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Loss of an IP Luminary: Chris Ohly


chris ohly

Some of you may have heard that Chris Ohly, one of the finest lawyers in the IP firmament, passed away. Those that knew him will lament the huge void that he leaves behind. For Chris was an exceptional IP attorney and an even more exceptional human being.

I met him during my teaching stint at the George Washington Law School in Washington DC in early 2007 and we bonded almost immediately, chatting about our love for IP and life in general. We went on to become very dear friends, meeting regularly after a hard days’ work in the city.

Chris was very zen in his approach to most things in life. I’ve never known him to be flustered or aggressive in argumentation. And boy, he really knew his stuff! In fact most of the critical suggestions on my Novartis intervention petition that I filed in the Supreme Court came from Chris and I benefited greatly from his razor sharp mind. Generous to a fault, Chris always took time to help and offer his opinion and expertise. He was also a prolific writer and wrote several times for our blog, as also several reputed journals and magazines. Those that have read him will attest to a lucid style that was rigorous in its analysis, and yet communicating the most intricate of nuances in the simplest of words.

But what really marked out Chris was his zest for life and the positive energy that he radiated. An energy that stood him in good stead as he battled one of the deadliest modern diseases, cancer. His enthusiasm in the midst of this ravaging diseases shines through in his various emails to me (as I’m sure to his other friends and colleagues). In fact, despite his condition, he went out of his way to offer me solace and support when he  heard that my father was battling the very same disease. I am taking the liberty of producing this letter below, if only to illustrate the kind of rare heart and positive outlook that Chris possessed.

“Dear Shamnad:

I am glad that your Dad is making his way through the cancer experience with some success.  It is important for you to also take care of yourself, and to be sure that other members of your family take care of themselves, too. The disease is one that, in most cases, never disappears. So, it is hopefully a chronic illness that requires repeated attention over a long period of time. In only a few cases, such as with many forms of prostate cancer (early stage) or, more recently, breast cancer, can it be said after five years that one is, in some sense of the word, “rid” of the disease. The five year period without remission is fairly standard. So, be patient, unafraid and optimistic about the future.  It is hard not to reveal your own natural worry about the health and fate of your loved ones, and it is very hard to be optimistic without being pollyannaish. Your confident and optimistic attitude will help your father have a similar spirit, particularly in his low moments.

As for me, I am two-thirds through my current rounds of chemotherapy (another six weeks to go).  I am hopeful. In May or so, after some of my cancerous tissue was sent for genetic analysis, it was discovered that my cancer cells exhibit a mutation and a resultant receptor that allows treatment with Herceptin, a biologic drug typically and successfully used in fighting breast cancer.  The test searches for 230+ cell markers and mutations – some good, some bad.  It also provides guidance to physician oncologists about both “standard” and “experimental” therapies that might be used in treating cancers that exhibit such markers or mutations.  It is amazing.  Five years ago … two years ago … the test did not exist!  This is truly the beginning of personalized therapy.

I have said from the outset that, if I live 2 years, I will live 5; if I live 5, I will live 10; and if I live 10, I  will live 20.

I am now nearly 3 years into the process and I am still going.

One of my doctors says that it is his goal to make me the “Magic Johnson” of lung cancer.  My reply was “That’s great.  But I can’t be tall …”  I hope that I will be able, like Magic Johnson, to turn my own malady into a chronic disease, that I will be able to manage and live with during an otherwise “normally” long life.

 You, too, are always in my prayers. I believe that prayers do help.

For a long while, I thought I would never be able to go to India again.  That may still be true.  If I make it through this set of chemotherapy, and if the Herceptin does the “trick” of keeping my cancer stable (if not totally invisible to standard scans), and if my blood counts continue to improve, there is a hope that I may be able to one day travel to India again. I remain eager to visit again!

I hope that, at some point in the near future, we may be able to find a way to talk by Skype again, just to catch up with one another. I would love to hear what you are doing … how your time off went, what you discovered along the way.”

Sleep well Chris! You were more magic than Magic Johnson, my friend….selflessly shining your radiant light without asking for much in return. I only hope we manage to honour your wonderful legacy in the IP world….to debate in a reasoned and mature way..with calm and courage…..away from vitriol and venom….and predicating our arguments on hard facts and logic. And most importantly, with a sense of compassion and kindness. Lets hope we get there someday. For your sake, for our sake.

Shamnad Basheer

Shamnad Basheer

Prof (Dr) Shamnad Basheer founded SpicyIP in 2005. He is currently the Honorary Research Chair of IP Law at Nirma University and a visiting professor of law at the National Law School (NLS), Bangalore. He is also the Founder of IDIA, a project to train underprivileged students for admissions to the leading law schools. He served for two years as an expert on the IP global advisory council (GAC) of the World Economic Forum (WEF). In 2015, he received the Infosys Prize in Humanities in 2015 for his work on legal education and on democratising the discourse around intellectual property law and policy. The jury was headed by Nobel laureate, Prof Amartya Sen. Professional History: After graduating from the NLS, Bangalore Professor Basheer joinedAnand and Anand, one of India’s leading IP firms. He went on to head their telecommunication and technology practice and was rated by the IFLR as a leading technology lawyer. He left for the University of Oxford to pursue post-graduate studies, completing the BCL, MPhil and DPhil as a Wellcome Trust scholar. His first academic appointment was at the George Washington University Law School, where he served as the Frank H Marks Visiting Associate Professor of IP Law. He then relocated to India in 2008 to take up the MHRD Chaired Professorship in IP Law at WB NUJS, a leading Indian law school. Prof Basheer has published widely and his articles have won awards, including those instituted by ATRIP and the Stanford Technology Law Review. He is consulted widely by the government, industry, international organisations and civil society on a variety of IP issues. He also serves on several government committees.

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