How do you effectively build relationships with your clients? Which changes in IP practice have recently blown the market? Are Ukrainians ready to pay for content?  We have discussed this and more with Aleksandr Molotai, partner and the head of IP practice of “Evris” law firm in his interview for “Yurydychna Gazeta”.

Aleksandr, you are listed among the best lawyers in the IP practice. Could you please share some details on how your career have been developing. Who or what has influenced your development as a professional most?

This is an endless story. I have been lucky to work with good people and good companies. I started my career with Baker McKenzie as a paralegal in IP practice led by Aleksandr Martynenko, a well-known Ukrainian lawyer whom I sincerely respect. He is currently a partner at the Kyiv office of CMS Cameron McKenna, where I also worked in 2009-2012 under his leadership. He was the first person who had a notable influence on me and who helped forming my professional principles and skills. Moreover, Baker McKenzie’s role should not be underestimated given that this in an international law firm included into top rankings and famous for its high standards.

Then, I worked for the well-known “Dubynsky and Osharova” IP-boutique . This is a leading company that works with world’s most expensive brands. I was lucky to work under the leadership of Irina Osharova for 3 years; she helped me acquire and develop valuable professional skills and knowledge. I also worked with Mikhail Dubinsky. Anton Koval, Viktoriya Sopilnyak, Yulia Kolchenko joined the company during that period. Today they are top lawyers. I would be very surprised if they are not listed in the same ranking as I do.  That is, there are a lot of people who have influenced me and helped me develop my career. I appreciate their help.

It has been almost a year since you have joined the Evris team. Which were the most notable projects handled by you over past six months? What was the most interesting and most successful case during this period?

In fact, it is very interesting to work with Evris. There is a cliché – we are a young and dynamic company. It is true for our law firm. All people here are young and talented. The company has been drastically developing. Our practice is no exception. Many projects can be named among achievements, however they cannot be disclosed to the public, since we are bound by the confidentiality agreements.  Among the public projects, it can name the one related to protection of rights to the Global Spirits trademarks, which are used for products exported to China. We were dealing with patent trolling phenomena, i.e. the situation where certain individuals had registered our client’s trademarks for themselves and we had to win them back.

It was also interesting to work on an agreement between Mitsubishi Motors Ukraine and Ukrainian talented athlete Dariya Bilova whereby Dariya became the spokesperson of the Mitsubishi brand. She is a judoka and as you know, judo is a Japanese martial art. Therefore, the Japanese were interested in this project. She is also an attractive girl, so she had everything necessary for a Japanese company, and we helped them to make an agreement happen. It was interesting for us.

Share your own recipe for building effective customer relationships?

Effective relationships with the clients are based on several factors. First of all, you should understand the client’s business, as well as what exactly this business needs from you. We know that the value of any lawyer is in direct proportion to the amount of material values paid to him for the work done. In other words, the more you know about the business of your client, the better you understand what exactly the client needs, the more appropriate your advice will be. These are well-known ingredients referred to by any lawyer, but they are true.

Another important aspect for maintaining client’s relationships is search for compromises. Thus, we as a company have our own interests, and the client has his/her own. Therefore, you should always find some common grounds in order to make our aid and legal advice appropriate and financially feasible. In addition, personal relationships have to be built properly.

In terms of personal relationships, what do you think of sending regular holiday greetings to the clients?

I don’t support this idea. High-quality work is my gift to the clients. However, our company holds to democracy, so a partner can decide whether to send holiday greetings and gifts to his/her clients. Of course, clients are pleased to receive small reasonable gifts on holidays. I don’t mean the last model Mercedes. I mean some nice small gifts that will remind us to our client and show our care. For example, this New Year, we presented lap blankets branded with the logo of the company. As i speak of this I imagine my client’s child or wife wrapped up in this blanket, and the client would be pleased to know that we took care not only about his business but also about the family.

Based on your, experience, how many clients pay attention to the rankings while choosing a law firm?

