Looking Forward: Interview with Tomorrow’s Leader Award Winners
Published: December 16, 2020
Aliona Saalo BRANN AB Stockholm, Sweden INTA Bulletins—Europe Subcommittee
INTA named two outstanding young professionals as winners of the Tomorrow’s Leader Award, which recognizes early leadership among professionals practicing for five years or less. Announced during the 2020 Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting, held virtually in November, the recipients are Bita Kianian, Associate, Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear, LLP, Irvine, California, USA, and Aprajita Nigam, Managing Associate, LexOrbis, New Delhi, India.
Here, Ms. Kianian and Ms. Nigam talk about why they chose trademark law for their careers, discuss their work and the future of intellectual property (IP) law, and offer advice to young professionals.
Why did you choose IP law, trademark law in particular?
Bita Kianian (BK): I studied business, economics, and fashion design in college and was always interested in exploring my creative side. While in college, I worked with a local designer who made handcrafted, holiday-themed sculptures and collectables. Through my work and schooling, I heard stories from numerous brand owners describing how they were taken advantage of or had their designs stolen, and the detrimental effect that had on their business. These stories encouraged me to learn more about how designers can protect their IP rights and grow their businesses. This is one of the reasons I chose to study IP law and specialize in trademark law in particular.
Aprajita Nigam (AN): Since childhood, I was interested in arts, entertainment, and content creation. I was a part of numerous theater activities in school and, in my teenage years, started writing short stories, scripts, poems, and Harry Potter fan fictions. You can consider me an amateur writer. Therefore, I had a natural inclination toward the field of law that seeks to protect intellectual creations and instantly connected with copyright law. After completing my LL.M., I joined LexOrbis, where the trademark and copyright practice in our firm is taken up by the same department. My interest in trademark law gradually developed as I started working in this area.
How did your career begin?
BK: While in law school, I held an internship position with a boutique law firm that specialized in IP law. The experience I gained through this position was invaluable. I also participated in a clinical course at my law school that focused on trademark law and practice. I was told by my school’s career counselor that the field of trademark law was very competitive, but the experience I gained through my internship and clinical course helped me obtain a summer associate position. Once I finished law school, I joined Knobbe Martens, the same firm where I was a summer associate.
AN: My career in IP began in 2015 when I decided to pursue LL.M. (IPR) at NALSAR [the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research]. In India, people often associate the need to pursue an LL.M. with an academic career. However, I was sure that pursuing post-graduation in a focused area would get my concepts right and give me a steady base for building a career in law practice as well. The very first feat came when I became the LL.M. Gold Medalist, awarded to me by the then Chief Justice of India, Justice T.S. Thakur. After completing my LL.M. in 2016, I joined LexOrbis and thereafter started the growth of my professional career in IP law.
It is important for young professionals to take initiative and approach work in a critical and creative frame of mind. — Bita Kianian
Which part of your role as an IP practitioner is most exciting?
AN: As an IP practitioner, you have to walk a tight rope between the legal aspects and the commercial aspects of a business, especially when it comes to trademark law. A proposed brand name may have excellent marketing value but may score low on the registrability scale, and vice versa. Therefore, you have to constantly strategize and find that narrow lane where the business can sustain legally and thrive commercially. This is the challenge that charms me. I also particularly enjoy assessing copyright infringement matters. I remember assessing a copyright infringement suit against a popular Indian novelist. I read both the competing novels and created a comparison chart of the plot line, character development, and scenic arrangements. It was an interesting exercise.
BK: I really enjoy having the opportunity to work with clients across different industries. I find it exciting to learn about their businesses and work with them to create a strategy to help achieve their goals and protect their brand. I’ve also enjoyed having the opportunity to work with trademark professionals in other countries—learning from them and exchanging experiences and trademark practice tips.
What do you think the role of the IP practitioner will look like in 10 years, considering the growing role of artificial intelligence (AI)?
AN: While I do not support the often-floated idea that AI can replace human intelligence, I believe that it can surely add efficiency. A recent example is the AI-based tool Vienna Classification Assistant launched by WIPO [the World Intellectual Property Organization], which has done away with the need to go through the entire Vienna Classification to mark out the relevant codes required for clearance searches. In the future, AI can prove to be a strong asset for research, due diligence, indexing and processing of information, and making template advisories/emails. AI can analyze hundreds of precedents in a matter of seconds and show the judicial trend. I think AI can also be programmed and trained for short/preliminary client interviews for extracting basic and mandatory information from the client for a new matter. It can also help judges and lawyers find discrepancies in voluminous documents or statements of the testifying parties which can help during cross-examinations.
