"Clients today need value enhancers, brand strategists, collaborators in their lawyers"—Safir Anand—Most Innovative Lawyer of the Year

Ashima Ohri, our Managing Editor speaks with Safir Anand, Senior Partner & Head of Trademarks, Contractual & Commercial IP at Anand and Anand only to discover that Safir has many talents beyond the law. In this candid interview Safir speaks about his composition with DJ NYK; one-of-a-kind and some of his most challenging IP cases; and his thoughts on winning the 'Most Innovative Lawyer of the Year' at the BW Legal World Global Legal Summit and Legal Leaders Awards 2020. A must-read interview for creative minds!

Many Congratulations on winning the BW Legal World Global Legal Leaders Award for the year 2020. How was your experience interacting with the Jury and of the event? 

I am humbled to be receiving this prestigious recognition, especially in the presence of Justice Dipak Mishra and Ms. Geeta Luthra. There is nothing more meaningful in life, than getting a hat tip from legends, including members of the jury, as they have been a constant source of inspiration. 

I must add, the event organised was out-and-out vivid, despite the restrictions of the pandemic. Kudos to Dr. Anurag Batra, and the whole BW Legal team, for uplifting the spirit of the legal world. Personally, I have observed how determined each one of you are and the efforts put in to set out the pre-eminent work.

Awards and recognitions are significantly germane, as much as for a company, equally salient for an individual. It celebrates your hard work, success, and the hours of non-stop effort, plus it also, motivates to thrive for excellence. As a business honcho you know excellence means doing better than your best, in everything, in every way. It is a fabulous feeling when you get awarded for doing what is your inner calling!

Rewinding time: please allow us a peek into your illustrious journey in law. Where did this journey begin, who were your mentors, and are there any goals that remain to be achieved? 

Honestly, I didn’t set out to be a lawyer, it wasn’t my childhood dream; I was entranced by the corporate world and my desire was to be a part of a big corporate and interact with the board across all issues including finance, branding and marketing. I love strategy and challenges. 

I wanted to understand their thought process of taking decisions and merging within the company, along with delineating returns and conduct, which always captivated me. 

However, the unforeseen demise of my father took me on an unchartered path, and I started attending office, while studying at the Shri Ram College of Commerce. While it helped me divert my mind from the loss, it also got me close to Intellectual Property, and I realised how this was commensurate with want I wanted to pursue. Anyone, big or small, educated or not, could dream of an idea and with guidance can make it their Intellectual Property. With that contemplation, I pursued law and learnt the ropes to make it to where I am today.

Life is serendipitous, and it shows you the set path in mysterious ways, just like the people you come across, are like a blessing. I was fortunate enough to be in the company of people who have been my lighthouse. I don’t want to single out names as each contribution would have added up. From an office peon who gave me a physical file on time, to a kitchen staff who gave that cup of tea to energize to lawyers who shared their wisdom and sometimes disagreements to paralegals who worked late hours to type the opinions or matters to e-mail support staff that ensured it went on time. I also learnt from colleagues, with varying skill sets and methods to solve complexities. Some with a to-do list some with case law depth and some with extremely amicable business approaches like an ombudsman. 

What would you say has helped you emerge as a leader in your industry and what advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction

Over the years I have learned, and which truly helped is, always be a good practitioner and to be so, one must be:

• A good student, always willing to learn.

• Have an adaptive personage

• Passionate explorer 

• One must believe that he/she is in the field of services and thus has a demand only if he/she extracts solutions to problems in the most efficient way.

The mental space of solving a problem is a challenge with a lot of excitement and the more he/she owns the skills within the ambit of available facts and precedents and with a view on being futuristic and aligned to business the better he/she would prosper.

We have seen a spate of legislative changes in recent years that have been monumental in reforming India's legal framework across all sectors. Would you please highlight a recent development concerning your practice area that has positively impacted the industry?  

There has been a recent development regarding the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) in India. A conscious effort has been made by the Government to consolidate the functioning of some Tribunals / Benches to avoid overlap in the work performed and for effective utilization of resources. 

As part of that, through a recently introduced and notified Tribunals Reform Bill, 2021, the IPAB has been abolished by the Government and all pending matters will now be heard by the Delhi High Court, without impacting on the continuity of any pending matter.

How has the legal services industry transformed in the past year? What have been your key learnings from the year past and what are your predictions for the future?  

