Through Sinapse’s “Young Intellectuals” feature, we bring to you interviews with young Intellectual Property professionals, who are making a big difference in the Indian and Global Intellectual Property road-map. You could get a glimpse into the progress of the IP world, looking through their eyes. In this edition we bring to you Mr Somashekar Ramakrishna, Partner at Banana IP Counsels.
Interviewer: Dr. Kalyan C. Kankanala
Mr. Ramakrishna is a Partner and manages the Mechanical/Automotive patent division and prosecution division at BananaIP Counsels. Previously, he was a partner at Brain League. He has worked with UNIDO as a part of their IP intervention team, taking SMEs up the IP ladder. Before returning to India, he worked for a few years at a US Patent Firm, where he drafted and prosecuted US patent applications. He has a Masters Degree in Intellectual Property from Franklin Pierce, USA, and a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from VTU.
Interviewer: Automobile industry in India has seen new heights over the last decade, and continues to grow fast. As a leading automobile patent attorney, what according to you are the trends and challenges in automobile patent progress?
Mr. Ramakrishna: Comparatively, the automobile industry has not progressed as much as electronics/telecom sector from the patent perspective. However, the Bajaj decision, and market opportunities in the automobile sector as a whole has spurred patent activity in India among both Indian and foreign companies. Indian companies like Mahindra and Tata have been filing patents aggressively during the last three to five years. Their patent numbers have been growing exponentially during this period. Similar trend is noticed with foreign companies like Ford, Hyundai, etc.
I visualize a positive trend of substantial growth in patents, in the industry in the forthcoming years, as an inevitable result of their role in building and maintaining a competitive edge over competitors. For Indian companies at least, the challenge will be in moving from incremental, cost based innovation to path breaking inventive activity.
Interviewer: Many believe that SMEs have an important role to play in India’s progress towards a knowledge economy, can you share with us your experiences of working with Small and Medium Enterprises as a part of the team appointed by United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in India? Do you think Indian SMEs in India have the ability to generate path breaking inventions, or are their abilities over rated?
Mr. Ramakrishna: Working with UNIDO was not only a great learning experience, but was also an eye opener for me in many ways. While performing audits and setting up systems in small machine tool, plastic and foundry companies, I got an opportunity to look at the world, market and competition through their eyes. Some of them are actually doing remarkable work, but it is either lost in the process, or usurped by large companies, their contractors. The role of SMEs is surely not overrated.
To answer the question, I see MSMEs primarily contributing incremental inventions and developments. You may see one big invention once in a while, but I don’t see that as a trend. Nevertheless, their innovations will play a crucial role in India’s progress towards an innovative economy.
Interviewer: Many clients have commended you as one of the best patent prosecutors in the country, can you share with us your thoughts on the art of patent prosecution? Does it vary between countries?
Mr. Ramakrishna: There are no guidelines etched in stone when it comes to patent prosecution. You adopt different prosecution strategies on a case-by-case basis. I believe that an outcome of a case broadly depends on:
- How well you understand the invention disclosed in the specification;
- How well you understand the Office actions/Examination reports;
- How familiar you are with the patent law of a particular jurisdiction(s) to adopt appropriate strategies; and
- How frequently you update yourself with the prevailing case laws.
Another important and basic aspect that was taught to me by my mentors a decade ago, which in my experience still holds good, is to have a mindset that “the examiner is not hostile towards your application.” With the aforementioned mind set, every response to an examination report/office action and every interview with the Examiner becomes a discussion rather than an argument as to what can be rightfully allowed and what cannot be. In the interviews that I have had with the US as well as Indian patent examiners, almost all the examiners were open to discussions and were helpful, and in some cases, they even suggested appropriate claim amendments to obtain appropriate scope of protection and to overcome the rejections/objections.
As mentioned earlier, the patent prosecution strategies vary, largely based on prevailing patent laws and rules, from country to country. However, in my opinion, aforesaid mind set should remain the same.
Interviewer: You have equal experience of working with a US Patent Firm as well as an Indian firm, can you tell us the key differences in patent practice and approach of firms?
Mr. Ramakrishna: In my opinion, US patent firms in general, structure their teams based on technology. For example, a person having mechanical or related degree is only allowed to work on related inventions and a person with a Bio-tech background is allowed to work on biotechnology related inventions. This approach taken by the US firms is also mainly because of the client’s requirements. This approach, according to me, was missing in Indian firms before Brain League, and now BananaIP. The structure that we have adopted at BananaIP is similar to that of US firms. Indian companies, with increasing IP awareness, are now preferring and are quite happy with this structure.
Interviewer: If given opportunity, what would you change with respect to the Indian patent process?
Mr. Ramakrishna: Well, if I can actually change something, I will:
- Improve the quality of patent prosecution. The examination reports we receive from IPO are today not up to the mark, though they are better than what they used to be 10 years back;
- I will improve the pace at which Indian Patent Office operates and responds to simple actions like Foreign Filing Permits, Certified Copies, etc; and
- I will introduce a speedy prosecution highway.
Interviewer: There have been arguments that the draft National IP Policy does not address patent issues in a meaningful manner. Do you think the draft national IP policy addresses patent practice issues adequately?
Mr. Ramakrishna: The draft National IP policy has addressed the routine patent related issues such as up-gradation of the patent offices, expeditious examination, training of personnel, etc. The broader policy perspectives pertaining to the role that India should play in effectively positioning itself in the international arena of advanced patent administration processes such as IP five offices bandwagon, patent prosecution highway and so on could have been reflected effectively. A quality national IP policy, according to me, should provide effective guidelines, which will have a long-term impact and short-term strategies.
While, I appreciate the inclusion of promotion of SMEs and suggesting the introduction of utility models in India and first-time patent fee waiver for SMEs, I feel that an appropriate direction suitable for the Indian scenario (considering that this model has been effective as well as ineffective in many countries) and its proper alignment with existing patent system could have been provided.
With the comments, suggestions and inputs pouring in from stakeholders, I am sure that the final policy framework will make us feel proud about India’s stand on intellectual property.
Interviewer: From the patent perspective, where do you see India in 2025?
Mr. Ramakrishna: Taking into consideration the setting in of global competitiveness and Indian Industries having geared up to take the challenges, I see India at the forefront of the global knowledge economy and contributing substantially to the core inventions by 2025. India would project itself as leader in the field. We will play the game better than today, and on our terms. Today, we are driven too much by western issues and interests.
Interviewer: What is your advice for aspiring mechanical patent attorneys?
Mr. Ramakrishna: Well, as always, one should understand the progressing technology appropriately, thoroughly study the trends in claim construction and ensure that effective drafting and prosecution of patent application is done to ensure that legitimate interests of the inventor/his assignee are appropriately safeguarded.
Interviewer: Can you share with us your patent dream for India?
Mr. Ramakrishna: I dream of an India where knowledge is paramount, inventors are treated as kings, and creation is the order of the day.
Note- The views expressed in this article are views expressed by the interviewee in his personal capacity.