What has been your biggest professional challenge to date – and how did you overcome it?
I would say the decision to be a specialised trademarks and copyrights lawyer was a tough one. A few of my mentors in the legal profession advised against it and told me that it could become very compartmentalised in the long run.
I plunged into this focused field with a lot of confidence. Trademarks and copyrights will always be important to businesses. It is the name and the source identifier for a company. In the past 16 years of my career, I have delved into modern topics pertinent to today’s world, and I have kept myself relevant with the changing times and technology.
As the effects of the climate crisis become more apparent, sustainability claims are coming under increased scrutiny. What steps should brands take to address any accusations of greenwashing?
UPL is constantly working to reduce our environmental footprint and this has been part of our core philosophy since inception. Focused efforts to care for our environment are practiced every day across our business.
In 2021, UPL joined the United Nations Global Compact to Support Sustainable Development Goals, and we are on a mission to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We are also members of various initiatives like WBCSD, Responsible Care and Global Agribusiness alliance , and we communicate our initiatives and performance through our sustainability report.
What metrics do you use to measure the success of a global trademark strategy?
While a global trademark strategy is important, so are regional strategies. Regardless of such divisions, I am of the view that there are always two sides from which to judge this – business metrics and legal metrics.
The business metrics:
- trademarks being used on products and revenue goals being attained;
- market research indicating consumers prefer products bearing our trademarks, (basically visibility of the product).
- staying within budgets; and
- obtaining trademark registrations prior to product launch.
The legal metrics:
- trademarks being protected;
- successful policing of trademarks, including civil and criminal litigation as well as customs enforcement;
- correct pre-filing search strategies can be measured by the decreased number of objections being raised against our trademarks during the examination stage;
- differentiation of our trademarks and of our products from others on the market;
- lack of lapses of renewals; and
- success in adhering to all statutory/legal deadlines in a timely fashion.
UPL is at the cutting-edge of agri-business. How do you use brand strategy to promote and communicate the company’s innovations?
An innovation strategy is at the heart of any business plan, and such strategies are conveyed to the market through brands. Therefore, having an impactful brand strategy is very important for any company. The in-house trademark lawyers at UPL work very closely with the in-house marketing counterparts to create a trademark that has the potential to become a successful brand. We have brands that have been around for many decades, and the relationship between a brand and its associated innovation is crucial and co-dependent. Both can promote each other.
What are some of the biggest enforcement challenges that UPL faces in overseas markets, and how is the company addressing these?
UPL, including all our group companies, has a trademark portfolio of over 30,000 globally. We are brand- and innovation-centric, with many popular products and trademarks. This, however, attracts a lot of trademark and copyright violations. To tackle this, we closely manage all legal action globally from our department, the Global IP department. We work in tandem with local authorities, police, customs offices and other government bodies. The main issue that we face here is dealing with the local nuances and authorities. To have successful results, we loop in our attorneys and teams in those jurisdictions so that gaps can be filled and the actions taken have gravitas.
We also have a strong online/digital enforcement programme, where we monitor e-commerce websites. The main issue we face here is the lack of correct contact details of the copycat. We end up spending a lot of resources on investigations to get to the source. Of late, instead of hiring investigators, we have been briefing and training a few members of our field staff who have been able to gather preliminary information on target parties and have been able to find the correct addresses. If the target is a big one, we take greater legal action such as initiating civil suits or engaging in criminal raids. If the party is small, we send legal notices.
Global Lead Counsel - Trademarks
Ambalika Banerjjee is global lead counsel – trademarks at UPL Ltd. She manages the global trademarks portfolio of UPL and its group companies, and handles everything from enforcement and litigation due diligences, to contractual matters pertaining to trademarks. Ms Banerjjee graduated with an LLB from Delhi University and was awarded the Top 50 Emerging IP Players Award (Dubai) in 2019.