“Navigating trademark prosecution and enforcement across diverse jurisdictions demands an approach that harmonizes black letter law with case law and procedural insights”-Renuka Rajan, Managing Associate at Lall & Sethi

This Interview has been published by Pragya Chandni and The SuperLawyer Team

Can you share your journey and tell us what motivated you to pursue a career in law, from your early internships to your current role as a Managing Associate at Lall & Sethi in New Delhi?

As a child, you would find me engaging in lengthy discussions, be it with my parents, friends, or teachers at school.  And my mother’s dedication to social service has always inspired me – despite having a full-time job and two young kids, she never stopped doing whatever she could to give back to those in need. This instilled in me a strong responsibility to give back to society. As law was the way to advocate for people’s rights and engage in arguments, it was a natural progression for me to decide on law as a career. However, as a first-generation lawyer, my first real experience of the practical side of the law was through my early internships, which provided hands-on experience, and solidified my commitment to this career. Now, as a Managing Associate at Lall & Sethi, I continue this journey, driven by the belief that law is a powerful tool for society. My pursuit aligns with a deep-seated desire to contribute meaningfully to society.

You have an extensive background in intellectual property law. Could you explain what drew you to this particular field and share some of the most interesting cases or projects you’ve worked on in the realm of intellectual property?

The arts have always played a major role throughout my life. My mother is a classically trained singer and started training me at the age of three. Thus, having been trained in singing and dancing, and having dabbled in drawing, craftwork and directing, my curiosity was piqued by the interplay between the arts and the law, thus making intellectual property law a natural choice for my specialization. The dynamic nature of this field, especially given the developing nature of the law in India, drove me towards it. Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of learning from and being involved in complicated cases that raised interesting questions of law spanning different fields. One particularly intriguing project involved navigating the complexities of derivative work performed by different artists vis-à-vis the rights of the original artist in the underlying work. Another highlight was considering and advising clients on the interpretation of comparative advertising through implied comparison. One other matter that comes to mind is advising clients on ambush marketing and its implications.  I’ve also had the privilege of delving into the interplay between trademarks and geographical indications. These experiences have not only honed my legal skills, but also reinforced my commitment to excelling in intellectual property law.

Your experience includes working as a US and India Associate Attorney. How did you navigate the legal systems in both countries, and what were the key differences or similarities you encountered?

Navigating the legal systems as a US and India licensed Attorney in IP law involves a focus on different strategies. What is interesting is that both countries have similarities in the manner in which they prioritize prior use in the market over the first to file with the government. But the process of registration is very different in both countries. As a US-licensed attorney, I learnt the need to be extremely thorough in running clearance searches before filing a trademark because of the strict nature of examination by the United States Patent and Trademarks Office. Conversely, in India, my focus extended to strategic advisory work, embracing a more solution-oriented approach, as Indian procedure before the Trade Marks Registry focuses on the prior user in the market. The concept of use of a trademark and what is considered sufficient is also quite different in both jurisdictions, thus changing the focus of the advice that one would give clients to prove use in the respective countries. However, despite these disparities, the Indian judiciary often considers it relevant to examine the laws abroad, more particularly in the US, UK and EU when passing orders on interesting points of law.  As a result, the development of intellectual property law in these countries is relevant for the progress of Indian law as well. This motivates me to not only keep abreast of new Indian judgments, but to also keep track of changing US jurisprudence in IP law. 

You’ve been featured in the World Trademark Review as a top filer in the US. What strategies did you employ to achieve such recognition, and what challenges did you overcome during your time with LegalForce RAPC Worldwide?

Securing recognition as a prominent filer in the US very early in my career was a result of highly meticulous case management, learning the law quickly and efficiently in a manner that best served the needs of my clients, of course with the integration of technological solutions for enhanced efficiency, and a vigilant awareness of evolving trademark laws. Building strong client relationships was a priority, ensuring a profound understanding of their unique needs and fostering enduring relationships.  This journey was not without its challenges. As a young lawyer, one learns by immersing themselves fully in the law and its changes by being a voracious reader and also learning to observe their peers, seniors and juniors. Much of my learning relating to procedure was due to the time I spent with paralegals who assisted me in my filings. I realized that effectively managing time and cultivating a collaborative team approach were imperative in order to achieve the best efficiency. Observing my peers and learning from their different styles of being a lawyer also encouraged me to look inwards to find the kind of lawyer I wished to be. This reinforced the importance of maintaining, in me, an unwavering commitment to complete honesty in work and excellence in both client service and legal research.

