India market analysis
This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of IAM's co-published content. Read more on Insight
With a population in excess of 1.2 billion, India is anticipated to surpass China to become the most populous country on earth as early as 2024 – and yet, many interviewees say that the fifth-largest economy is far from reaching its full potential in IP generation and protection. In this report, IAM examines the market for private practice IP attorneys in India.
First, this analysis introduces a carefully curated mix of outstanding IP firms in India to help IP-owning companies and foreign private practitioners make informed decisions regarding selecting local counsel. Second, it provides a sneak preview of the IAM Patent 1000 2020 rankings that are scheduled for release to IAM subscribers in early 2020 and available to the public in print in mid-2020.
In August 2019 IAM travelled across Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai to interview partners at private practice IP firms. This exclusive market analysis was carried out by IAM between August 2019 and October 2019.
Location of India’s IP private practices
India’s IP firms are mostly clustered in and around the major centres of commerce and industry of Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai.
National Capital Region
The National Capital Region (NCR) has arguably the most substantial and important cluster of IP firms in India. The Hindi-speaking NCR comprises the national capital of New Delhi, the financial-industrial district of Gurgaon and the satellite town of Noida. It is part of the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor.
Home to the IP savvy Delhi High Court, the Supreme Court, a patent office branch, the Copyright Office and a trademark registry, the NCR is a natural habitat for top-notch firms such as Anand and Anand, K&S Partners, Rahul Chaudry & Partners and Remfry & Sagar. These firms tend to have their main offices in either Gurgaon or Noida and some maintain branch offices in New Delhi for easy access to the Delhi High Court.
At the other end of the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor lies Mumbai, India’s commercial and financial capital which has fostered a cluster of locally-based IP firms. In addition to the headquarters of nearly 400 Indian and foreign companies, Mumbai hosts a patent office, a trademark registry and the Mumbai High Court (which is often used for IP litigations alongside the Delhi High Court, as the two Indian High Courts with the most IP expertise). Mumbai-based firms featured in the IAM Patent 1000 2019 rankings include Krishna & Saurastri Associates and Khaitan & Co.
The second-largest city in Maharashtra, Pune is a manufacturing and R&D hub for a wide array of industries, including the automobile, biotechnology, chemicals, engineering, IT and software sectors. Situated about 150 kilometres (km) from Mumbai, it is also a hotspot for the education industry. RK Dewan & Co is the top local and domestic IP firm operating out of Pune.
The southern states – particularly Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana – are situated along three out of five industrial corridors, as outlined in the government-led ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Bengaluru, for example, is the national IT hub. Oriigin IP, Banana IP, Intepat and K-Law are some notable Karnataka-based IP firms.
In Tamil Nadu, Chennai is famed for its automobile industry. It is also the seat of the Madras High Court and a patent office branch known for its speed and quality of patent examination. Altacit Global, an all-southern IP firm with offices in five cities, is headquartered in Chennai; so too is the historic DePenning & DePenning. Parthasarathy R – country head, head of IP and an authority on customs law at Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan – is based in its Chennai bureau.
Some 500km west of Chennai lies Coimbatore, a key manufacturing hub of automobile components. MaxVal IP is a “leading service provider in patent drafting and landscaping with especial expertise in patent drawing and business process outsourcing”, interviewees say.
In Telangana/Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad stands out for its biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, with Bayer, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Medtronic, Merck KGaA, Mylan, Monsanto and Novartis operating R&D facilities at Genome Valley. RVR Associates, Vishwanath & Global Attorneys and Lexinvent are just some of the IP firms that operate out of Hyderabad.
Kolkata, West Bengal
Known for its vibrant cultural offerings, Kolkata (formerly known as ‘Calcutta’) is the state capital of West Bengal, and is linked to Amritsar (452km northwest of Delhi) in the longest of the five industrial corridors. In terms of intellectual property, the Kolkata Patent Office has territorial jurisdiction over the states not covered by the Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi branches. LS Davar & Co and S Majumdar & Co are the two standout firms in the region. The historic DePenning & DePenning and Remfry & Sagar were founded in Calcutta.
