“Women lawyers navigate challenges with resilience and dedication, turning legal briefs into power suits and objections into stepping stones.” – An Exclusive Interview with Lakshmidevi Somanath, Partner at Surana & Surana International Attorneys

This interview has been published by Namrata Singh and The SuperLawyer Team

Reflecting on your journey from college, where you were a Gold Medallist in your LLM from NLSIU, to your current position as a Partner at Surana & Surana International Attorneys, could you share some insights into the key milestones and challenges you encountered along the way?

I am a first-generation lawyer and embarking on my legal journey as one in 1997, was the initial challenge, where I did not have the benefit of a well-trodden path or sage advice. My parents and my brother gave me their unwavering support in all my decisions. Guided by serendipity, I found myself at the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, where I secured the Gold Medal in my LLM for the highest CGPA. During this time, I was also appointed as an MK Gandhi National Law Fellow, alongwith other eminent fellows. In 2003, I taught for a year in National Law University, Jodhpur. Prof. (Dr.) N.L. Mitra was the Vice Chancellor of the University at the time. His prudent counsel underscored the importance of perpetual research, continuous upskilling, and an unwavering commitment to staying abreast of dynamic legal developments, and this has held me in good stead throughout my professional trajectory. Teaching for a year was a pivotal advantage, providing me with a unique perspective and reinforcing the importance of continuous learning in the dynamic legal landscape. Most of my students at the time are now distinguished legal professionals. 

In 2004, I joined Surana & Surana, immersing myself in intellectual property law within the firm’s IP practice. This marked the beginning of a deep dive into the nuances of IP as I navigated through diverse facets of intellectual property, gaining invaluable insights and practical experience that would prove instrumental in shaping my career trajectory.

In 2006 I commenced my independent practice with my spouse, focusing on intellectual property law and constitutional law before various High Courts and tribunals and as time passed, the briefs slowly trickled in. The practice of law before the courts are unparalleled – from the charged atmosphere of the courtroom to the swift thinking on your feet. The satisfaction derived from presenting compelling arguments, navigating legal intricacies, and securing favourable outcomes for clients was my driving force from 2006 to 2020. Intellectual property law is a multifaceted and dynamic field and the learning was challenging, every day, in the courtroom, observing the various senior counsels, and imbibing the wisdom of the bench.

At times when the family car was not available for my use, I started using the Metrorail, and then used it often for a swift and easy commute to the courts, significantly cutting down travel time, allowing me to optimize my schedule. In 2014, my daughter was born, putting me to the test of balancing my little one and my work. I worked from home for the first four months of the parenting journey and my office handled everything wonderfully. When my daughter was 5 months old, I appeared before the Intellectual Property Appellate Board in the matter of M/s Royal Classic Mills Pvt. Ltd v. The Polo Lauren Company, L.P., ORA/144/2007/TM/DEL/, and rushed back to my daughter waiting for me in my mother’s arms. Following this I slowly eased back into practice and resumed all my professional work by the end of the year. My continued professional journey, without a break, would not have been possible without the support of my family and my colleagues.

In 2020 I was appointed to the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) and it was my privilege to serve along with other members under Chairman Hon’ble Mr Justice Manmohan Singh. We gave rulings in various matters concerning prominent brands such as RPG, HP, REDBULL, PAMESA, EVEREADY and several other renowned trademarks. His Lordship’s mentorship proved invaluable, providing guidance and insights into his professional journey in advocacy and adjudication that significantly contributed to my professional experience.

Post my tenure at the IPAB I am now Partner at Surana & Surana, and I lead the Intellectual Property Practice. Other than being engaged for IP litigation before the Delhi High Court, I advise, guide and mentor my practice colleagues on their corporate IP advisory to clients, IP legal strategy, IP audits, IP valuations, IP filing and prosecutions in India and various countries worldwide, PCT filings and MADRID filings, IP monetization, IP contracts & agreements, IP commercialisation and other legalities.

I am indebted to the eminent mentors who generously imparted their legal sagacity, illuminating my path with their professional insights. I did not have one single Guru, rather I am blessed to have learnt from all. Their tutelage through legal discussions, arguments and advice has been the lodestar guiding me through my journey. My family of friends support me unwaveringly.

