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In Conversation with Priyanka Khimani: Pondering IP, Law & Leadership


In June last year, I welcomed the news of the Anand and Anand & Khimani merger with the (shared, I’m sure) gut feeling that this was history in the making. I must confess, this gut feeling came armed with the sound of drumroll emanating from somewhere within the folds of my conscience.

As luck would have it, I was asked to report the merger on the blog. There was consensus among the team members that when I did report the merger, I must chalk out for our readers, Ms. Khimani’s (or Priyanka, as I now know her) story – as a context to how unique this whole thing really is. Most of our insight into Priyanka’s background came from this extremely well written interview that was released last year. (I recommend that our readers read this feature first, if they haven’t already) Instead of drawing on this feature that had already told the world so much of her story, I wanted to tell her story in a way that was exclusively our own. And in doing so, hopefully get an insight into this (excuse the theatrics) almost historic event in the life of an IP nerd (read: me).

So, with encouragement from Prof. Basheer, I wrote to both Mr. Anand and Priyanka, with a bunch of questions on the merger. Interestingly – and you can imagine my excitement at the time – our correspondence tiptoed out of the online dimension, and I wound up at the Anand and Anand & Khimani, Mumbai office, to meet with Priyanka.

This was October of last year. By the end of that interview, I ended up with an opportunity to intern with AA&K. Now, about four months later, I am almost at the end of my internship and I find that this feature would be painfully incomplete if I did not colour it with all of the things I have learnt (both about her and from her) over the mere three months of knowing and working with her. And although it has taken a bit too long, I am extremely pleased to finally present to our readers, a glance into one of the minds behind the merger.

Introductions

There are a few things that I noticed about Priyanka, barely ten minutes into our meeting. One was that I could be comfortable enough to freely converse with her, such that the gap between us – created by a combination of age, experience and professional stature – fell apart almost entirely. She gracefully made room for my journalistic inadequacies – even as I fumbled with the way I put forward my questions or set out the voice recorder!

One of the first questions I asked her was whom she considered to be her professional role model. I remember coupling this with my own confession that she had been a personal inspiration to me, ever since I’d read about her work. She first brushed this off, disclaiming that it wasn’t so much her, as it was all the people who wrote about her so kindly. She then went on to declare, “And I don’t have one single role model! There are so many people that inspire me – and they keep changing over time. I draw inspiration from whoever is willing to offer some!

The next thing I noticed about her, was her honesty. This happened rather quickly, when I pushed her to speak of some of the people she admires within the IP fraternity. At first she said, “Oh, I’m constantly enamored by all my seniors in the legal field – the first of them being Mr. Anand, who I have admired for almost the entirety of my career!” This was followed by a genuine observation on how even today, she often feels like a “little girl, looking at the legal fraternity from the outside.”

If I had to guess, I’d say this stems from her unique and unconventional background – complete with all her practical work experience in the entertainment industry – ranging from script writing, to assisting on a film set, to modelling. The interesting thing about her, is that she has only ever allowed this to complement her work. Despite not having had a single legal internship when she started off her stint as a fresher attorney at Mulla & Mulla, she took her industry work-ex and built herself a profile that clients from within the industry could trust. The relationships she’d built during her time there, allowed her to successfully craft expertise in the field of entertainment law, slowly making her a force to be reckoned with.

Then of course, there is her passion, and her committed refusal to be pigeon holed. On several occasions throughout the course of the interview, she would gently remind me that there can be no progress or growth if we pigeon hole ourselves as lawyers. In fact, most of her inspiration even while running her start-up law firm, ‘Khimani & Associates’ came (and still comes) from outside the legal industry: in learning how successful ventures like Google, Uber or Taj deliver their products, service their clients, or manage themselves.

Priyanka Khimani: The Lawyer

This passion rung out when I got her talking about some of the most exciting and challenging cases in her career. According to her, these are the EBC v. Lexis case (we’ve blogged about it in the past, here) and the Rangoon case (this too, here).

And it reached its peak when she spoke of some of the shortcomings of the IP ecosystem in India. She believes that our IP laws are outdated and archaic, especially because they have not kept up with changing technologies. This, despite, the very essence of IP law being that it yields beautifully to changing technologies. In addition to being outdated, she feels that our system is such that it hampers any and all attempts at amending the law. Any attempts at changing the law are met with immediate legal challenges to the same, driving the entire industry into a lull, hampering business as well as growth. She also pointed out the sluggish, almost lazy rate at which our system seems to be attempting progress. Citing examples, she highlighted how we still don’t have a functional Copyright Board in place or even a legitimately functioning copyright society, even five years of the copyright amendments became operational. Some of her concerns are fair enough, and I quote – “Although our trademark and patent filing systems are slowly getting better, look at our copyright filing system! It’s a nightmare!” When I pointed to some of the recent changes made by the offices, she shrugged them off, saying they are merely, “baby steps.”

Interestingly, passion is also part of what she considers to be important in order to become a successful lawyer. Passion, commitment and knowledge – none of which, she believes, have any substitutes. In fact, as I was noting all of this down, she casually reminded me, “You have to be willing to put in the hours and give up a number of weekends!”

Priyanka Khimani: The Woman

The exploration of the theme of IP and women has been one of SpicyIP’s central themes. So, when I met Priyanka, I also asked her some very specific questions regarding her experience within the IP field as a woman. Especially her challenges, her take-aways and even to some extent, her strategies at dealing with sexism in the industry.

