Understanding International Intellectual Property Rights

After reading the title of this week’s blog, I am sure some of you might be wondering why I chose to write on this topic; the blog will be long, convoluted, and tedious. And you would be wrong. This blog is going to be short and sweet.

There is no such thing as International Intellectual Property (IP) Rights. The end. 😀 

Copyright is a type of intellectual property right

The fact of the matter is IP rights are territorial. Each country creates its IP rights through national laws, and the laws can govern conduct only within that nation’s boundaries. However, there are several international IP treaties that establish ground rules such as how long should copyright or pattern last, defining what constitutes a trademark, etc. What these treaties do for the countries that join them is provide standards and a baseline for all to follow, thereby providing more protection and confidence to creators and inventors seeking to safeguard their creations.

The most crucial minimum standard set up by these treaties is the principle of National Treatment.

Under national treatment, a country that grants particular rights, benefits, or privileges to its own citizens must also grant those advantages to the citizens of other states while they are in that country. In the context of international agreements, a state must provide equal treatment to citizens of the other states participating in the agreement. Imported and locally produced goods should be treated equally — at least after the foreign goods have entered the market. The same goes for services, trademarks, and copyrights and patents.

Principles of the trading system, World Trade Organization

It means that countries that have signed these treaties must guarantee the same IP protection to foreigners that they provide to their citizens.

One of the first international treaties to recognise creators’ rights was the Berne Convention in 1886 for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. It provides creators such as authors, musicians, poets, painters etc., with the means to control how their work is used, by whom, and on what terms.

I know this is cliché, but international IP rights have taken on new importance with globalisation. Most significant businesses operate beyond their local boundaries and are truly multinational.  Trade is global, and there is no iron curtain. So, it is understandable that companies or creators want to protect their creations and maximise returns on their investments. This results in IP rights playing a significant role in international trade.

Sellers of pure IP products such as movies, literature, art, software, etc., will usually only sell to countries with robust IP rights.

Movies, literature, art.. Pure IP products

Today, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an agency under the United Nations, is responsible for promoting and protecting intellectual property across the world by cooperating with countries and international organizations. However, even if a signatory country does renege on IP rights, there is still no way to enforce any punishment, as IP rights are territorial and have to be enforced by the county itself.

It is also a fact that five developed countries receive around 90% of all technology royalties and licencing fees. This means that for developing nations to have access to the latest technologies or medication, they will have to pay a premium. As a result, developed and developing countries have very different attitudes towards IP.

Developed or first world countries try to maximise the economic benefits they get for their creations/services through strong IP rights/laws, arguing that robust IP rights are necessary to protect their significant investments in developing their products. Hence, if a developing country has strong IP laws, it is generally considered an excellent trading partner by most developed countries.

On the other hand, developing nations need modern technology and medication to advance and compete with other countries and improve the standard of living of their citizens. Developing nations can view strong IP rights as a tool the developed nations use to either deny or restrict access to modern technology, preventing them from growing or, in some cases, even surviving, making them reliant on the developed nation.

So, who is right? We all fall on one side or the other, and both have valid points of view.

Understanding International IP is not easy. It can be convoluted and complex, and at the end of the day, it depends on the laws of the country you operate in.

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5 key skills and attributes for effective Legal Leadership

Leadership is a subjective term. We see and hear about effective leaders leading a department, a company or a country. But it is difficult to really quantify or describe what leadership is. You can recognize good leadership examples when you see them but it’s difficult to define. Some leaders are ‘born leaders’, they are a natural, and excel at what they do, while others learn to become good leaders by cultivating attributes and skills, behaviours,  or sets of competencies, that are practiced and mastered to become an effective leader. 

I have talked in the past about Sustainable Leadership in our blog – what it is, and what its principles are. There could be several styles and types of leadership, and areas where leadership is required. One such areas is law and that is called legal leadership. Legal leadership particularly identifies how leaders behave, and how they govern others directly and indirectly, by controlling organizational structures and processes in a legal department or a law firm. 

