What does effective law firm leadership look like to you?
Law firm leadership must create an environment and culture that encourages everyone to achieve their maximum potential. This includes ensuring that each member of the practice is constantly growing, both professionally and personally. Further, it must deliver timely and practical advice to clients with an emphasis on quality and generate an economic incentive for team members. Overall, effective leadership means ensuring that all of these factors are in sync and are helping the firm and its members to prosper.
What is the biggest career challenge that you have faced and what can others learn from how you overcame it?
About 10 years ago, I went through a very severe phase of claustrophobia and could not bear the thought of getting on an airplane. Since my work involves a lot of travel, this called into question my ability to lead the firm. As I chose not to take medication, I had to alter my daily routine to make time for exercise and meditation. Sharing this experience with my colleagues not only helped me to better connect with them but also made me realise that we need to break the stigma associated with personal challenges and encourage more dialogue and discussion around these issues.
The patentability of digital innovations has long been a murky subject in India, but recent guidelines have sought to provide more clarity. What factors should innovators be aware of when entering the market?
While legislation has always intended to promote innovation (particularly in the digital sphere), the Indian Patent Office has at times taken a rather conservative view. Indian courts have on numerous occasions stressed that in today’s digital world, when most inventions are based on computer programs, it would be retrograde to argue that all such inventions are unpatentable. Innovations in the fields of AI, blockchain technologies and other digital products are based on computer programs, but that in itself is no reason to consider them unpatentable. However, it is important to bear in mind that business methods are a statutorily excluded subject matter and digital innovations must demonstrate a technical effect in order to be patentable.
What three things would you say make a world-class IP strategy?
Any IP strategy must have buy-in from all key stakeholders in order to work. Therefore, I always encourage cross-functional discussions before an organisation consolidates its strategy. This requires creating an organisational culture that constantly gathers insight into consumer needs and uses these insights to define technical and business goals. It then requires focusing R&D towards these goals, with frequent touch points between business and R&D and rewards for this synergy.
If you could change one thing about the Indian patent regime, what would it be and why?
India has made significant progress over the past decade with regard to its patent regime and recognises that it must continue improving. However, if I could change one thing, it would be to make IP office jobs one of the most sought-after jobs in the country. It is crucial that we attract the best talent at industry compensation and ensure that they have the tools, training and resources to deliver consistent and high-quality logical outcomes. At the same time, the IP offices need to establish greater accountability and bring in a system of appraisal that is similar to the appraisal systems in the private sector. India urgently needs a competent and fast IP redressal system, which includes specialised benches for hearing complex IP disputes, as well as a fast-track appeal system for IP office decisions. Creating a system that works quickly, logically and efficiently would help India to strengthen its patent regime.
Essenese Obhan is a managing partner at Obhan & Associates and an IP lawyer and patent agent with a degree in mechanical engineering. He has extensive expertise and understanding of different areas of technology in the software, telecom, agriculture and pharma sectors, among others. Mr Obhan’s experience includes patent prosecution, patent litigation and opposition proceedings, and arbitration proceedings before various courts, Intellectual Property India and the Intellectual Property Appellate Board and various arbitral tribunals.
Click here to see his IAM Patent 1000 2020 profile.
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