COVID-19: Business as usual

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Sponsored Update

Despite the disruption created by the lockdown, Remfry & Sagar has been providing real-time updates on IP matters to clients

The Second World War, the Great Depression, the Spanish Flu – text book events for most – are used to evoke the scale of COVID-19’s impact on our lives and the world economy. An underlying message of resilience also comes through. For us at Remfry & Sagar, an example nearer to home is the firm’s 193-year-old legacy – it reassures us that the time-tested characteristics at the core of our institution bode well for riding out the storm.

A step into the future

By mid-March it looked likely that India was going to head into a lockdown. The firm began preparing for a transfer to offsite working capabilities and gave much thought to how every function, from the mail room to docketing, to seamless execution, would remain unaffected.

COVID-19
Ashwin Julka
Managing partner
Remfry & Sagar

Software was updated and necessary bandwidth ensured to prevent any negative impact from the instantaneous uptick in remote access. Data security measures were stress-tested. On 18 March, all attorneys were asked to work from home to test the readiness of our systems; this proved prescient as, later that day, businesses were officially asked to close the following day. The success of rapid transfer to remote working is anchored in the firm’s continual investment in state-of-the-art technology. First in the country to buy a microprocessor-based Indian computer in the late 1970s, we pride ourselves on systems that are best in class.

Today, every member can securely access our database from any location, and we are equipped to conduct all business with the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trademarks (IP office) electronically, including attending hearings via video-conferencing. The same holds true for matters before the courts, which have adopted video-conferencing as a mode of hearing urgent matters during the lockdown, as well as clients who may wish to hold discussions over a video call.

The firm’s records are fully digitized and our proprietary (and award-winning) case management solution enables end-to-end case docketing, tracking and deadline management. Thus, timely alerts continue to reach clients and matters are being attended to efficiently within stipulated timelines. Our proprietary database comprising records of all trademark, patent and design details published by the IP office also enables us to render accurate advice on a real-time basis. The digital tools that form the backbone of our services ensure that it is business as usual for our clients.

Relationships at our core

Remfry & Sagar has more than 8,000 clients across the world, and associations with several of them go back decades. It has 250-plus members, with one of the lowest attrition rates in the industry (less than 3%) and a third of our members (including 16 of the 18 partners) have been at the firm for more than 10 years. These relationships are the core strength of our practice. They have matured through good times and testing times, and attest to the stability and continuity we offer.

To share an anecdote, in 1977, trade union activity led to the closure of the firm’s head office in Kolkata, and meant an overnight shift to Delhi. Not a sheaf of paper could be taken out of the office – but clients came to our rescue and helped replenish all missing records. Their cooperation ensured the firm was able to minimize disruption, and examples of such goodwill drive us even today.

In the current scenario, clients need to know the impact on their rights; updates involving IP office closures, extension of deadlines, and the functioning of the courts are being sent across as soon as we learn anything. Many of our associates in the hospitality, travel and aviation industries have suffered, and we are committed to partnering with them in overcoming the crisis; one way is through alternative/deferred billing schemes.

Our teams are connecting over video calls to discuss work, but also to maintain the spirit and camaraderie of office life. Knowledge sharing is another key element of the Remfry workplace. We are making sure to harness digital platforms to conduct virtual training sessions and to make presentations both to team members and our clients.

Future scenario

It is uncertain how the COVID-19 situation will play out. Safety and health remain our top concern, and this alone will drive measures involving a return to working from office again, whenever that becomes feasible. Meanwhile, multiple scenarios are being evaluated to identify contingency plans for short- and long-term disruptions to normal business.

Going forward, we will look at the re-organization of resource pools to address cost concerns. We are continuing to secure new opportunities to expand our practice, and this gives hope of a return to better times. The firm’s plans to go paperless by the end of 2020 have been automatically advanced. The benefits and drawbacks of “work from home” have become clear; the concept is here to stay, and learnings from this time will be useful. A collaborative, creative and flexible approach will be key in navigating through these unprecedented times. Each of us is adapting to meet the new normal, and I am hopeful we will all meet again soon.

Ashwin Julka is the managing partner at Remfry & Sagar. He can be reached at [email protected]