Choosing law as my career has allowed me to inspire numerous individuals within my family and friends’ circles.

During my 23 + years of professional experience, I have traversed the journey of a law student from teaching to working as an advocate in a law firm to running an independent practice to becoming a Member in the IPAB and currently a Partner in a law firm leading the IP Practice.

Congratulations on your recent recognition as IP Woman Lawyer of the Year! How does it feel to receive such prestigious awards, and what impact do you think they have on the field of intellectual property law?

Thank you for your kind words. Receiving the IP Woman Lawyer of the Year Award, 2023 from INBA was truly an honor and a testament to the collective efforts of women in the field of intellectual property law. 

The awards and recognitions I have received in the past year are:

  • IP Woman Lawyer of the Year, 2023, Indian National Bar Association (INBA)
  • Leading Individuals in IP in India by the Asia Pacific Legal 500
  • Leading Individuals in IP in India by the World Trademark Review (WTR) 1000
  • Leading Individuals in IP in India by IAM Patent 1000
  • Finalist – Copyright Lawyer of the Year, Women in Business Law Awards, 2023 (APAC)
  • Finalist – Patent Lawyer of the Year, Women in Business Law Awards, 2023 (APAC)
  • Finalist – IP Lawyer of the Year, Legal Insider Awards, 2023 (APAC)
  • Finalist – 2023 Lawyer Monthly Legal Awards
  • IP Star for India, 2023, ManagingIP

I am grateful for these honors and remain committed to furthering the advancement of intellectual property law with a focus on innovation, ethics, and inclusivity.

These awards serve as a powerful platform to showcase the achievements of women in intellectual property law, promoting gender diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. They inspire aspiring female legal professionals to pursue careers in IP law, breaking traditional stereotypes. Moreover, they bring attention to the field’s critical role in innovation, economic growth, and global competitiveness. By acknowledging excellence in IP law, these awards contribute to raising awareness about the strategic importance of intellectual property in various industries.

Throughout your tenure as a Member Judge at the Intellectual Property Appellate Board, could you reflect on a particular case that not only presented legal challenges but also left a lasting impact on your own understanding of intellectual property matters?

I can detail some cases for professional discussion for practitioners and academic interest for students during my IPAB tenure.

One is Eveready Industries India Limited v. Kamlesh Chadha, 2020(83)PTC575(IPAB), decision upheld by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in Mr. Sanjay Chadha Trading as Eveready Tools Emporium and Anr. v. Union of India and Anr., 2022/DHC/004457

In this matter Eveready Industries India Limited, incorporated in 1934 was using the Trademark “EVEREADY” since 1942 registration applied for in 1994. The Respondents has registered trademarks too and contended that the Trademark “EVEREADY” was their bonafide trademark and they adopted it with honest intention in 1985 regarding other goods. Acquiescence can be an issue, so was an assignment deed that had been executed between the parties.

The Bench determined that the term ‘EVEREADY’ qualifies as an invented word, absent from the English dictionary, and also serves as the corporate name for EVEREADY INDUSTRIES INDIA PRIVATE LIMITED. The adoption and registration of the trademark ‘EVEREADY’ in 1985 by the Respondents were deemed to be in bad faith, as no justification was provided for the use of this invented mark. The deceptive nature of the Respondent was further evident in their unauthorized utilization of other well-known marks like “HMT,” “DELUXE,” “CHAMPION,” “CRAFTSMAN,” and “AMUL,” as per documented evidence. Notably, there was a lack of consistent use of these marks, failing to meet the requirement for acquiescence over a continuous period of 5 years in the usage of a registered mark.

The above decision was upheld by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi and EVEREADY was declared a Well-Known Mark.

