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In Conversation With KP Sivaramakrishnan On Running His Solo IP Practice & Decoding Changing Trends | The Outlawed Series

Mr. K P Sivaramakrishnan, or Siva, as he is affectionately known among his clients and colleagues, is an accomplished Intellectual Property expert. With a rich experience in the field since 2016, he has worked with top law firms, broadcasting channels. His extensive experience covers various industries, including entertainment, packaging, FMCG, healthcare, and finance, where he has a proven track record of resolving IP-related disputes effectively.

He is currently running his own boutique IP practice, Sivaramakrishnan Law Offices.

What went behind your decision to enter the legal profession?

Siva: As I recall, I had never imagined myself studying law. When I was in the 11th standard, like others around me, I was clueless about my career options. Being a commerce student, the most common advice was CA, CS, B. Comm, etc. However, I couldn’t picture myself in those courses. One day, out of the blue, my mom randomly suggested that I should become a lawyer. I still remember my reaction, where I said, ‘That’s not even something I would consider,’ followed by a big NO!

Little did I know, my Mom’s suggestion was like the movie ‘Inception.’ She made me think that I wanted to become a lawyer. A few weeks later, I started reading about different colleges, both national and international. My parents were quite relieved and helped me to finalise law as my choice of career! And then, of course, the preparation for entrance exams, counselling, etc., began.

What were and how did you deal with the initial challenges in your career?

Siva: I am a first-generation lawyer.  Therefore, I knew I had to find answers on my own. That was my first challenge.

It was only after I took all the entrance exams and landed at Chander Prabhu Jain College of Higher Studies (CPJ – CHS) that I realised I would be considered as a non-NLU (National Law University) student. Even my second attempt at CLAT (Common Law Admission Test) didn’t work. My father had told me that either I had to clear CLAT or work hard to secure internships at good places. Well, the latter became lesson No. 2, and so I focused all my energy on getting the internships I desired.

I believe this is the best medium to share something with everyone, especially with students. I am a lawyer practising in the field of Intellectual Property and Media & Entertainment. Ironically, I passed the Intellectual Property Rights subject with GRACE MARKS, denoted by an asterisk (*).

So, no matter what anyone might think of me, anything is possible. Some top IP firms rejected my internship applications due to my non-NLU background or because of the ‘grace marks’ I had received. However, I still managed to intern and work with professionals from the best colleges (including NLUs) in the country and with some of the finest firms and today I have my own practice specialising in IP and Media laws. That grace mark became the third and final lesson I learnt in college.

What excites you most about working as a corporate lawyer?

I think I can confidently say today that I made the right choice by choosing the corporate route. Unlike a lot of my batchmates, I could not connect with litigation. My internships in corporate setups were the best learning opportunity, away from the traditional method of practising in courts.

I have been a musician for the past 20 years, thanks to my dad! In my second year, I was looking for a connection between law and music and stumbled upon Media & Entertainment Law. At that time, back in 2013, I could only find a handful of firms/lawyers who specialised in this field. I must mention the role of Ms. Ashni Parekh (along with others) as I followed her work in films and read about her practice advising celebrities. Though I haven’t met her yet, hopefully one day I will get to thank her. I saw on IMDb that she was credited as a Legal Advisor in films, and I knew that’s what I wanted. Now, 10 years later, I have that in my kitty. I’m eagerly waiting for more!

I believe the stakes are higher when you don’t know what will happen after a deal has commenced. While drafting a contract or advising a client on a transaction, one must not only research the law but also constantly stay updated with changes in the industry, technology, and human psychology. That’s where my passion lies!

My motto is, “It’s not about how many cases you win, but about how many cases you were able to avoid”.

What was the idea behind pursuing a solo IP practice?

Siva: It’s one of those things that you have always run away from, but by hook or by crook, you end up right with it. Back in 2021 my career was at a point where I had to choose between joining another company/law firm or to go independent. The decision was backed by my parents, my wife (then fiance) and my brother.

It is funny that I only wished to work in law firms and later join a company and that was it. But destiny had its own way of playing out. I did have sleepless nights during the transition periods, but I think the support from my wife helped me take that decision. 

Describe one incident from your professional life that made you look at things differently.

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Siva: As I mentioned here that I was not inclined towards litigation, but there was a time when I had to file a Writ Petition before the High Court of Delhi. I was neither experienced in drafting pleadings, nor well-versed with the procedure. I directed my focus on drafting the Writ, and after many tiring days/nights, eventually filed it.

I consider those few weeks as a fresh experience. There was a lot going on back then. We were researching international cases for a proposition that was not discussed in the Indian Courts. We appeared before three different institutions for 1 trade mark and I learnt that the same case and arguments need to be moulded and presented differently depending on the forum.  

More than the outcome of the writ I feel the efforts and the sweat that went into building the case, as a Team, was the best part. I thank the Partners and the senior for giving me the opportunity to work on the matter, and for pushing me to go beyond my limits. I’m better today!

Today, I am able to advise clients on complex IP issues because of the experience that I had and what this one matter taught me.

Running your own practice is a big challenge for any legal practitioner. How did you go about it?

Siva: To be honest, it’s been emotionally, physically and mentally exhausting, but exciting at the same time. ‘Celebrate your wins, wait for your losses’. One of my seniors was looking to hand over her practice, and after a brief discussion I decided to take over. In a matter of a few days, I was working for myself.

