Careers in intellectual property in India

I am providing here some guidelines and information for young people pursuing careers in IPR to help them plan their careers.

Here are different roles that people in the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) field (with emphasis on patents) play:

  1. Drafting (here, building a rapport with inventors, understanding inventions and prior art in detail, building strong “story lines”, strategizing protection strategy, articulating inventions and understanding nuances of language is very important)
  2. Filing, Prosecution
  3. Litigation
  4. Teaching/ training, awareness, popular writing
  5. Research, policy, philosophy, advocacy
  6. Running in-house IP offices within organisations (including developing efficient and transparent procedures, building awareness and momentum, mobilising resources etc)
  7. Literature search and reports; informatics
  8. Analytics and strategy
  9. Administering patent portfolios (focuses more on meeting legal requirements and costs)
  10. Strategic management of patent portfolios (focuses more on aligning portfolios and organisational strategic objectives)
  11. IP/ technology assessment and marketing
  12. IP/technology transfer/ commercialisation with an emphasis on structuring deals, developing commercialisation models, negotiations
  13. IP related agreements including those related to collaborative research, ownership, administration, exploitation, transfer etc
  14. Examiners and other roles in the Indian Patent Office
  15. The IP-IT interface: Software platforms for data and flow management

One person could be doing one or more of the roles above. In the Indian context, mosts Indian institutions are novices to the field of IPR and so role specialisation is rare. Very often, one person has to carry out several of the tasks above.

Roles can emphasise interaction with different communities:

  • Inventor facing roles  (ex: 1, 6, 7, 13)
  • Client/ licensor facing roles (ex: 11, 12, 13)
  • Examiner/ Indian Patent Office facing roles (ex: 2)
  • Top management facing roles (ex: 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15)
  • Student/ scholarly community facing roles (ex: 4, 5)

If you are in each of these roles, it is important that you build credibility with the community you are facing and you understand the thought process of the community you are facing (and show empathy).

Different roles require different strengths:

  • Depth in science and technology (ex: 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12)
  • Understanding of the law and implications (ex: all roles)
  • Training in law (ex: mainly 3, 13 but also 4, 5)
  • Understanding of business planning, finance, strategy (ex: 6, 8, 10, 12)
  • Marketing skills and orientation (ex: 11, 12)
  • Excellent communication skills in English (ex: 1, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, 13)
  • Negotiation skills (ex: 12, 13, 6, 2)
  • IT skills (ex: 15 and sometimes 8)

A couple of observations: It is clear that the field is multidisciplinary and often you need to be multi-dimensional to succeed. It is also clear that some roles are more specialised (and hence less commoditized).

So how should you prepare for a career in IP?

  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Understand your motivations and orientation. Do not try to get into something where you are weak and have no or weak intentions to build as a strength. For ex, with weak or poor communication skills, it is hard to be good at drafting. For ex, with a poor grounding in science, it is hard to take up roles requiring an in depth understanding of the invention and prior art.
  • Unfortunately, there is no simple recipe. Your preparation depends a lot on which roles you wish to emphasise. If you still need a simple answer, I suggest start with a basic recipe of a grounding in science/ engineering  and strong communication skills, and then add to that an understanding of IP law and/or business.  A general rule I recommend —- seek out good programs and not the easiest to join (which by being easy get commoditized).
  • This is one field where mere academic preparation is not enough —- experience and self-learning is essential. I always recommend self-learning by compiling and studying classic cases in detail including the original patents, the case papers, news articles etc. This is one of the best ways of learning in this field — second only to learning from somebody with experience or in an organisation with considerable volume and variety, both of which are in short supply in India.



On social enterprises

In my view, social enterprises are a class of enterprises which:

  • Have business models that are sustainable (Note: Profits or surpluses are the simplest and cleanest route to sustainability and growth; but other ways exist)
  • Create value for society (or some part of it) by offering products and/or services that address certain problems or unmet needs of society, but in the case of social enterprises also: 1) create significant positive social and/or environmental impact and/or 2) serve marginalized, under-served sections of society; typically those who have limited ability to pay for products and services or have limited access or could represent an unattractive commercial market segment, and/or 3) create significant enhancement in quality of life, productivity, upward mobility of the economically weaker sections of the society.
  • Inspires considerable good-will in society and can thus enlist the support of the government, charitable organisations, employees, customers, suppliers, investors etc.

Social enterprises have to be sustainable initiatives like any other commercial enterprises. The basics of building a social enterprises are the same as for commercial enterprises. The key difference is only in how they arrange to secure their resources.

What constitutes a social enterprise is always contextual and changes with locations, times and specifics in each society.

Examples of social enterprises:

  • A company addressing societies most pressing problems like health, water, food, energy etc with an element of compassion such as a company delivering clean drinking water in rural India, a company building local distributed clean energy solutions in rural India etc
  • A company addressing needs of the disabled and aged.
  • Companies working towards addressing the UN’s Millennium Development Goals by offering affordable solutions in the poorest regions of the world.

Examples of enterprises unlikely (note: I am aware that there are exceptions) to be social enterprises:

  • A cigarette company
  • A luxury fashion chain
  • A jewellery chain
  • A sports car company

What is entrepreneurship?

I am often asked about the word entrepreneurship. What does it mean? How is it different from doing business (if at all)? Here is what I have learnt so far.

At the very heart of entrepreneurship is an entrepreneur — a person who is seized of an opportunity to build/deliver a product/ service of value to people and is trying very hard to find and put into practice a sustainable way to build/deliver the product/service for the benefit of society (or some part of the society). Two important features of entrepreneurship are a) the often lonely belief of the entrepreneur in the opportunity (often against the trends and dominant thinking of the times; this grand vision of the entrepreneur is a very important element) and b) pursuit of an opportunity that requires resources (funds, people, infrastructure etc) beyond what is readily available and efforts to put together resources creatively to make the entrepreneurial effort possible. Entrepreneurship is merely the journey of an entrepreneur.

So how is entrepreneurship different from doing business? Entrepreneurship is not focussed on the daily financial transactions but on the grand vision of entrepreneur to create something of value. He/she cannot ignore financial transactions but that is not the heart of the entrepreneurship journey.  The overarching vision of the entrepreneur is the clear driving force and resource planning is done to accommodate that vision (and not vice versa where the available resources determine the goals). Yet another important aspect is to remember is that when the final goal is important, entrepreneurs will find creative ways to build the organisation that will realise the vision of the entrepreneur —- and that need not only be the traditional commercial businesses where the backbone of resource planning is arranging finance/ capital.  So, an entrepreneur will arrange resources whichever way he/she thinks is most conducive to the project….. that could include seeking in-kind contributions, appealing to employers/ suppliers/ customers’ good-will to arrange resources, seeking grants from government agencies and charitable organisations etc. Some entrepreneurs may even choose to work within existing organisations to give shape to their vision.

So, are you an entrepreneur? You can be one. You need to have the following:

  • A vision to build something of value for some part of society
  • Willingness and confidence to walk alone against the wind
  • An infectious ability to transmit your vision and passion
  • A commitment, plan and execution abilities to arrange and manage resources sustainably.

Can anybody be an entrepreneur? Yes, I think so.  First find your passion and purpose, and be convinced that it is worth pursuing against the odds. The rest can be learnt via practice and experience.