Obhan & Associates
What prompted you to start your own firm – and do you have any advice for anyone considering doing the same?
The primary trigger was that I was not learning things at the rate at which I wanted to; I was ready for a new work culture that was more flexible. If you are considering starting out now, be very clear on your appetite for risk and take the time to pick a good team.
What has been the highlight of your professional career so far and why?
I have been involved in a few landmark decisions in India, but the two high-stakes cases that stand out are:
- the patentability of genetically modified seeds in India, an issue that went all the way to the Supreme Court; and
- a multi-million dollar technology dispute on confidential information and trade secrets that involved parallel proceedings before two Indian high courts, arbitration proceedings in Singapore and the United Kingdom, and proceedings before the National Company Law Tribunal.
What key takeaways have you learned about effective management in your role as managing partner of Obhan & Associates?
Learn to listen and break as many walls as you can within the firm. I strongly believe that a flatter and non-political work environment is the best way to drive synergies. It is also important to foster knowledge building and knowledge sharing and make the job as fun and engaging as possible.
You have worked with companies of all size – from start-ups to Fortune 500 names. How do you adapt the way that you work between entities with such different needs?
I rely a lot on my intuition and pay close attention to an organisation’s strategic objectives, leadership thinking and internal processes. This helps us to offer practical advice and to tweak our internal processes in order to try to offer as close a fit as possible.
What does a watertight patent protection strategy look like to you?
A watertight patent protection strategy can only be achieved if there is alignment between the business, legal and R&D functions, and if the desired outcome from a particular patent portfolio is clearly understood by everyone. It greatly helps when there is buy-in from top management on building a strong patent portfolio and, of course, when the necessary budgets have been allocated to it.
What impact do you expect AI to have on the wider IP ecosystem?
I see AI making a positive impact on the administrative and procedural functions in the patent ecosystem. I think that in the near future AI tools will also help clients to make strategic decisions on the likely outcome of a litigation or dispute. They are also likely to play a huge role in patent quality, especially in terms of patent drafting and prosecution.
You have been entrusted with patent work by some of the biggest multinationals in the world. What are the key skills for a top-level IP professional to hone?
While keeping up to date with the latest legal positions and practices is a must, the one skill that I think is crucial is clear communication. It is very important to be able to clearly and concisely communicate with your clients on both the strengths and the weaknesses of the matter, as well as the reasons behind a particular strategic decision. This avoids confusion and means that everyone can work together as a team.
What do you expect to be the next big tech sectors to take off in India – and how can companies and investors capitalise from these?
The next big tech sectors are likely to be in the digital space, cybersecurity, e-learning platforms, remote working platforms and related applications. This is especially so as Indian courts and tribunals have repeatedly stressed over the past few years that there is no blanket ban on software – a view long held by many, especially the Indian Patent Office.
I also see significant developments coming in the healthcare and personalised medicine space, financial services, online payment applications and food technology, including ready-to-eat and health food.
Companies may want to consider building their portfolios in India with a view to the data regulations that are likely to be finalised in the near future. Technologies that efficiently comply with the proposed data regulatory framework are likely to successfully capitalise.
Why is strategic patent knowledge important to dealmaking?
Not all patents are created equal. The value of a patent depends on several factors including claim scope, number of patents in the portfolio, strength of the patent claims and confidential information in the portfolio as a whole, ongoing technology trends and the potential market. Having strategic patent knowledge helps a company to conduct proper due diligence, identify any potential roadblocks, including regulatory roadblocks, and estimate the actual worth of a patent before entering into a business deal so as to be able to negotiate accordingly.
What changes would you like to see made to the Indian patent landscape – and how likely do you think they are to take place?
India has made significant progress over the past decade where its patent regime is concerned and recognises the need to continue improving. However, if there was one thing I could change, it would be making IP office jobs the most sought after in the country. Attracting the highest quality talent at industry compensation and ensuring that they have the tools, training and resources to deliver consistent and high-quality logical outcomes is the need of the hour. At the same time, the IP offices need to bring in greater accountability and a system of appraisal 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 further strengthen its patent regime.
Essenese Obhan is an IP lawyer and patent agent with a degree in mechanical engineering. He has extensive expertise and understanding of different areas of technology including the software, telecom, agriculture and pharma sectors. His experience includes prosecuting patents, patent litigation and opposition proceedings, as well as arbitration proceedings before various courts, the Indian Patent Office, the Intellectual Property Appellate Board and various arbitral tribunals.