In the first part of a special two-part interview, Essenese Obhan, founding partner of Obhan & Associates, spoke to Managing IP about the introduction of specialised IP benches at the Delhi High Court and hinted how the move can serve to improve efficiency and deliver justice quicker.
Here, Obhan adds how his team is ready to embrace the challenges ahead following the implementation of the IP division and amid changing working patterns.
Although the DHC has hinted at creation of exclusive IP benches, do you really think the same will actually be implemented in practice anytime soon given the backlog and COVID-19 induced issues?
Essenese: The DHC has already issued a notification for the establishment of the IP bench and has further issued a notification indicating filing codes for various categories of cases. It seems that at least the DHC is serious about the quick implementation of the new system. The DHC has also resumed functioning full-time and is almost back to pre-COVID rate of handling matters. There may also be some pressure from government and market forces to activate the IP benches at the earliest.
What steps would you recommend for the IP division for dealing with technical matters like plant varieties, geographical indications, and patents?
Essenese: Highly technical and complex matters require specialised insights, which judges may not possess themselves. There is a practice in IP matters to access the services of subject matter experts and scientific advisors. This should become the norm, and a roster of such experts should be available for judges to call upon as and when required.
Additionally, judges should be provided periodic judicial training on IP issues by subject matter experts. IP cases, and particularly patents and plant variety cases, tend to involve cutting edge science and technology. In order to remain up to speed with research developments, and the IP issues surrounding them globally, some additional training would be immensely helpful.
Do you advocate for specialised divisions/benches to be created in other high courts as well?
Essenese: Yes, absolutely. Unless we do so, the matters that were pending before the IPAB in other jurisdictions are likely to face delays. IP matters lose their relevance and potency with time, as many IP rights are time bound. It becomes particularly important to adjudicate such matters quickly in order for the rights to be properly and justly enforced. The absence of an adjudicatory mechanism, with the disbanding of the IPAB, will hurt rights holders immensely if the alternatives do not start functioning at the earliest.
Work during the pandemic
What kind of challenges did you face adapting to the workplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year?
Essenese: While the firm had an existing work-from-home policy, as well as systems to support remote working before the pandemic, the sudden implementation of a complete lockdown did not give us sufficient time to deploy these systems for the entire firm and for all our offices across the country. Data and network security in a work from home environment also raised some challenges. It took us a few weeks to put new systems in place, and to settle into a new rhythm. Now, however, we are fully equipped to accommodate both work-from-home and from office seamlessly, and with full confidence in our systems.
Are there any initiatives that you have observed which you feel may help your clients deal with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Essenese: Throughout the pandemic and especially the periods when we were in total lockdown, we sought to ensure that client relationships were never affected. We moved to a complete work-from-home situation, and after some minor hiccups, were up and running in full swing fairly quickly. However, we also recognise that work-from-home has its drawbacks on being able to maintain a healthy work-life balance, which we have always tried to prioritise. This can also have a domino effect on mental and physical wellbeing, attrition rates, and by extension, on the stability of client relationships.
Our response to this has been to try to maintain specific working hours even when working from home and discourage work emails over the weekend. The firm also organises yoga classes every week and we have a monthly game night for colleagues and their families. We have also reserved a mountain cottage for colleagues to use with their families and we encourage people to switch off. We firmly believe that it is imperative to create a balanced work environment that allows people to decompress, which in turn benefits the overall quality of work.
If you could introduce one new policy in the IP profession what would it be?
Essenese: Perhaps, the establishment of an association for regulation of the profession of patent agents, including further definitions for rules of conduct and ethics.
Creating a positive work culture
How is your team prepared to assist following the developments?
Essenese: We have a well-trained and experienced team that regularly represents our clients before the various high courts and the Indian Supreme Court. Most of our patent agents are also lawyers who are qualified to practice before Indian courts.
Similarly, all members of the trademark, design and copyright teams are lawyers that are qualified to, and regularly appear before Indian courts. Accordingly, our IP team is completely ready for matters before the IP division of the court.
What does your firm do to nurture and promote talent? Do you think it compares well to others in your market in this area?
Essenese: The firm strongly advocates a collaborative culture that encourages seniors to work with and mentor junior colleagues. Our assessment methodology gives weightage to knowledge sharing. We also have weekly knowledge update sessions that serve as a platform for open discussion on current case law and trends, and junior colleagues are encouraged to present at these sessions. I believe that our firm is recognised for nurturing some of the best talent in the profession.
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