Her answers to these questions are interesting to say the least. She believes that for a young woman in the industry, there are two primary challenges: ageism and sexism. While the former is something she’s constantly trying to battle, she couldn’t be bothered about the latter. She is aware of its existence and faces it almost on a daily basis, but she believes that it shouldn’t be something that we, as women, should complain about. Instead, she believes that if a woman delivers quality work, there is nothing that will set her behind a man in the industry. Having said that, she does believe that women have to take extra care of how they conduct themselves in the industry – in the sense that certain forms of conduct are pardonable among men, but not among women – but she does not consider this to be something that should slow a woman down, or deter her from doing what she needs to and delivering good quality work. “We are not an ideal, gender-non-biased society” she very matter-of-factly observed, admitting that she is not afraid to accept and work with that reality. In her experience, this has never been a hurdle she’s found unable to overcome.

Leadership & Culture 101

Over the past three months of working with her, I’ve had multiple opportunities of reviewing the above. I was now seeing her for who she really was, with the opportunity of looking beyond the veil – if there ever was any. By now, I had learnt a bunch of new things, and in the interest of a few, quick pointers: she talks fast and thinks faster, so if you’re going to meet with her, you should probably take a notepad in with you; she does not tolerate mediocrity and bad grammar; and she will snap at you if you chew loudly at lunchtime!

Jokes apart, I think the best part of this whole thing, is that I have left almost the entire feature as it was before I started the internship. The three things I outlined about her within the first five minutes of meeting with her, remain unchanged:

She embodies approachability – you merely have to walk into her cabin, give her some time with your queries or confusions, and watch as they fall away – as gently as ever. As for any suggestions or ideas you may have, she usually has a positive, hands-on and eyes-forward attitude to anything you may come up with – no matter what rung of the professional ladder you are on. I have, on many occasions, taken the freedom to approach her with ideas that have just come to me – to which she has responded, “Yes, why not? Go for it!”

She will also give you the freedom to be your own person. She will make room for all your quirks, your strange ideas, and your opinions, no matter how deeply she may disagree with them – I have had countless discussions with her, over multiple judgments delivered over the past few months, which have ended up with her exclaiming either: “You really have some of the most controversial opinions!” or “Okay, give me till the end of the day, and I will change this opinion you have!” (Specifically, the latter was accompanied by some rather articulate contentions flung at me while we were all decorating the office Christmas tree) – but all of this would quickly turn into a candid appreciation of my difference of opinion. In her own words, “We need lawyers to have minds of their own!”

She is a tremendous mentor. Of all the countless instances I can recount, one stands out: During the first few weeks of my internship, I was given work that exclusively involved copyright in music. This one day, entirely out of the blue, and in the middle of all of the volumes of work piling up on her desk – she called me in and said, “Since you’re doing a bunch of transactional work on copyrights in music, sit here, you need to know this.” Over the next hour, she walked me through the intricacies of copyright law as applicable to music – complete with some rather helpful personal inputs (think: Harry Potter in his Sixth Year and the book on Advanced Potions belonging to the Half Blood Prince). As students of the law, we are always looking for guidance and mentorship – someone who can help us clear out the clutter in our minds, and hopefully steer us in the right direction. I can conclusively say that whatever I learnt over that one hour, will form the foundation for a lot of the music copyright work I take on in the years to come.

I can’t help but feel that all of this adds tremendously to the culture of the merged entity. The very culture that sparked the merger in the first place. Priyanka always says that this shared respect for culture is what led an unmotivated conversation over tea with Mr. Anand, to blossom into a commitment to work together. She believes that culture is important, no matter where you go – and is also what keeps people together. I see this come to life as I speak with Ridhika Luthria, Priyanka’s first ever associate who is still with her, almost four years later. She hits the nail right on the head when she says, “It’s almost impossible to find a work environment and a senior that challenges you, lets you grow and treats you like family all at the same time, and that’s the culture that Priyanka encourages.” Then, adding something that I’ve personally also seen (and loved) over the past few months, she notes, “And I mean, it’s not always work. We take our celebrations and desserts equally seriously!” (read: some would term the amount of desserts consumed by us as “insane”.)

Are you “cool” enough?

The past few months have been filled with learning. Whether it be coming up with ideas on which to write a bunch of thematic posts on the blog, things to keep in mind as I slowly enter the Big Bad World, or even stuff that I wish to someday embody as a lawyer and a woman.

If any of you have wondered why we never reported the Big IP merger on the blog, the answer is this – that I was much too busy trying to curate a near perfect context to the merger – one that would do justice to it, in some way. I am glad I did do this, because when after everything, I expressed my surprise at the merger – she said very simply, “Yes, I mean, we are onto something different and something that we’re proud of – but we are only here because someone like Mr. Anand had the courage to believe in this. It takes a lot for someone of his age and stature to believe in this young vision and say that, ‘okay! You’re doing something cool. Let’s do something cool together!’ ”

Which gets me thinking. Perhaps, big things (we have yet to see just how big, but I am willing to bet on it) often wait at the lesser known intersection of wisdom and humility. The humbling acknowledgement that someone, somewhere is doing something to reckon with. And the wisdom to take a step back, give in to it, and team up to do even grander things together.

Image credits to: Jeabphy, Thailand at the World IP Forum, 2018.

Sreyoshi Guha

Sreyoshi is a law student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Her favourite thing about Intellectual Property Law is Copyrights. She can usually be found doing one of three things: dog-earing her favourite pages of her books, looking up a Zomato menu, or day-dreaming of the day she'll finally meet John Mayer. She doesn't have any notable achievements, except probably that one time when she encountered a crazy pigeon, and lived to tell the tale. Send her your thoughts at: [email protected]

One comment.

  1. Devansh

    Such a brillant post! Extremely personal and informative! Kudos to Sreyoshi for taking the time out and putting in the work to ensure the quality of the article!
    P.S. Best of luck as a future associate!

    Reply

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