Continuing our series of interviews and the theme/celebration of World IP Day, we bring you a different perspective. For episode 3, we speak to Mr. Adarsh Ramanujan.


1. Could you elaborate a little on your student life at NLU Jodhpur? Did you decide on intellectual property law as your practice area early on? What prompted and inspired you to take up intellectual property law?

I was there in pursuit of knowledge. But what I experienced was far beyond that; it was life changing. Living alone was new to me and interacting in English and Hindi with people from across the country was a culture shock in many ways. I had never met such a diverse set of people from different parts of India before. It took me a while to get used to that. But ultimately, as things go, you have your circle and slowly get into your comfort zone. I had the fortune of meeting some great people (seniors, batchmates and juniors) through my time at NLUJ. I also got to witness several startling events – both good and bad; demonstrating empathy and magnanimity; close-mindedness and intolerance. It taught me about leadership. I learned that there are always people who are happy to bring you down but there are also people who want you to succeed and there to support you throughout. In short, I guess NLUJ taught me about human behaviour and adulthood!

I loved participating in moot courts, though it took me a semester to gain the confidence to do it properly in English. Again, the confidence reposed in me by a faculty member helped a lot. Most of the international law I know was because of my time spent on Jessup and Stetson moots. And it was only after I started participating in moot courts that I was sure I made the right choice by choosing law.

Even though I am a first-gen lawyer, I had decided on being a lawyer from a very young age (from watching movies/reading books). But I did not decide on IP early on. I wanted to practice constitutional law at first. When it came for my Hons. specialisation in the 4th year, I picked IP because it seemed intriguing, and science always interested me. As I explored this area further, especially patents, I realized it was a vast subject and very few people wanted to take it up given the mix of science. Ultimately, I landed an internship in an IP team where I got a pre-placement offer that I took.

That said, I have never been a one-subject lawyer. Variety always interested me. Even when I was specialising in IP at Jodhpur or Berkeley, I used to spend time researching and writing on constitutional law, international taxation and so on. In fact, I spent maximum time on researching/writing on social justice, reservations/affirmative action and the rights of the LGBTQ community. In the firm I worked first (and the only firm I worked ever before going independent), I was fortunate enough to dabble on customs classification/valuation work, a few excise/VAT cases and opinions, IP, international trade, arbitration, and international disputes. I try to maintain a diversity of work even today.

2. How was your experience as an international LL.M. student at University of California, Berkeley? How distinct was this from your time at NLUJ? Would you recommend a Master’s degree for anyone who seeks nuanced understanding of a niche practice area?

I enjoyed my time at Berkeley – education-wise and otherwise. It was a great place to spend time as a city/area; plus I had family living in the Bay area. I made some good friends there as well.

It was different from NLUJ for a variety of reasons, including: (i) the pedagogy was very different (Socratic method), (ii) most of the JD students and LLM students had work experience before joining the program and so their approach was very different, which made classes interesting, (iii) higher education was taken much more seriously, (iv) many of the courses were very practically attuned (through fantastic visiting professors), and (v) the library/resources you had access to were just phenomenal.

Yes, subject to finance availability, I would recommend an LLM for anyone who wants to specialise in any subject. I won’t recommend it if you have to run a student loan, especially if you intend to return to practice in India.

Benefits, especially from a premier institute, includes great networking opportunities and the interactions with people from very diverse backgrounds. Interaction in a class-room environment with partners from various top-notch law firms (visiting professors) was one of the best things for me.

3. We understand that in addition to intellectual property law, you had also gained significant exposure to international laws, including a 3-year stint in Geneva. Could you elaborate on the interplay between intellectual property law and international law?

Many parts of IP law- procedural and substantive standards – emanate from, or are modified by, international law. So, international law plays an important role in the interpretation and application of IP law.

But it’s not just about IP law. Most of the international disputes’ practice had nothing to do with IP, though some were on IP and some touched IP. E.g., I was involved for a third-party in the tobacco plain packaging case before the WTO. While this did involve IP, a large part of the dispute revolved around other WTO agreements as well. Whether IP or non-IP, the point is that it expanded my thinking process. When you practice more subjects, there is a definite improvement in lateral thinking.