The legal services industry has transformed drastically, by moving physical to completely virtual. E-filing, E-hearing, Virtual Courts, we have already moved towards a fast-paced future. We have adopted and embraced a ‘Modern Outlook’ to have technologically advanced and highly adaptive systems that match with those of our valued international clients. We have created an ecosystem of innovation, scalable infrastructure, and solution-oriented approach of leveraging our IT capabilities. We have deployed internationally benchmark applications, providing added extension to our services.

What role can law/law firm/an individual play in making workplaces truly diverse and inclusive.

Diversity in the workplace shows the need to desperately consider aspects of inclusivity to create a workforce, and it is not just a role of the company, but also, of every individual to make their workplace inclusive. There are many benefits of a diverse workforce (in age, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and gender) and most important of them is, innovation. It brings forth interesting viewpoints and perspectives to the company.  When it comes to establishing and following through on a commitment to diversity and inclusion, you can make a big impact. I believe in encouraging a culture, where every voice is welcome, heard, and respected, with inventive viewpoints. This will help build a multi-lingual, as well as multi-generational workforce.

An experience, case or person that left a lasting impression on you. 

It was challenging to convince the Trademarks Office on “individuality” as many of the marks involve foreign marks which were not doing business in India or famous enough to draw analogies from case laws. We had to be ingenious in these matters and we were the first firm to protect colour mark, sound mark (Yahoo), well-known status in an opposition for Ford and the shape mark for Zippo.

In another case we had to establish that the success that reputation and goodwill in a mark can also be considered, post the date of filing of the applications as distinctiveness is not static but dynamic. Similarly, to get the first .com registration the Trademarks Office had to be convinced the difference between a trademark and a domain name since they construed the .com part to nullify a trademark claim.

Interestingly, in one matter we had to undertake a training of the Trademarks Office in Chennai to explain the concept of character merchandising and to showcase through video presentation how fictitious characters were special.

We also got the image of the famous Taj Hotel protected as a trademark. In reference to contentious matters, some of the important cases involved have been centric around trans-border reputation and goodwill or around extracting the element of dishonesty in adoption by some parties where they had argued that the opponents did not have any business interest in India and thus there was no possibility of confusion or deception.

On the transactional side, the first case of mortgage of Intellectual Property and valuation before the Security Exchange Board of India in one of the largest IPO offerings of leading IT Company come to mind.

Today, lawyers need to be involved in multiple facets of a client’s business including finance and marketing,   product creations, line extensions and diversification with a focus on increasing valuation. Clients today need value enhancers, brand strategists, collaborators in their lawyers. 

Law firm practice of the future: LegalTech tools that are transforming the traditional methods of legal practice in India. 

We have the state-of-the-art portfolio management tools that regularly crawl relevant databases and provide us portfolio status on our fingertips. With our award-winning Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) & Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities and an API based architecture for the portfolio management tools, we have the capability to mine information and generate insights, according to client requirements. In addition, we also generate market intelligence and insights using such information repositories.

Our in-house ERP is customized to meet the client demands on: 

• Matter related billing milestones, 

• Life cycle updates for ongoing actions/matters and 

• Active monitoring of pending actions.

• Ensuring fool-proof deadline and optimum case management protocols.

• Electronic documentation

• Task Management System

• Data Management System

• File Tracking System

• The enhance efficiency and optimum unitization of time ensuring low costs.

What keeps you busy when you are not working? Any favourite book or movie/series that you would like to recommend to our readers. 

Creativity is my meditation when I am not working. I curate music, read books on different subjects, and do things that are new to unwind. The pandemic and lockdown has made me connect with myself, even further. I composed my first song with DJ NYK, called Calm The World, ranking top on divergent aims. 

If I must suggest books or movies/series; I would pick books, as I love reading on a diverse range of subjects, and it helps discover new ideas and concepts. Few of my favourites are:

  • The Business of Platforms by Michael Cusumano, Annabelle & David Yoffie
  • The Future is Faster than You Think by Diamondis & Kotler
  • Radical Uncertainty by John Kay and Mervyn King
  • I love reading on Mahabharata too where there are immense lessons of life, strategic thoughts and the balance or as Gurcharan Das called it “difficulties of being good”.

Any other thoughts, message to our readers. What other than hard work is a mantra to success? 

Do your best and light your own light, is my mantra to success. No matter what, it will dispel some darkness. The world has many good people and well-wishers. Do not let losers, jealousy and negative people tell you what they cannot even dream of. Be your own celebration to your candour, but remember to thank all those who made it possible.

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