By Mathews George
The Businessworld article “The Charge of the IPR Brigade” succinctly traces the trajectory of IP practice in India. It gives an interesting insight into the emerging, lucrative IP practice. It showcases the legal hotshots who are dominating the booming Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) arena. It has taken a look at the firms’ specialty, revenue and clients over a wide spectrum, from well known industry specialists like Remfry & Sagar and Anand & Anand to upcoming firms. The article has also touched upon the lack of awareness in lower courts which are forcing the litigants to opt for out of court settlements.
The article, however, is silent on remuneration structures in firms. It is also silent on the work culture in full service law firms, especially considering the clear demarcation between corporate and IP practice areas in such firms. It also does not depict a clear picture on IP litigation. However, the article, as a whole, is quite informative on IP practice in India.
Growth of IP practice
The article has touched upon certain interesting figures to showcase the growth of IP practice. IPR billings have touched whopping Rs 1,000 crores over the past few years. Among the firms which have disclosed their revenue, Remfry & Sagar earns the highest with staggering revenue of 121 crores ($26 million). Top IPR specialists charge more than Rs 30,000 ($650) an hour. In the past five years, patent applications have more than doubled to 36,812 per annum. The grant of patents grew over 8 times from 1,911 in 2004-05 to 16,061 in 2008-09. Trademark applications grew from 78,996 to 130,172. As many as 1,700 IP suits are pending in the Delhi High Court alone which is nearly 70-75 per cent of all IP disputes in India.
The new trend
Fifteen years ago, IP practice was neglected by full service law firms. The IPR practice began and ended with the quartet – Remfry & Sagar, Anand & Anand, DePenning & DePenning and DP Ahuja & Co. The liberalisation of the economy in 1990 followed by TRIPS and PCT changed the landscape. Moreover, IP has become a high-stakes game. For instance, in case of Sony, IP is valued to be five times its tangible assets. In the past five years, nearly 200 new IPR boutique firms have sprung up. Even though there is no comparison in scale with the established firms, a dozen boutique firms have emerged as formidable opponents, weaning away lucrative clients with their promise of ‘personal attention’. For instance, Saikrishna & Associates, a boutique firm, has a high profile clientele including MNCs such as Pfizer, Adobe, Microsoft and Aviva. Interestingly, most of the boutique firms are offshoots of the older biggies. Anand & Anand managing partner Pravin Anand could count 80-odd boutiques set up by former employees. Remfry & Sagar is said to have spawned another 50.
The article gives an interesting insight into the work culture in upcoming boutique firms. Most boutique firms are keen on institutionalising the firm as they are not appreciative of family run firms. They have turned the conservative strict hierarchy upside down. For instance, when a partner retires at K&S, there is no sale or purchase of partnership interest. Further, hiring of family members is disallowed. Zeus has a “seven-year knock-out policy”, which means that a new employee has a fast-tracked roadmap of seven years to become a partner. If not, he/she should leave the firm. Unlike the big firms, the boutiques have a relaxed work atmosphere. Mr. Saikrishna of Saikrishna & Associates prefers the ethnic comfort of a kurta pyjama when not in the courts. The firm does not have fixed entry and exit hours. In contrast, employees of Remfry & Sagar must register presence by 9 am and check out by 5.30 pm. Cellphones are banned; idle chats are discouraged.
With the growing market demand, the firms have realised the need to turn tech savvy. However, there is a dearth of software for meeting their requirements. This leaves the firms with no option other than coming up with customised software for meeting their requirements.
In spite of the impressive growth of IP practice, the state of affairs in lower courts continues to be lamentable. Most of the lower courts lack a firm grounding on IP. Quite often, cases get decided on social empathy rather than on principles of infringement and business propriety. The long lasting solution lies in establishing specialised IP courts on the lines of federal circuits in US.
As I have pointed out earlier, the article, barring a few aspects, gives an interesting insight into the emerging IP firm practice in India. IP practice has emerged as the fastest growing segment in corporate law, estimated to be 15 per cent of the corporate law business in India. It has been growing at around 20-30% per annum. The ignorance of IP’s potential, especially by lawyers and law students, can be of great loss. Thus the article is a must read for the legal fraternity.