4. How would you describe your typical day as an independent counsel? How is this different from your role at Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan? Why did you decide to become a patent agent in addition to a practicing attorney?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan – I had great mentors; they gave me great opportunities. But there are serious differences to working in a firm as compared to a independent counsel. As an independent counsel, (i) you don’t have a senior backing you up, (ii) you are your own boss and have better control over time and targets, (iii) you have a better work-life balance, (iv) you are dependant on other advocates/lawyers to engage you in matters, and (v) you may be able to expand on the diversity of work, perhaps, much more than at a firm. There are pros and cons, like anything else in life. For me, the pros outweigh the cons.

I became a patent agent since I was learning patent practice at that time. It’s been my general approach to anything – test oneself. For instance, I went to US to study law (not just IP law, but also US law). So, I tested myself by giving the Bar exam there. I was learning patent procedure, so I tested myself by giving the patent agent exam. Since I started doing arbitration work, I took the time to give the CIArb exams for becoming a Fellow. Of course, all these come with the added benefit of adding to your qualifications.

5. You have been an instrumental contributor to the literature of intellectual property – with blog posts on SpicyIP, your book ‘Patent Law: Cases and Materials’ and several other publications. In your opinion, how relevant is it for practicing attorneys to contribute to academic research initiatives? How do you balance your role as a practitioner with that of an academic?

I think it is very important for practicing advocates to contribute to academic research initiatives. It is one of the best ways to give back to society and gives you a chance to be instrumental in preparing the next wave of lawyers. I also think it makes you a better lawyer – fielding questions in a learning environment greatly enriches your knowledge base and also exposes you to looking at the same issue from a different perspective. I think perspectives matter and looking at the fresh-eyed perspectives of students every now and then, helps.

6. As you well know, the World Intellectual Property Day 2022’s theme focuses on ‘IP and Youth: Innovating for a Better Future’. Being a practicing attorney and academic, in your expertise, what are some recent concerns in the field of intellectual property law? And how can we innovate for a better future?

For me, the main concern is the environment of innovation (as opposed to IP law). IP law is one among the many tools that can be used in enriching this environment of innovation. I have always felt that as a country/society, we don’t do enough to improve fundamental research in India. I think our education system, especially higher education needs a re-jig; it has been neglected for far too long.

From a purely IP law perspective, I think people’s mindsets are (unconsciously) still set towards foreign/MNCs v. Indian, though I am seeing a drift away from this notion. Second, I feel there has been a shift towards a more pro-enforcement mindset. To me, the system should be neutral - neither pro- nor anti- enforcement.

7. Being in the legal industry and having appeared before the WTO, the EU Commission, US Department of Commerce and the US International Trade Commission and the Indian courts, do you notice any differences in regimes/procedures/attitudes of the judges and fellow advocates? How do you think the youth can contribute in bridging this gap and moving towards a more globalized understanding?

There are several differences, though much can be attributed to our court structure and Indian courts having to field a significantly larger number of cases. Abroad, the preparation levels (both the bar and bench) are at much higher levels. While there are some excellent exceptions to this rule in India, it’s not enough. Second, I have also personally felt that on many occasions, age and face-value are given more weightage than competence in India. But then again, there are several benches (SC, HCs and Tribunals alike, particularly in Delhi and Chennai) across India where the situation is opposite – but this has to become the norm across India, and I think this will require a generational shift.

I think we need more youngsters willing to become arbitrators and judges – such an environment needs to be created. I also feel that youngsters should have a chance to see how law is practiced in other jurisdictions and bring those best practices here.

8. What would your advice/message be to any law students or professionals looking to explore the area of intellectual property law? Any last words regarding the theme of World IP Day 2022?

I have two messages:

  1. IP is a great area to practice but don’t become a one-trick pony!
  2. Recognize that IP law is only a tool or a policy lever for larger systemic concerns