I had beginner’s luck, but that faded away very soon. It was then that I started reading about methods adopted by other managing partners, founders, entrepreneurs, etc. I got the best tip from a senior, who said, ‘Independent practice is not only about your legal knowledge, but it’s a business. You are providing services, and must know how to sell it’. I knew I had to change my perspective. I am fortunate that till date I have support from ex-colleagues and seniors, who share their perspectives and knowledge, and I have adopted some advice.

Unfortunately, law schools don’t prepare the students for independent practice. If that’s taught right from the beginning, then you would see several Advocates and Lawyers going out there and pitching their services.

I have used social media, attended conferences and sometimes also gave spam calls to record labels and musicians. I was against such practices, but then I learnt that nobody would sell for me, and that I have to be constantly pitching my services.

Each client/pitch brought something different with them, and I get to see the psychology of people coming from different backgrounds, which still excites me.

How do you think intellectual property trends in India will evolve with time?

Siva: The best part of IP is that it will always be dynamic. It can never stay stagnant, and there will always be something new coming into the world, and that too from India.

I can see the difference in clients’ approach from what it was 10 years ago. Today, courts and policymakers globally are discussing the IP created by AI and the functioning of blockchain technology to prevent copyright violations.

There is a constant race to come up with the next game-changing technology. In the medical space, devices are being invented to ease treatment and diagnose diseases. AIs are being created for local languages, which would also understand the way Indians think and work.

India is on the road to becoming a global market leader, not only in terms of manpower but also in terms of technology and development. MSMEs are working very hard to build their brands. Shark Tank India has become a household name today, and the pitchers have not only inspired adults, but several school-going kids are coming up with the next big idea.

People from rural areas are learning how to build machines from the internet, small businesses are filing trademark applications for their brands, and the artist community is finally proactive in filing copyright applications for their lyrics, music, and songs. Can we even imagine the mammoth growth that we’ll see in the next few years? I think we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Do you believe the democratisation of AI will make protecting IP complicated?

Siva: ‘Artificial Intelligence’. The name in itself speaks a lot. It should definitely be kept out of IP, and I am yet to understand why there is a question to give an IP right to an AI. Just a thought, tomorrow when robots will be advanced (which they will be), would you allow them to own or claim rights in properties/real estate? It’s just a big technology race that’s creating this whole chain of questions.

We’ve been reading instances of creators using AI to draw images, characters, write and compose songs. My take on that is of course, one should disclose if they used AI to create their work. But putting AI at the same pedestal as humans as a creator is a bit of a stretch. We are walking towards solving a plethora of problems.

So to answer your question, yes, it’s going to be unimaginably complicated. Ultimately, humans will infringe IPs standing behind AIs.

When it comes to marketing your practice, do you believe the Bar Council rules are a thing of the past?

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Siva: I respect the Bar Council Rules, and am also aware of my luck. The Rules have been made from an ethical standpoint, major being not to disrespect the profession. But, the reality is there is surrogate promotion/advertising by legal professionals. Social media, community platforms, and even Reddit, are commonly used. There are definitely a few practising Advocates who post an outright advertisement for the services they provide, along with coupon codes.

We all know why a website exists, but has a disclaimer that it’s not an advertisement. People talk about developments in their fields on social media, post case updates, etc. these are just the legit loopholes that have been found.

I believe that some tweaks and fresh guidelines can be put in place allowing legal professionals to promote themselves.

What are the three things you will tell someone who is looking to start their own practice?

Siva: Find ways to be motivated and inspired at all times. It’s true that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, and I have seen the ups and downs in a short amount of time since I started on my own. Staying motivated has been my biggest challenge. I would talk to my family and talk about random things. I would pick up the phone and call up my friends or seniors to seek motivation. Remember, you are looking for motivation, and not validation.

Patience: ‘Efforts compound to Results’. Staying patient and consistent is the key. Getting up everyday and looking for ways to increase your clientele and/or work is a lot of effort. It takes time, but it’s not impossible. I have known stories of my seniors and how they built their practices. The most common element is patience and discipline. Things might get hard, you might get lucky, there would be a lot of pressure, but if you are patient and always honest with your work, you will succeed. I hope I do.

Network: I learnt it very late that this is one of the primary things. One should be consistent in tapping into their networks and expanding it. More like a habit.

I am still learning to focus on these three aspects, but I don’t think there’s anything more to it. Knowledge will follow as long as one reads and stays updated with current developments.

What are your plans going forward?

Siva: I started off without knowing the intricacies of being a sole practitioner, and have been learning. I have realised that there are many people who are not aware of Media & Entertainment Law, or even IP for that matter. As my LinkedIn description says ‘Creating an IP Conscious India’, I am doing my bit to solve IP related issues for my clients, but am also providing basic essential knowledge that everyone should be aware of. I look forward to a time when everyone would naturally enter into written contracts, and not run away from the process.

I will eventually establish a team of counsels who have the same beliefs as I do, and we all compete together with the big firms.

I aim to reach out to artists, musicians, MSMEs and young inventors, and provide them with legal solutions. There’s so much awareness that needs to be created and a lot of scope both nationally and internationally. I am looking forward to working on more films/web-series and to building a team specialising in this field.

On the personal front, I want to make an example that the traditional methods might be here to stay, but a modern approach to have a work from home practice and virtual office also works wonders. I am aware of several companies who have been working in such setups way before Covid, and there will be several more.

I take this opportunity to thank Mr. Sourya from Ghostline Legal, and their whole team for providing me with this opportunity to share my thoughts and story on their ‘The Outlawed Series’. I would also like to thank my family, friends, batchmates and those lovely seniors who have given more than I could thank them for.


 

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