynamic presentations at the Bank of Israel, the Israel Patent Office, and the Israel Innovation Authority — experiences that received high marks from the students. Gruttadauria was impressed that, in the “jam-packed” day, the presenters “did such a tremendous job giving us a high-level overview in a small amount of time.”

Tuesday afternoon focused on lessons learned by individual ventures in the “Start-up Nation,” as Israel is informally known, through meetings with assembled entrepreneurs and private investors in central Jerusalem.

For Han, one speaker on the VC ecosystem in Israel, who happened to be a Wharton graduate, stood out that day. “He gave us very good industrial insights, and specific points about Israel.”

After a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday morning, the group headed to Tel Aviv. The afternoon was spent meeting with leaders from a variety of companies, ranging from a successful e-platform with annual revenue exceeding $150 million, to an AI-powered startup seeking to redefine the legal industry. The day was capped by an evening conversation with the legal advisor of the Israel National Cyber Directorate.

On Thursday in Tel Aviv, the group met first with the Israel Innovation Institute, a public entity that exists to develop innovation resources and create needed infrastructure. Later, the class met with PresenTens, a nonprofit with the mission of building a more inclusive and diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem, including the first dedicated accelerators for Israel’s Arab society and for ultra-Orthodox women. Thursday’s program ended at the Platform, an urban hub empowering underserved populations to bring forward their own ideas for targeting critical urban and social challenges.

In Israel, Fridays are short workdays, so GRS student were granted freedom to hold independent meetings related to their final research papers. Students also had the option to join a guided tour of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, where the exhibits include holograms of innovators reflecting on their challenges and achievements, as well as the hands-on opportunity to interact with an exhibition hall of inventions.

Sholom Licht L’23 had been intrigued by the Israel Innovation Authority after hearing about it during the semester, “but then we actually visited it,” he said. “It has a very innovative space, giving it a high-tech feel. The person we met with was amazing, and she sent me her slides from the presentation.”

He ended up writing his final paper on the organization.

“It’s unique, in many ways, to Israel. Very few countries have a government office that actually sponsors innovation that way, and it has had a tremendous impact on Israel’s economy in general over the last 30 or so years.”

Gniwisch’s final research paper delved into the company Similarli; the COO, Yoav Navon, had been a guest speaker during the fall semester.

“The company does AI for patents, and it was just integrated into the Israeli patent office to help patent examiners do prior art searches — basically to look through patents have already been issued to see if a new patent bumps up against anything that already exists,” he explained. “It’s a niche area, and it was very enjoyable to work on.”

Gruttadauria noted, “I’m interested in IP, but also the crossover with the renewable energy space, so I wrote my paper on the different economic and policy incentives that the State of Israel uses to advance their transition to solar energy. They were one of the pioneers in the solar energy space, so they have a lot of programs that push for things like solar PV [photovoltaic] adoption and utility-scale solar farms.”

Samuel Wong L’23 focused on the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Energy program in his research paper, and throughout the week in Israel he was struck by the recurring theme of “acceptable failure.”

“I met many entrepreneurs who … emphasized that they view the startup culture in Israel as one in which there is less of a fear of failure relative to other countries,” said Wong. “This notion held true across entrepreneurs working across energy cybersecurity, nuclear systems, and non-energy companies” and, he speculates, may explain why Israel has been so successful with emerging cleantech.

“In this course, I learned a lot about legal tech that I hadn’t known before,” Gniwisch said. “Honestly, I didn’t even realize there was such a big industry out there, doing all sorts of different things–contracts, litigation. This opened the door to that world.”

Licht agreed, remarking that the professors “did a wonderful job in having a breadth of visitors talking to us and covering so many different fields.”

He had lived in Israel for three years as an undergraduate, but the course “broadened my perspective in a tremendous way. I had seen parts of Israel, but this gave me a look into entirely new areas.”

“The trip to Israel was just an incredible week,” Licht said. “If I ranked my law school experiences, this was definitely one of the most memorable and enjoyable.”

Read more about Samuel Wong’s perspective on the GRS in Israel.

Learn more about Penn Carey Law’s Global Research Seminars.