On a mission for IP policy and ‘Rösti’

Sharran John Thomas from India spent six months at the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI) working in the fields of international trade relations and technical cooperation. During his time here, he found out how protecting intellectual property (IP) can help foster local economies and learned about the work involved in international cooperation projects.

Nathalie Hirsig (Stellvertretende Leiterin, Nachhaltige Entwicklung und internationale Kooperation), Sharran John Thomas, Ursula Siegfried (Stellvertretende Leiterin Internationale Handelsbeziehungen). Copyright: IGE

What brought you to the IPI?

I’ve completed a plethora of internships in the past related to criminal litigation, company law and tax law, in an effort to figure out which legal field would best match my talents and skill set. This journey brought me to IP and then to IP policy, which appeared to be an area where you can affect tangible change on a grassroots level, unlike bigger corporate outfits where the emphasis is on increasing the bottom dollar.


Finding an area where I can use my legal education for the benefit of the masses whilst also taking into account my love of research and writing was an arduous process. After doing some online research, I found the IPI and read about the work it’s involved in. It seemed to tick all my boxes. Given the kinds of international projects the IPI implements, as well as the real-world impact it has on its target communities, my interest was certainly piqued. The rest, as they say, is history.


What was your mission?

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, as there were a few foreseeable hurdles that I believed I had to overcome, such as being a native English speaker with no working knowledge of German or French, as well as not entirely understanding what an internship in technical cooperation and policy entailed. What I did know for sure was that the decision to come here felt right, personally, and with respect to my career. I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of IP policy and learn about diplomacy and international cooperation on a hands-on level.


Now that my time here has come to an end, I can confidently say that my expectations were blown out of the water by the reality of this experience.


What fascinates you about IP?

In the present day and age, IP is everywhere: in the things we wear, see, read, etc. IP has quite literally become one of the most important building blocks of the modern age, and yet there are many places in the world that have not caught up with protecting IP rights well, which is a shame. That needs to be rectified.


I fell in love with IP in law school owing to the fact that many of my favourite hobbies relied heavily on their IP value: video games, books, songs, etc. have been at the centre of IP debates for many years now, and as a writer myself, I can appreciate the arguments. Taking that appreciation a step further and deciding to make a career of it took time and a lot of trial and error, but I am immensely satisfied with my decision.


What will you remember from the your six months here?

That’s a tough question, because there truly is so much that I will look back at fondly, starting with the incredible group of people I had the privilege of working with in the Sustainable Development and International Cooperation Unit, as well as the International Trade Relations Unit. Their friendly nature helped make my move to Switzerland less chaotic. The incredible mix of people in these units is truly emblematic of what they strive to accomplish with their international projects. I’ll also fondly remember the awe-inspiring natural beauty of this country, and the many delicious cheeses that I have grown to adore.


If, however, I had to pick one of the highlights of my internship, I would have to say that attending the 29th Session of the Committee on Development and Intellectual Property (CDIP) at WIPO in Geneva and reading a statement on behalf of Switzerland was incredibly surreal, and something that will stay with me for many years to come.


What will you take away from this internship for your future?

Honestly, there’s merit in everything I’ve learned here, and the variety of tasks I was given has helped me improve my IP knowledge. Since coming here, I’ve been able to get a better idea of what an IP policy career looks like. That has directly affected my own career aspirations and helped me streamline them.


There were many areas of international law that were new to me, and working at the IPI has allowed me to acquaint myself with these areas in a fulfilling way. That aside, attending international conferences and meetings at the WIPO and WTO has allowed me to witness what diplomacy looks like on an international scale, and that isn’t something you can fully understand by reading an article or watching an online stream.


What are your next steps?

Now that I have more of an idea of what a career in IP policy looks like, and what the requisite skill sets are, I reckon I’ll take a few months to gain technical proficiency in French or German. After that, I’ll pursue a policy position in Europe in a space like the IPI where true change is central to the mission, and not just a footnote at the end of a corporate speech. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up back here in the IPI one day. Wouldn’t that be something!


Note: In his spare time Sharran plays tennis and ‘tonnes of video games’, writes a lot of poetry and travels. In his six months in Switzerland, he discovered two Swiss dishes he loves: Rösti (a fried-potato dish) and Älpermagronen (Alpine macaroni).

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