So You Want to be an IP Litigator? Interview with Sangeetha Punniyamoorthy of DLA Piper

Sangeetha Punniyamoorthy is a partner, intellectual property lawyer, and trademark agent at DLA Piper (Canada) LLP. With over 15 years of IP practice, Sangeetha has significant expertise in the areas of copyright, patent, and trademark law. She has chaired the IP and IT Law Section Executive of the Ontario Bar Association, as well as the Copyright Policy Committee of the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada, and presently serves on the Canada Amicus committee of the International Trademarks Association. She is currently Chair of the Intellectual Property and Technology group at DLA Piper Canada.

Though Sangeetha has built a practice in intellectual property, she did not come into law school with the sole intention of becoming an IP lawyer. “I have a science background, but didn’t know much about the practice of law, or even intellectual property, before starting law school. I took all the foundational courses in first year to keep my options open, and was an RA for an Osgoode professor during my first year summer. I took a copyright course in second year with Professor Carys Craig, and that piqued my interest in IP and lead to courses in patents and trademarks. Those were the courses I enjoyed the most in law school. Also, during my second year summer, I worked at Parkdale Community Legal Services, which provided my first exposure to litigation. We had the opportunity to examine witnesses and make submissions at oral hearings. My litigation experience at Parkdale changed my legal path. I ended up articling at Dimock Stratton LLP, a boutique law firm that specialized in intellectual property litigation, and this experience launched my career in IP. I loved the work that I did during my articles and I really liked the people who were mentoring and teaching me.”

Sangeetha has appeared as counsel before the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court, the Ontario Court, the Trademarks Opposition Board, and the Competition Tribunal, and also has an active prosecution and opposition practice focused on global trademark portfolios. Even with years of experience, an intellectual property practice comes with its challenges: “IP is such a fun area of law. The hard part on the advisory and litigation front is that nothing is ever certain: you can give odds or a likelihood that a case will go in a certain direction but you never really know how the evidence will come out or how a Judge will decide. On the protection front, there is a view that IP protection will garner automatic commercial success but it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes IP is a sword, other times, it is a shield, and sometimes it is broader than a sword and shield. A good IP team can help businesses decide how to creatively protect and enforce key business assets.

Sangeetha also notes how the practice of IP law has evolved: “The practice of IP law has become increasingly global. Although laws are largely jurisdictional based, a more global approach is taken by clients both with litigation and prosecution matters. Canada may not be the key market for most clients, but we always play a role. In the future, I see IP law becoming even more collaborative with international players. Even with more international collaborations, any skilled practitioner has to know their own jurisdictional landscape and how to creatively and quickly adjust to challenges, and maximize the pros and cons of your jurisdiction within the global strategy.”

Though Sangeetha has already had nothing short of an exceptionally successful career in intellectual property, she defines success in the role of an IP lawyer and litigator as someone who has a continuous desire to learn and is supported by a great team. “Especially when it comes to patents, when you learn about a technology, you need to understand it as well as the inventor. It always comes down to hard work and learning about the client’s business to best advise them on their IP strategy. The most important thing that you bring as a lawyer is critical thinking, which is a learned skill.

As a student or junior lawyer interested in pursuing a career in intellectual property, Sangeetha encourages individuals to continue to learn about the area. “If you think you’re interested in IP, talk to IP practitioners, take IP courses, utilize the incredible IP Osgoode resources, join committees, give me a call! It’s important to learn as much as you can and have a desire to work hard. When I meet a candidate, I want to know why they want to work in IP and perhaps more importantly, who they are, their beliefs, and the challenges they have faced in their lives. At the end of the day, your legal practice is just one facet of your life, albeit a large one, and therefore you want to work with the best team possible.”

Written by Alessia Monastero, Intellectual Property and Branding Lawyer and IPilogue Senior Editor.

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