India’s IP private practices by category
It is helpful to first look at the history of the patent systems in Asia to understand India’s IP private practice landscape. Korea’s Patent Decree was promulgated in 1908 and Japan’s Patent Monopoly Act in 1885. China, on the other hand, had no patent law until 1984. While East Asian patent regimes are comparatively new, India’s Act VI of 1856 laid the foundation for a patent system on 28 February 1856. The first patent was filed in India the following month by George Alfred DePenning, who founded DePenning & DePenning in the same year.
Some firms with origins dating back to the 19th century – namely DePenning & DePenning and Remfry & Sagar – have prospered over the years to become some of today’s leading IP firms; however, the industry is far from dominated by these pioneers. There is a market segment of firms with fewer than 50 years of history offering patrons a different flavour of IP services. Another cohort of less sizable newcomers – typically founded in the 2000s – vie for a share of the market through their differential offerings.
Three broad types of Indian firm
Firms founded in the 19th century
DePenning & DePenning: The filer of the first patent, trademark and design in India, DePenning & DePenning, is an indisputable pioneer. Established in Calcutta in 1856 shortly after the patent law had been introduced, its headquarters moved to Chennai in 1987.
Most of the firm’s work originated abroad. Building on that sturdy foundation, today the firm drafts patent specifications and applications for a mix of Indian and foreign applicants. The slick operation – consisting of the Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai bureaux – is responsible for the greatest number of office actions in India every month.
The relevance of this historic outfit manifests in its ability to keep up with the times. With the EU General Data Protection Regulation tightening the data protection and privacy restrictions in business and trade involving European data subjects, careful treatment of data is paramount for firms focused on international markets. As of August 2019, DePenning has been zeroing in on securing an International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) certification to complement its existing bespoke docketing software – featuring a high degree of automation, secure routing protocols for data and strict maintenance of work silos – that will be the perfect demonstration of its ability to safeguard the privacy and security of client data.
Remfry & Sagar: Remfry & Sagar is another Calcutta native, which was founded in 1827. It blazed the trail by filing the first patent in 1911 under the Indian Patents and Designs Act 1911; almost two centuries after the firm’s founding, it has transformed itself into a true all-rounder with 120 attorneys and three offices in Bengaluru, Chennai and Gurgaon. The firm’s impressive client list – consisting of the crème de la crème in aviation, technology, life sciences and government research institutions – is a fitting testament to the firm’s enduring appeal.
In Gurgaon, Pankaj Soni leads the patent litigation practice, US desk and an electronics, information and communications technology and mechanical patent prosecution team. Soni is unique in the India private IP marketplace, not least because he is qualified in India, New York and New Jersey, but also due to his substantial experience practising in the United States (three years at Morrison & Finnegan and three years at Morrison & Foerster) before joining Remfry & Sagar in 2010. Armed with substantial experience acting before the US Federal Courts and Indian High Courts for Fortune 500 clients, coupled with his exposure to the US IP eco-system, Soni is a savvy choice for outward-looking Indian companies and foreign concerns on the lookout for an internationally attuned, one-stop counsel for all IP needs.
Firms founded in the late 20th century
Anand and Anand: The only firm highly recommended for both patent prosecution and litigation in the IAM Patent 1000 2019, Anand and Anand began operations in 1979 to become arguably the most prolific outfit in India. Managing partner Pravin Anand cites the sound internal systems, value-based management and an unwavering dedication to intellectual property as factors contributing to the success of his firm; however, it is the ceaseless drive to push the envelope of the law and securing landmark judgments that makes Anand and Anand the powerhouse it is today. Most recently, Pravin Anand achieved substantial damages for his client Whatman International Limited at the Delhi High Court, which ordered that the defendants pay Rs1 million (approximately $14,100) and Rs10 million (approximately $141,000) on top of a Rs1,455,946 (approximately $20,500) award to the plaintiff.