Another matter is Sun Pharmaceuticals Ltd v. Macleods Pharmaceuticals Limited, ORA/66/2014/TM/MUM, decision upheld by the Hon’ble High Court of Bombay in Macleods Pharmaceuticals Limited v Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine Bom 408

In this dispute, Sun asserted its trademark application for OFRAMAX, filed on August 30, 1989, and subsequently granted registration on May 13, 1994, within Class 5 for pharmaceutical goods. On the other hand, Macleods initiated its trademark application for the mark OFLOMAC on January 28, 1999, in the same class, and secured registration in 2005. Macleods argued that OFLOMAC resulted from combining its medicine name OFLOXACIN with the company name MACLEODS. They contended that Sun’s claim of using the trademark OFRAMAX since July 1991 lacked supporting documents, with invoices and statements only demonstrating usage from 2003 onward. The Bench held that Macleods’ trademark is deceptive, recognizing the potential for confusion with Sun’s mark. This was important to prevent any likelihood of confusion on the specific medicinal or pharmaceutical products. 

This decision was affirmed by the Hon’ble High Court of Bombay.

The third case that comes to mind is Britannia Industries Ltd. V. Rakesh Kumar Jain, ORA/68/2013/TM/AMD, Order dated 23rd December, 2020, relied on by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in Britannia Industries Ltd V. Good Day Oral Care & Ors., CS(COMM) 572/2021, Order dated 5th November 2021.

It concerned the mark GOOD DAY, which was adopted in 1986 by Britannia and soon went on to become one of their most popular brands. The Respondent filed an application for GOOD DAY in 2010 in respect of Salt. The Bench held that the Respondent had no plausible explanation for adopting the GOOD DAY word and no evidentiary proof of usage claimed since 2005. GOOD DAY was declared as a well-known mark and the mark of the Respondent was ordered to be removed from the Trade Mark Register.

You are a part of the International Amicus Committee of the International Trademark Association. How do you see the role of international collaboration in shaping intellectual property laws globally, and what challenges do you foresee in the future?

International collaboration plays a crucial role in shaping global intellectual property laws by fostering consistency, sharing expertise, and addressing cross-border challenges. As a member of the International Amicus Committee at INTA, I get to witness firsthand the impact of collaborative efforts in providing valuable insights to courts and trademark offices worldwide. This exchange of expertise contributes to a harmonized approach in addressing intellectual property issues on an international scale.

However, challenges persist, including diverse legal frameworks, cultural differences, and evolving technologies. Bridging these gaps requires continuous efforts to build consensus and establish common ground. Additionally, staying abreast of emerging trends and ensuring inclusivity in decision-making processes are essential for effective international collaboration in shaping the future of intellectual property laws.

Balancing a role as a Professor of Practice at Christ University School of Law, NCR, New Delhi along with your legal practice must be demanding. How do you manage to stay engaged with both academia and the dynamic legal landscape?

During my early years of teaching, I had the pleasure of guiding students who have now progressed to senior positions in law firms and the corporate sector. I fondly reminisce about those teaching days and the sense of purpose it brought. Presently, I remain engaged in various academic initiatives, actively contributing to legal education through mentorship and guidance in institutions.

As a Professor of Practice at Christ University School of Law, NCR, New Delhi, I am offering a specialised course on IP Litigation. I maintain engagement through efficient time management, leveraging practical insights from my legal practice to enrich academic discussions, and staying updated on the dynamic legal landscape. This synergy allows me to contribute effectively to both education and the evolving legal field. 

You’ve been involved in several IP cases. Can you share insights into some of your memorable cases for academic interest, detailing the challenges faced and the strategies employed that led to a favorable outcome?

I can talk about some cases for professional discussion and academic interest.

In 2009, the matter of Maya Appliances Private Limited v. Jaipan Industries Limited, Suit (L) No 1036 of 2009 before the Hon’ble High Court of Bombay, was a question of design and trademark infringement of the plaintiff’s unique and registered leaf design and trade dress.  The Respondent brought forth a registered design stating that they owned it and that their products were based on this design. We convinced the Hon’ble Court that the production of a design certificate owned by one Sairaj Industries only shows that the alleged design is owned by them. The Respondents neither described the relationship between them and the Sairaj industries, nor have produced any documents towards the same. Working on this case of the infringement of a registered design and establishing arguments was interesting.