Douglas B. Richardson says, “All great leaders do five things well, Imagine, Invent, Inspire, Inform, and Influence”. Though all leadership is fundamentally the same, legal leadership can take many forms, involve distinct roles and have different objectives. In a legal department, leadership has many faces: the chief legal officer (CLO), the managing attorneys, the servicing lawyers who work each day with the clients, and all of them should be leaders. Therefore, a legal leader is faced by a unique challenge of leading leaders as more often than not they end up leading other lawyers who are independent identities, individual contributors, pretty much people who do not follow anyone, do not like to be led, trust their own gut, and do not collaborate easily.  

Phew! Legal leaders have to be one hell of a leader!! 

Legal leadership can take many forms

Being a leader in a legal environment is challenging and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. So, what is required to be an effective legal leader? Law firms and corporate legal departments have identified some basic qualities and attributes that a leader should possess. Here are the five skills and attributes that are important for effective legal leadership: 

1. Collaborative skills 

Legal leaders usually find themselves managing large teams and complex cases. They usually have different and difficult sets of people at both ends of their stick. On one end are their own team members. And at the other end are the clients from diverse backgrounds, personalities, education levels, experience levels and requirements. The legal leader plays a key role in coordinating all the aspects, and people in bringing out the desired legal outcome. 

Exercise collaboration with effective communication.

A good legal leader should hit the ground running through effective and early communication amongst the team members, and letting everyone know their tasks after a brainstorming session. Follow up and make sure to listen to their colleagues’ ideas or the issues they are facing, and help them overcome their obstacles and provide the resources if required.  

A legal professional must weigh in everything, facts of the case, potential risks and their consequences

2. Good Judgement 

Success in any profession is highly dependent on good judgement, and this is especially true for the legal profession! It is one the most critical attributes that a legal leader must possess – to apply good judgement and make sound decisions. Legal professionals are faced by situations every day where they must make complex decisions by weighing in the facts of the case, evaluating potential risks and their consequences on the case and on the firm/organization.

Good judgement also requires excellent problem-solving skills. A good legal leader must be able to pre-empt the issues, and must have ideas and many solutions to a problem.  

However, the leaders must not isolate themselves or feel solely responsible for a decision. Though they are leaders, they are still a part of the team, and must seek input of their peers and other experienced legal professionals on critical matters.  

Self-awareness is an important quality of an effective legal leader

3. Self-awareness 

While most of the legal professionals, lawyers, and para-legals would call themselves lone-wolves and individual contributors, they are still part of a legal team. As they become leaders, most lawyers face a hurdle what’s called ‘expert identity trap’.  This means they identify themselves as subject matter experts but do not necessarily see themselves as a leader. Though several attributes are required to be a good legal leader, self-awareness is one of the key qualities of an effective one.  

All legal professionals are bound by the model rules of professional conduct

4. High ethical standards 

The legal profession is heavily based on trust, and each member’s ability to demonstrate highly ethical behaviour. Failure to do so will have many adverse outcomes such as not being able to gain the trust of their client and/or colleagues, and even more critical, being disbarred or legally charged and disciplined for misconduct. All legal professionals are bound by the model rules of professional conduct and they must understand their responsibility as the stakes involved are high! 

5. Diplomacy 

Diplomacy is one of the skills that a legal leader must have to climb the ladder of their legal career. A good leader must exercise diplomacy in handling clients, project the professional image of the firm, and must be respectful of their colleagues. The legal profession is an intensive and demanding career. It is critical for leaders therefore to keep calm and show virtues such as understanding, compassion, and integrity. Diplomacy is not something that one can learn overnight, it is a gradual, self-grooming process that can be effectively used to resolve any conflicts, and manage differences and disagreements. 

To be the best legal leader, it takes lot more than just being book-smart too; one needs to be street smart. Our MBA Legal Leadership prepares you just for that by providing a deep understanding of the key concepts and theories of leadership and their application in a law-oriented organization. Talk to our advisors today to learn more about the programme.