Rankings are payed attention mainly by those companies which are not familiar with the domestic legal market. Usually, these are Western companies willing to verify expertise their vis-a-vis, their legal service provider. Expertise of a legal advisor is reflected in various rankings In addition, there are different rankings: national, international, etc.

Indeed, international companies want to see that we are also ranked internationally under the principles they are familiar with. It means that a ranking based on the profitability criterion is less informative for the client. If it is based on customer feedbacks or even better on the references of colleagues, the value of such ranking is completely different. However, as far as I know, our Western clients sometimes pay attention to national rankings, as well.

Which changes in IP have had the greatest impact on the development of practice over the past year?

There were only two key changes. First of all, the so-called royalty law was adopted. This is a complete reboot of our royalty collection system. The accreditation process of new collective management organizations authorized to collect royalties in various spheres is currently underway. Deficiencies of our royalty collection system is the main reason we have always been listed in the US sanction list as the country with the highest piracy level. We hope that reboot of this system will help improve the reputation of Ukraine. Today it is difficult to predict how the system will work under the new law but at least the rules have been clarified in more detail. We shall see shortly.

Secondly, the reform of the intellectual property protection system. We had the State IP Service which should be reformed into the National Authority on Intellectual Property. However, I would not criticize the old system. In my opinion, compared with other state authorities, the patent system of Ukraine, i.e. the system of IP protection worked quite efficiently and performed its functions, except for issues related to royalty collection. Examination of applications for inventions, trademarks, industrial designs was carried out quite efficiently, quickly and fairly.

This can be supported by the fact that our agency received the status of a search and expert body of the international patent system under the patent cooperation agreement; the reform has started afterwards. Unfortunately, we can only hope that everything would function like a Swiss watch after the reform’s implementation, however currently the situation appears to be less promising. The number of experts has decreased, the period of examination has been extended, the quality remained at approximately same level. However, since financial flows and powers were redistributed the system began to work less effectively. It seems that it is still being reformed but i wish this process had a clear deadline instead of a promise to finish it as soon as possible.

At the same time, a lot of changes were neglected. No changes were made to the copyright law, patent laws, etc. Probably, this is due to the political situation; following submission of the changes to the Parliament the electoral race began; hence, they become less important. Also, we did not see a specialized intellectual property court, as promised. So it did not work. Many foreign colleagues envied us due to the prospects of IP court establishment.

But the selection procedures are still pending…

Yes, but we expected this court would have been established by the end of 2018 as we discussed at a meeting with one of the members of the High Qualification Commission of Judges in the beginning of 2018. Now it is the middle of 2019 and the court has not bee established yet. Therefore, the prospects are disappointing. After all, when I told my western counterparts that we would have a specialized IP court formed they were envy. Turned out, they also felt lack of required level in IP cases their countries given the specifics of this category of cases. There is such a nice initiative in Ukraine, but so far it is only an initiative.

In your opinion, whether Ukrainians become more complient with IP rules? Is there an understanding that content should be duly paid up, that the authors deserve reward and recognition? Is striving for consumption of pirated content still on top?

The market develops based on compromise: each person has his/her own understanding how much she/he would agree to pay for own idea of comfort. Perhaps, $ 5 paid for movie in the Apple Store would be expensive for a retired person, but it’s an affordable price for young working people. In addition, pirate resources have their weaknesses. They offer poor quality products and insert ads into their content. Watching such movies with children may be dangerous, because advertising is different. Therefore, people choose platforms with paid content and remain satisfied instead of worrying.

Given that a fair number of such platforms has been growing in Ukraine, this issues is not problematic anymore. Prices for our region have been also decreasing. Therefore, I’m not sure that people become more conscious, it is rather a question of comfort-price ratio. If these indicators reach a certain balance, people get comfortable to pay for the content. People do go to the cinema and pay for watching movies. We don’t have “pirate cinemas” where you can get without paying for a ticket. Watching movies at home should be the same.