Another case was that of Karthik Subbaraj G. v. Five Star Films Pvt. Ltd. C.S. No.  810 of 2015 before the Hon’ble High Court of Madras. The dispute was between the Director and screenwriter of the film Jigarthanda and the producer. As per the agreement of 2012 between both, the project was commenced and the move shot and released. The suit was filed seeking an injunction against the producer to prevent selling the remake rights of the movie in any language. No permission has been obtained from the Plaintiff for using it in other languages. The moral rights of the screenwriter, reproduction rights, remake rights vis-à-vis the terms of the Agreement were discussed in detail before the Court.

In Shiv Nadar Foundation v. Registrar of Trademarks C.A.(COMM.IPD-TM) 122/2021, the case was filed against the refusal of the logo mark SHIKSHA for education. The Hon’ble Court appreciated the composite nature of the mark and no other similar logos and struck down the Order of refusal.

As a member of the CII – IP Forum, FICCI – IP Council and a mentor at various institutions such as MAARG, the Founder Institute, how do you think the legal profession can contribute to fostering diversity and inclusion, especially for women in intellectual property law and as startup founders?

Engaging in collaborative efforts with industry forums such as CII and FICCI allows legal professionals to leverage collective influence, driving systemic changes that promote diversity and inclusion. It is imperative for the legal community to uphold these principles and actively contribute to dismantling barriers, thereby creating a more inclusive and representative landscape in intellectual property law and startup entrepreneurship.

To foster inclusivity, legal practitioners should actively promote equal opportunities, advocate for unbiased recruitment practices, support women re-entering the profession after a break for the family and support mentorship programs tailored to empower women in the intellectual property sector. Creating a conducive environment that embraces diverse perspectives not only enriches the profession but also contributes to a more innovative and equitable ecosystem.

When mentoring startup ventures, legal professionals can contribute by advocating for gender-neutral policies, offering legal guidance on inclusive corporate structures, and actively participating in initiatives that provide women entrepreneurs with access to legal resources.

I am also actively engaged in various intellectual property discussions, as part of the panel in various forums and conferences. I’ve served as a Speaker and Panel Chair at various CII, GIPC, WIPF and other events. With talks spanning from online gaming, IP litigation, generative AI, online platforms, performer’s rights, IP monetization to data protection, I have been able to contribute insights and share my perspectives.

Your work involves carving IP legal advisory strategies, performing IP audits, and coordinating IP valuations. What advice would you give to young professionals aspiring to specialize in intellectual property law, especially in the context of the evolving legal landscape?

Having just one degree or having multiple degrees specializing in a single domain is considered outdated or passé in contemporary times. In today’s dynamic and interconnected world, professionals are expected to adapt to a variety of roles and contribute across different fields. Combining expertise from various disciplines not only enhances problem-solving skills but also fosters innovation and creativity. 

Employers and industries increasingly seek individuals with a broader range of knowledge and capabilities, transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries. Examples are the combination of law and an engineering or fine arts or a medical background. For instance, someone with a background in both law and technology might be better equipped to navigate the complex legal landscape surrounding emerging technologies.

For aspiring IP professionals in the evolving legal landscape, I recommend gaining diverse experience, staying updated on emerging trends in IP such as the protection of and infringement occasioned by the use of AI, especially generative AI, cybersecurity and IP, blockchain technology, gene editing, sustainable technologies, quantum computing, 3D printing, neurotechnology, IP of and in the hands of influencers and social media, cross border IP litigation, etc and developing a strong understanding of technology and business. Embrace continuous learning, engage in practical training, and build a network within the IP community. A strategic focus on carving innovative legal solutions will position you for success in the dynamic field of intellectual property law.

Additionally, cultivate a deep understanding of global IP laws, invest in honing negotiation and communication skills, and actively participate in industry events and associations. Embrace a proactive and client-centric approach, and leverage technology for efficient legal practice. Remember, adaptability and a passion for innovation will be key drivers of success.

