Career Interview with Sheetal Chopra, IPR Head, FICCI : Also Being a Patent Agent as a Career Option

btn_13435f3ccdd27d2000e3f9255a7e3e2c48800Neeati Narayan recently interviewed Ms. Sheetal Chopra, a registered Patent Agent and an author of the book on “Patent Agent Examination: A book for Industry professionals and students” published by Lexis Nexis.

She has rich experience working with/for the Industry. She is currently heading the activities of IPR division of FICCI (Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and is also an author at NIPO Academy.

The conversation moves from requirements and job profile of a patent agent, to the importance of knowing your law and building a first-hand connection with the industry.

NOTE: The interview was arranged courtesy of NIPO’s IP Academy which recently launched it’s course on Patent Law. See HERE.

Q. Hello Ms. Sheetal. Tell us something about yourself?

A. I am person with an inborn drive to teach and a never dying inclination towards experimenting with different things.

Due to this, I have dabbled in my fair share of working for different sectors in equally varying capacities.

I have been fortunate enough to acquire good experience working for the industry. Intellectual Property is a subject which started to grab more of my attention when I started my career in pharmaceutical sector as a scientist.

Since then there has been no looking back. It helped in enhancing my career contours from a real time “policy abider” to now a “policy facilitator”; “creator to enabler” etc.

Q. Why did you choose law (and in particular IPR) as your career choice?

A. Choosing law was never a career choice. I would say it happened by chance. I never envisaged my career in this field when I got my post graduation degree in Science (MSc).

After completing MBA programme. I happened to enter into the space of Intellectual property by a sheer incidence which took place in my first company.

With a science background this added lot more synergies and created a good techno-legal amalgamation.

Q. What is the job profile of a Patent agent?

A. A Patent agent helps an inventor/researcher/company in getting their Intellectual Property (creativity/inventions) protected under the IP laws.

His work is also like an architect who drafts an application in such a way that the invention/creativity gets adequate protection by appropriately fencing it using his technical and legal skills.

He prosecutes the application on behalf of his clients and interacts with intellectual property offices. His job is very exciting as he receives an opportunity to deal with inventions coming from different sectors.

Q. If someone aspires to become a Patent Agent, how do they go about it?

A. Experience in IP field certainly helps. But I would say even for those who do not have industry experience can also do fairly well. They must possess knowledge of the bare act (The patents act).

Going through past years’ question papers is must as it gives a complete understanding of the format of the examination. A sample of template answers can really help a lot.

In recent times, the pattern is completely changed. The questions are framed in such a manner that it intrigues the legal skills of the aspirant.

There are case studies which are being asked. Drafting skills is another important skill set which needs to undergo honing by the aspirants.

Q. You have authored a book titled “Patent Agent Examination: A book for Industry professionals and students” which was published by LexisNexis.

A. I conceptualized the book during the time I was myself preparing for patent agent examination. It was not an easy task to prepare for it as there did not exist guidance in the form of tutors or reading materials etc.

I had no formal legal education and hence, my own preparation for this exam was not a cakewalk as understanding the legal provisions was extremely tough. That’s when the idea of for authoring this book for the convenience of others took birth. It took me around three years to create its contents.

I think it took me around a year’s time to get the book into the market- a journey which included stages like establishing a connect with publisher, then book editing, book reviews etc.

Q. Patent law is perceived to be extremely tough by anyone who doesn’t come from a science background. Is this actually true?

A. I would agree to the notion that a science background really helps in this field. However, the sector is not covered by an exhaustive list of skill sets. Learning patent law tilts towards learning the legal nuances rather that pure science.

Therefore, if a person has both science and legal background, then it is a fantastic combination. Science background helps in understanding the inventions very well and legal knowledge helps in protecting the invention with appropriate fencing.

Q. What advice would you give to students who want to specialise in Patent Law?

A. I would advise more first-hand connect with researchers and inventors besides having thorough understanding of the technological developments taking place in different sectors.

Plus learning the difference in laws that exists in prominent jurisdiction is also must.

Q. You are heading the IPR division of FICCI. What kind of job responsibilities do you juggle to that effect?

A. Job responsibilities in FICCI are not only challenging but they are equally versatile and interesting. Working in FICCI is synonymous with big canvas of learning.

I work very closely with government and industry on advocating for policy reforms so that a conducive environment can be built and worked upon. Enforcement issues such as issues of piracy and counterfeiting captures more of our time.

Thus working with enforcement agencies like police and customs is an important area that I lead. Consumer awareness, IP education and capacity building on IPRs is yet another portfolio of mine.

Q. Please elucidate over the litigation aspect of IPR with special reference to Patent.

A. Litigation space in patents especially the ones in pharmaceutical sector has grabbed attention globally. The judgements being pronounced are well elucidated. IPR community is still debating on the appropriateness of judicial pronouncements.

Opinions are diverse and are well researched that it has become almost impossible to counter one over the other. I believe answering this questions is not so easy and requires a separate debate altogether.

Q. Three best advices which you would like to share with all budding lawyers (especially those trying to carve a niche for themselves in IPR)

A. I am not a lawyer myself. I do not have a formal legal education like LLB.

I am M.Sc. and MBA and have recently submitted my PhD thesis which I am pursuing from NLSIU Bangalore in IPR.

But given my experience in legal field, I can say that three best ways to excel in IPR would be:

  1. You must read a lot;
  2. You should be creator of an IP yourself in the form of something as small as an essay or even book writing or an invention. This helps in building trust in IPRs and its fair understanding;
  3. You should maintain first hand connect with industry which is creator of IP. And I would strongly recommend everyone to “know your laws”.

NOTE: The interview was arranged courtesy of NIPO’s IP Academy which recently launched it’s course on Patent Law. See HERE.


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