K&S Partners: Established in 1994, K&S Partners is a 37-partner IP law firm that thrives on a merit-based policy of promotion and a high degree of internationalisation. Not only does it have a carefully cultivated network of top foreign associates (eg, Deacons in Hong Kong), but it also runs an annual, institutionalised programme of attorney exchange that is a rarity in India. In 2019, one young partner was sent to a US firm for two months, while another was on their way to a European firm. The programme is aimed at generating a continued stream of globally minded talent with first-hand exposure to international best practice. Employing merit as the dominant criterion for determining remuneration and promotion prospects, K&S Partners retains talent more effectively than other firms because young attorneys perceive there to be less of a glass ceiling and a more well-defined route to long-term prospects for their careers.
Rahul Chaudhry & Partners: Like K&S Partners, Rahul Chaudhry & Partners implements a no-family policy to “preserve integrity in decision-making”. This firm is a force to be reckoned with in patent prosecution – it has reportedly maintained a 99.9% success rate in patent grants (including Section 3 grants). Working primarily for large concerns, its 180-strong staff covers the major technical areas from the Gurgaon office and oppositions and litigations from the Delhi outpost. Its client retention rate – standing at 100% since its founding in 1983 – demonstrates the firm’s devotion to quality work and client service.
S Majumdar & Co: Unlike Remfry & Sagar and DePenning & DePenning, S Majumdar & Co remains headquartered in Kolkata since it began operation in 1993 and is one of the two major IP firms in West Bengal (the other being LS Davar). With 10 engineers, 28 technical staff and 48 lawyers, the firm covers everything under the sun – there is even a nuclear physicist in its employ. Particularly strong in the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors, S Majumdar & Co is a dominant player for patent oppositions, handling a substantial share of such instructions, especially in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical areas. Managing partner S Majumdar has been in practice for the past 30 years; while for 20 years he has been involved in conducting patent searches and drafting specifications, his individual practice is now focused on resolving contentious issues. Not the type to sit in an office and solely manage a team of associates and engage in business development, Majumdar works personally on and attends the patent oppositions of the highest commercial impact before the patent offices.
Firms founded in the 21st century
Jupiter Law Firm: Jupiter Law Firm is a boutique outfit based in Gurgaon, with five partners assisted by five support staff. Offering services in patent, designs, trademark and commercial intellectual property, Jupiter was founded in 2014 when Sujit Thakur, Indian Institute of Technology Khargpur graduate and patent attorney, left ZeusIP. The industrial chemistry expert is an excellent patent drafter who spent 16 years honing his craft (including two years at a US law firm), and now leads a team of patent attorneys specialising in biotech, electronics, engineering and IT briefs. Together, they punch far above their weight to draft patents for Athena, SABIC and a major Japanese electronics corporation. This Japanese concern rates highly the patent specifications drafted by Jupiter Law Firm, according to a quality evaluation seen by IAM.
Patentwire: Lalit Ambastha and Shruti Kaushik founded Patentwire 11 years ago. The Delhi-based firm is a frontrunner in the Indian IP commercialisation space, which interviewees say is “dominated by incoming work, lacks a solid, formal framework with notable cases of success few and far between”. Bucking the otherwise grim prospects of monetising Indian-origin technology, IP Bazaar – a standalone entity affiliated with the firm – is dedicated to facilitating technology transfer and commercialisaiton of intellectual property by matching prospective investors with innovators with promising patents in a dozen fields from agriculture to food technology, nanotechnology to veterinary science; and it does so by posting succinct summaries of patents which effectively act as pitches to investors browsing the IP Bazaar website. In addition to IP Bazaar, Patentwire provides a stellar set of patent and IP prosecution services supplemented by a patent illustration service offered by the dedicated entity, Inkpat.
Altacit Global Attorneys at law: Based in Chennai with offices in Bengaluru, Cochin, Coimbatore and Hyderabad, Altacit Global is an ISO 9001:2005-compliant IP law firm with comprehensive coverage of the southern states. Serving an Indian-dominated client base of innovators with international ambitions, the firm files extensively across continents, with Australia, Japan, Korea and the United States being some of the hottest destinations for outbound filings. Apart from deep market penetration in the southern states, the firm’s emphasis on continuous learning is laudable, and doubles as a tool to provide clients with added value. There is compulsory training – prepared for and delivered by staff members – every Friday, on a variety of topics spanning technology to workplace issues. The presentation slides are uploaded to Slideshare.net for easy reference by staff and clients.