In your career, you’ve worked on trademark prosecution and enforcement across various countries. How do you approach providing detailed country-specific advice to clients who operate in multiple jurisdictions?

Navigating trademark prosecution and enforcement across diverse jurisdictions demands an approach that harmonizes black letter law with case law and procedural insights. I have had the unique opportunity of being deeply involved in Indian, US and south east Asian legal frameworks which exposed me to the nuances of each country’s laws and procedures. Past prosecution and enforcement experiences combined with discussions with legal counsels in different jurisdictions on a range of matters has provided invaluable lessons, allowing me to anticipate challenges and optimize strategies based on my experiences in those countries. Beyond legal technicalities, grasping the unique dynamics of each country is crucial. Procedural requirements combined with an understanding of how the judiciary reacts significantly impact enforcement strategies. Regular engagement with local counsels fortifies my advisory role, facilitating a proactive response to emerging issues. Of course – clear communication with clients is paramount for me – if I am unable to distill complex legal intricacies into actionable insights, I would not be helping them make informed decisions. Flexibility is key, allowing for tailored approaches that resonate with the legal and business requirements of each client. I always strive to understand the business needs of every client. This holistic method ensures comprehensive and effective counsel, fostering robust trademark strategies for clients operating seamlessly across multiple countries.

As a guest lecturer and judge in various legal events, you’ve had the opportunity to share your legal expertise. Could you tell us more about your experiences in educating and mentoring future legal professionals?

As a guest lecturer and judge at various legal events, I have had the privilege of interacting with inquisitive future legal professionals, especially students in law schools. I encourage students to come forward and ask me any question to help them understand law as a profession as this is one such profession which can benefit people from all walks of life.  Through lectures, I convey how black letter law translates to practice in an attorney’s everyday life, highlighting the relevance of judicial pronouncements and legal research. 

As a first generation lawyer myself, I have relied heavily on connections I had built over the years, to navigate my journey as a professional. So, my aim in serving as a mentor to students, aspiring lawyers or young professionals is to help them navigate the profession a little better, guide them on refining their advocacy skills and nurture a respect for research and reading. Playing a role in shaping a new cadre of adept, socially aware, and justice-committed legal practitioners is incredibly fulfilling for me personally and I am always available to anyone who reaches out for my guidance.

You’ve earned several degrees in law, including an LL.M. from The George Washington University Law School. How did your academic pursuits contribute to your career, and what advice would you give to law students who aspire to excel in their studies and those interested in intellectual property law and international practice  ?

My legal education, an LL.M. from The George Washington University Law School, has been the compass guiding my career. When I graduated from law school with my undergraduate degree, I was still keen on delving deeper into the field that I knew was my calling.  So, pursuing a masters was a natural choice and I find myself much enhanced as an overall professional because of this experience. 

As Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’. To aspiring law students: Blend academic prowess with practical wisdom. Engage in internships, embrace moot courts, and build a network. Excellence demands dedication and a commitment to continuous learning. Success in law is not just about knowledge, but embodying the change you seek. The journey from student to legal professional is a transformative process; let Gandhi’s wisdom inspire your path to becoming a catalyst for positive change in the legal realm.
As I reflect on my journey and accomplishments, my advice to fresh law graduates would be to foster a curious mindset, staying attuned to the constant, very evolving legal frameworks. Pursue diverse experiences through actively participating in networking to construct a strong professional foundation. In the dynamic realm of intellectual property, nurture a fervor for research and keeping abreast of the latest legal developments, whether it is through reading judgments or conducting research on the aspects of law which are yet to be explored. With evolving technology, there is an ever expanding scope for the law itself given the ambiguity in the current legal framework that has not changed at the same speed as innovations. So, keeping yourself informed of legal and technological developments is key for any growing professional.   As a young lawyer, it is also very important to work towards being the kind of professional you intend to be throughout your career. Prioritizing communication skills, adeptness in communicating intricate legal concepts in a simple, easily understandable manner, establishing a mentorship network to actively seek guidance, never compromising your integrity or ethical standards – are all foundational to a flourishing legal career.   It is important to remember that every miss, every challenge and every mistake is a chance for growth, and this commitment to continuous learning will pave the way for a gratifying and impactful journey in law.

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