BK: I believe we will see AI taking a bigger part in our daily lives and work as IP lawyers. AI will likely streamline workflow processes and help increase the quality of our work. It is possible that, 10 years from now, some of our daily tasks will be handled by AI. We will also likely see an increase in the number of clients we serve in the AI space, which will require us to stay informed and maintain familiarity with advancements in this space.
What qualities will young IP professionals need to have in the future?
BK: It is important for young professionals to take initiative and approach work in a critical and creative frame of mind. It is also important to be technologically fluent. Technology is ever advancing and the digital world continues to expand. Young professionals engage first-hand with various digital and social media platforms. Our clients and their consumers are relying more heavily on digital and social media platforms every day. As practitioners, it is important to be well-versed in this space so we may better communicate with our clients, understand their business needs, and advise them.
AN: The field of IP is extremely dynamic, and it is going to be the same way because technology and content is ever-changing and ever-evolving. An IP professional should be able to learn fast and unlearn faster. Being tech-savvy is really important because every new technology affects and develops all domains of IP law and raises new questions. Also, IP law is one area where global trends have high persuasive value. An IP professional should make it a habit to see the bigger picture and learn the global perspective.
An IP professional should be able to learn fast and unlearn faster. — Aprajita Nigam
What is your advice to future IP professionals who are at the end of their studies?
BK: Having practical IP experience or prior employment experience will set you apart from other candidates when you are seeking employment. I would definitely recommend pursuing an internship position within a law firm or legal department of a company. I also believe it is helpful to have prior non-legal work experience. Much of your practice will likely be spent communicating with clients and maintaining client relationships. Accordingly, prior experience working with the public or in customer service will be beneficial.
AN: Firstly, it is extremely important to understand if your interest really lies in IP law. If you’re unsure, take up internships to understand the kind of work you’ll be doing as an IP practitioner. Request the firm to divide your internship period among various departments so that you can understand different kinds of work—prosecution, enforcement, transactional IP, etc. Secondly, I believe in being a wholesome IP practitioner and not being limited to a particular domain. Even if you aspire to be the master of one area, there is no harm in being the jack of the other. While interacting with clients, you may have to occasionally deal with queries and questions out of your expertise. A basic understanding of all domains of IP will come in handy, and it is good to start as a generalist. Also, the importance of research, publications, and speaking engagements cannot be highlighted enough.
What would be your advice to other young practitioners on being a leader?
AN: I believe that responsibility and leadership are directly proportional to each other. The former definitely follows the latter; however, grabbing the former, prepares you for the latter. You need to take responsibility and inculcate work ownership from day one. Young practitioners often tend to rely a lot on their seniors and mentors. While working, one should forget that there is a filter ahead in the form of a senior who can rectify our mistakes. Work diligently to make your senior’s work easier and not tougher. It is also important to understand that leadership does not only require substantive knowledge but overall personality development. It is important to be vocal and confident, and ask questions. Also, observe your team heads and learn the skills of team handling. To become a successful leader, one needs to patiently grasp and clearly express.
BK: Our profession offers young practitioners a variety of opportunities to engage with our clients and community of trademark professionals. I would encourage young practitioners to first identify the industries or areas of practice they are most interested in and then pursue opportunities in line with those interests. Whether it is volunteering to write articles, preparing presentations, or attending events, I believe it is important to take advantage of different opportunities and get your name out there.
How was your experience at INTA’s 2020 Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting, and what would you tell young practitioners about why they should participate in the future?
BK: I found the virtual Meeting to be a great opportunity to further educate myself on recent developments in trademark law and practice around the world. I think it is important for young practitioners to attend the Annual Meeting because it provides practitioners with exposure to a unique global network of trademark professionals and resources to keep ourselves up to date on international trademark laws.
AN: I never imagined my first INTA experience would be a virtual one, and honestly, I missed experiencing a physical event. However, I did enjoy the virtual event. The online portal created by INTA was really helpful and easy to navigate. The whole week went by in meeting IP practitioners from across the world. Talking to practitioners from various jurisdictions enhances your knowledge and gives you a global perspective. The various Table Topics and learning sessions were very insightful. The social networking sessions were also really enjoyable, though at odd hours for Indians. I woke up at 5:30 am to join the Grand Finale DJ party!
I definitely recommend all young practitioners to attend INTA’s Annual Meetings. As young practitioners, what we usually lack and want are networking opportunities. INTA is the apt platform for that. The meetings and insightful sessions will help you expand your horizons.
As with all of this year’s INTA award recipients, Ms. Kianian and Ms. Nigam were presented their awards by INTA President Ayala Deutsch via video during the 2020 Annual Meeting & Leadership Meeting. Watch their video here.
Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.
© 2020 International Trademark Association
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