|Mr. Amar Raj Lall. Image from here.|
Most of you in Delhi must have already heard about the passing away of Mr. Amar Raj Lall, Senior Partner of Lall, Lahiri & Salhotra (LLS) on the 6th of September, 2012. Although I knew Mr. Lall for only a very brief period, I have several lovely memories of sitting in his office, during a month long internship, listening to him narrating stories about his fascinating life.
As a lowly intern I had expected to spend most of my internship in the shadows of the library unnoticed. However, just a few days into my internship, Mr. Lall had strolled into the library to pick up a book when he noticed me in the shadows and being the gentleman that he was started a conversation with the ‘lowly intern’ and invited me back to his room for a cup of tea and what would turn out to be the start of several sessions of fantastic storytelling. In the world of workaholism and gargantuan egos, it is the rare event to find a senior partner who thinks it necessary to actually strike a conversation with an intern but it is the little things like this which add up to the wonderful person that was Mr. Lall.
But getting back to his story telling sessions, these stories ranged from how he witnessed first-hand the horrors of Partition, especially since his family migrated from what is now Pakistani Punjab, to how he smuggled across to India, during Partition, guns which were family heirlooms and which he was loath to leave back in Pakistan. On the IP front he had countless stories on the actions he had taken to protect, amongst other, Coca-Cola’s trademark, often wearing the dual hats of investigator actually scouring the countryside for possible infringers and then acting as a lawyer to sue possible infringers. Those were the old days when we didn’t yet have a specialized corps of investigators. I think his law firm, LLS, continues to advise Coca-Cola on its Indian IP. With regard to his personal life, I do remember him saying something about being quite the hockey player in his younger days and a very proud father to his three adult children, two of whom are IP lawyers – Ms. Anuradha Salhotra who has been actively heading LLS, the law firm that Mr. Lall left behind and Mr. Chander Lall who heads his own IP law firm and the third being Mr. Anil Lall whom Mr. Senior Lall described to me as a computer genius and if I’m not mistaken he also played a critical role in the launch of one of the job websites, I think Naukri.com.
It has been more than 5 years since that internship and unfortunately I don’t remember most of the remaining stories, so let me just stick to what I can remember about his life as a lawyer.
Mr. Lall, a barrister at law, educated and trained as a lawyer at one of the Four Inns of Court in England, used to practice IP law at Remfry & Sagar, before setting up his own firm. In fact, even till date, Mr. Jyoti Sagar (founder of JSA), the nephew of the late Dr. Vidya Sagar (founder of Refmry & Sagar) constantly acknowledges Mr. Lall as one of the most important influences in his life. In an interview with Bar and Bench a few years ago Mr. Sagar had stated “Mr. Amar Raj Lall (now a Senior Partner at the IP firm Lall Lahiri & Salhotra) was a great influence. I had the privilege of working very closely with Mr. Lall for over a decade. He was a person who taught me to get in to detail and depth of a matter. He would say, “Assume nothing, see it for yourself”.
I think Mr. Lall’s most important contribution to IP law in India is the landmark Whirlpool case where the Supreme Court of India for the first time recognized the doctrine of ‘trans-border reputation’. Advertising, branding and India’s integration with the global economy may have been a very different story if the Whirlpool case would have been decided in any other way. Let me explain why.
As most of you must know India’s economy was closed to most foreign companies till 1991. Once the economy was liberalized and foreign companies began to enter India, several of them noticed to their horror that local Indian manufacturers had usurped their trademarks. Since ‘use of a trademark’ is one of the most important elements in ensuring control over a trademark and since foreign brands could not have ‘used’ their trademarks in India due to market controls, most foreign brands were not in a position to establish that they had actually ‘used’ their mark in India thereby risking loss of their brands to Indians who would mint money off their reputation. The only way that foreign IP owners could swing matters in their favour was by proving that their trans-border reputation in their home countries had spilled over into India, especially in the target market of the upper middle or middle class through either international travel of Indians or the circulation of Indian magazines in India. It wasn’t the easiest argument, in a country which was only just opening up to foreign trade and which still suffered from a serious colonial hangover.
However, with Mr. Lall at the helm of the case for Whirlpool, the Supreme Court was soon convinced of the ‘trans-border reputation’ argument. This argument of ‘trans-border reputation’ has been used countless times since then to save a number of foreign trademark from unscrupulous Indian businesses.
As is the case with any proud lawyer, Mr. Lall too was deeply found of his library which he named after Blanco White, a famous barrister in England who was also renowned for his expertise in IP. In fact Blanco White has also argued patent cases before the Bombay High Court. I remember Mr. Lall telling me that he actually went up to Mr. White during one of his visits to London and specifically asked him for his permission to use his name. Unlike most other proud library owners, Mr. Lall was more than willing to share his library with the rest of the world. In fact, even today the website of LLS carries the following notice “Use of the library is open to all persons interested in the study of Intellectual Property, upon application.” You don’t see that welcome sign on the websites of most other law firms.
Just to be sure, apart from the chatting, we also did quite a lot of work. The depth of his research, his oratory skills, his attention to detail and his charming manner with his clients all combined to make him the skilled lawyer that we shall remember him for.
Unfortunately, I never really stayed in touch with him after that internship and that is something which I began to regret when I heard of his passing away a few hours ago. But nevertheless I’m glad that I knew him for that brief period.