Competitive landscape in India
China and India are both BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region. Vast land masses, high rates of economic growth, substantial populations (that have been steadily urbanising) and falling poverty rates are common to both countries. Against this backdrop, the following discussion will primarily use China as a comparison when discussing the Indian market for private IP practices.
Generational differences in IP practices
Thanks to a well-established patent system, Indian IP firms are a varied concoction of the old and new, appealing to different market segments.
The trailblazers of DePenning and DePenning and Remfry & Sagar have weathered the challenges of the past century and a half and continue to maintain their pre-eminence in the market thanks to a robust infrastructure and fine teams of lawyers – not to mention a substantial and loyal fanbase. A recent PatSeer report puts the market shares of the two firms in financial year 2018-2019 at 17.67% and 11.08%, respectively.
The cohort of firms such as Anand and Anand, K&S Partners and S Majumdar & Co have spent decades building up top-notch practices predicated on not just the lessons learned from the pioneering firms, but also a more ambitious drive to explore new possibilities in law and bolster internationalisation.
Products of the 21st century, on the other hand, have their fingers on the market’s pulse and offer more niche services to meet the different needs and budgets of clients. Although the above firms are relatively young, age may not be the best indicator of quality and attractiveness to clients. It will be interesting to see how this cohort of new and innovative firms will continue to adapt to changing market conditions.
Geographic distribution of IP firms
In addition to the age profile of the Indian firms, their geographical distribution in relation to that of their Chinese counterparts is striking. Good-quality IP firms, defined as those that meet or are close to meeting the IAM Patent 1000 ranking criteria, are found in most metropolitan areas of India, which is not true to the same extent for China. Although more IP firms are springing up nationwide, Beijing remains the dominant site of good-quality IP firms in China in terms of the number, scale and reputation of the IP practices. Beijing’s pull factor has been of great significance because of the location of the National Intellectual Property Administration, the Beijing courts (which are specially skilled in handling IP matters) and the concentration of foreign businesses.
In India, the locational pull of Calcutta – the cradle of IP firms – dwindled when India’s capital shifted to New Delhi and the Calcutta-originated DePenning & DePenning moved to Chennai to take advantage of access to better quality and more numerous telephone lines. Delhi, on the other hand, is a popular base for IP practice and is the most similar to Beijing in its ability to attract IP practices to set up headquarters there. However, well-established Indian IP firms tend to be more geographically spread out than those in China.
Foreign competition in the legal market
According to the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that affirmed the ability of foreign firms to operate in India solely on a ‘fly-in, fly-out’ basis, India does not permit international law firms to set up and maintain a physical presence in the country.
Government-led versus private-led efforts to implement IP policy
Indian firms appear more proactive compared to Chinese firms in taking initiative to respond to and implement national IP policy – or perhaps it may be that effort spent liaising with officials is less publicised in China than in India.
The Indian National Intellectual Property Rights Policy 2016 states that: “efforts should be made for [the] creation of a public platform to function as a common database of IPRs… [which] can help creators and innovators connect to potential users, buyers and funding institutions”. Although no such platform has been set up by the government authorities as yet, proactive action is being taken by private practitioners (eg, Lalit Ambastha) who are working towards something akin to the public platform mentioned in the IP policy. Firms such as Anand and Anand and Remfry & Sagar often provide input to government officials regarding IP and legal policies via formal and informal means.
By contrast, the implementation of IP policy in China has been very much state led. For example, President Xi Jinping has repeatedly called for reform of the IP system since 2017, triggering the relevant administrative bodies to spring into action.
India’s market for private IP practitioners is dynamic, with newcomers thriving alongside more established players. Moreover, Indian IP firms tend not to simply concentrate in the capital, but spread across the country according to the distribution of industry and R&am