Furthermore, seek mentorship from experienced professionals, explore interdisciplinary collaborations, and consider pursuing relevant certifications to enhance your expertise. Stay attuned to ethical considerations and emphasize integrity in your practice. Finally, contribute to thought leadership by publishing articles, attending conferences, and actively participating in discussions to establish yourself as a knowledgeable and influential figure in the intellectual property legal community.

Continuously build a strong professional network, both locally and globally, to foster collaborations and stay informed about industry developments. Be adaptable to changes in legal frameworks and technology, and proactively anticipate challenges to offer strategic solutions. Embrace innovation in legal research and leverage data analytics to enhance your practice. Ultimately, a holistic approach that combines legal acumen, business understanding, and a commitment to excellence will set you apart in the dynamic field of intellectual property law.

Having excelled in moot court competitions and representing India in international forums like the Afro Asian and Phillip C. Jessup Moot Court Competitions, how did your experience in moot court contribute to your professional development? Furthermore, do you believe participating in moot court competitions is essential for law students and how can it positively impact their growth and skills development?

Engaging in moot court competitions has been a pivotal aspect of my professional journey, contributing immensely to my development as a legal practitioner. Representing India in international forums like the Afro Asian Moot Court Competition in 1999 and Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in 2000 was a transformative experience that provided a multifaceted impact on my skills and outlook.

Participating in moots equipped me with the ability to carefully assess each argument, strategically position them before the bench, identify vulnerabilities in the opponent’s case, adeptly counter their points, skilfully address judges’ inquiries, and cultivate a respectful demeanour towards both the bench and opposing counsels. The experience also facilitated networking opportunities with students and legal practitioners from across India, expanding my professional connections. 

When I was a student, the only international competitions that India used to participate in were the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, Afro Asian Moot Court Competition, Stetson International Environmental Moot Court Competition, and Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot. Now there are so many more mooting opportunities for law students. Law students should actively involve themselves in external mooting as part of the extended curriculum for advocacy skills development, legal research proficiency, confidence building, understanding courtroom dynamics and networking opportunities

Beyond your legal pursuits, what are your personal interests or hobbies that you find yourself passionate about in your free time?

I find joy in quality time with my daughter, indulging in movies and meals with my friends, and making pencil sketches of people. Additionally, I am proficient in playing the mridangam and am a voracious reader of science fiction and mythic fiction. I would have ended up as a writer or a film director, had I not pursued law.

How do you view the above journey as a woman lawyer?

Yatechchā tatra mārgaḥ – where there is a will, there is a way. Balancing both the professional journey and personal life is a challenge for most of us, especially women litigators. However with good time management skills, the ability to plan and prioritise, hard work and a never-say-die attitude, anything is possible. 

In the initial years of a legal career, how seniors treat you, with dignity or otherwise, is crucial. It’s up to individuals to quickly grasp the balance between work responsibilities, career growth, and specialization choices. Navigating these opportunities and challenges posed by seniors is common, and it’s recommended for upcoming lawyers to understand this early on. Dealing with uncertainties and potential disrespect becomes more manageable when comprehended early. As a woman lawyer, I had the chance to grasp and overcome these dynamics, and I appreciate the lessons, whether direct or indirect, taught by my seniors. Their guidance helped me shape my decisions and progress in my legal profession.

My 23 + year professional journey or that of any of my women colleagues’, cannot in the true sense be condensed in words. It involves hard work, dedication, sincerity, and a mix of challenges, opportunities, painful, sad, and happy days in both personal and professional realms. The power within, drawn from the Universe, empowers women to overcome challenges, face each day with positivity, and passionately pursue what brings personal and professional fulfilment.

Despite advocating for equality, empowerment, and equity, women often bear additional responsibilities. While these principles are on paper, their implementation can be challenging. The acknowledgment of exceptional women by you as a “Super Lawyer” underscores the extraordinary efforts made to navigate these challenges, providing a satisfying recognition of the exceptional work done by them and their leadership, integrity and dedication to justice.

So, here’s to the unsung heroines of the legal world, the women who every day turn legal briefs into power suits, make every objection a stepping stone to success, and put out board room legal chaos with their excellent strategy.

Get in touch with Lakshmidevi Somanath-

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular

To Top