Editor-in-chief Janhavi KM interviewed Meenakshi Prasad who spoke about her experience of pursuing LLM in IP & Competition Law from Munich Intellectual Property Law Center, Max Planck Institute. You will find the answers to your questions about this LLM Program here!
(You can also watch it here)
About the guest:
Meenakshi is a Technology & IP Law professional with over three years of experience. She has an LLM in IP & Competition Law from Munich Intellectual Property Law Center, Max Planck Institute.
She is currently working as a Legal Unit & Data Protection Trainee at the Community Plant Variety Office in Angers, France. She has prior work experience at Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan. She has also worked in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. She was a rank-holder in her Undergraduate days at Amity University.
I know that you worked a little bit before going forward with your Masters. Why did you choose to do an LLM?
Very early on, since law school, I think I had it in my mind that I might want to go and do a Masters just to get an international perspective on things, exposure and experience that one year. One year is not enough of a time commitment, but maybe some money commitment. I had not decided on my specialisation at that time, but I was mostly thinking of Public International Law because I was interested in it during law school. In my fourth year, I did a Moot Court Competition where I became more interested in IP. The competition revolved around traditional knowledge and patent law, so I had an opportunity to read about as well as work in these areas. In the fourth year, IPR was a mandatory subject for us and it covered everything. I did fairly well in the subject which I thought was good motivation. So, I went on to do a Post-Graduate Diploma from the Indian Society of International Law (ISIL). It was eye-opening and I felt like it was a subject that was going to be relevant for a very long time. That was the reason why I decided on IP.
I decided to work for a little more time before going. There are some schools in the UK that do not expect a lot of work experience if you did well academically and if you are inclined to do a Masters. But, I personally felt that in order for somebody to get a scholarship, and to be sure about the subject , the experience will give you an upper hand in knowing if you want to pursue this line and is an investment you want to make.
How did you zero down on this University?
I remember when I was in law school, I made a list of over twenty colleges where one can do their Masters from. Then I kept narrowing it down depending on the course, what they offer, duration, the money required, scholarship options, etc. People have different expectations from their Masters and what they want to do afterwards. For me, it was mostly about getting international exposure, but also being part of a cult group, something that is well-valued in the system. Max Planck in general holds a very high value when it comes to research, technology matters, data protection- all of it. I think Max Planck definitely holds a cult value when it comes to the European Union. I felt that if I want to work in the European Union and have that exposure, Max Planck was the only option. There are other options as well, but I felt Max Planck has a higher brand value. Apart from that, I was thinking of applying to a couple of places. When I started my applications, I was thinking of working for a little bit longer. So this was the only application that I made.
What is the eligibility criteria?
I think most of the Master’s programs require an English Proficiency Test. People take TOEFL or IELTS, depending on the jurisdiction. The USA mostly takes TOEFL, while other common law jurisdictions like Canada, UK take IELTS. I took TOEFL 2 years back. Max Planck accepts both TOEFL and IELTS. In case you don’t have either of them, you can also apply for a waiver by writing to your University, which will then give you a letterhead stating that you have completed your education in English. I feel that TOEFL and IELTS scores add to your profile as it is a technical certificate that you can speak English.
Other eligibility criteria were: 1-year specific experience in IP or related fields like trade, investment, competition, commercial corporate law (they may take you in as a fresher too as an exception). You also need one letter of motivation and two letters of reference from academic or professional places. I chose both - 1 from the Ministry and another from my law school.
What about the Visa requirements?
Applying for a Student Visa in Germany is very difficult. Germany requires foreign skilled professionals mostly in the areas of technology. For law students, it becomes difficult because you need to find slots. You don’t directly apply to the Embassy. You have to go through this organisation called the Visa Application Center (the VFS). They handle all the documentation and then send your application to the Embassy. Since finding a slot with VFS can be quite messy, my advice is to start well in advance. While you apply for a Visa, there are a couple of things that you need to do beforehand. They ask for an English test. If you don’t have proof of an English test, Max Planck can write for you saying that you have completed all your education in English and have been accepted as an incoming candidate at the Institute. Additionally, you need to get health insurance in India which will then translate into another health insurance in Germany. It is a two-step procedure for insurance. Then there is a Bank Account. For a bank account specifically in Germany, you need a block bank account (a bank account with a certain limit in which a specific amount has been blocked for safety purposes), especially as an Indian student. The list of all requirements is available on the VFS Website.
How long did it take you to complete this procedure?
I started a little late because I was working and also pondering at the same time if I want to go right away. I think I started in June (and I am talking about the pre-pandemic times), so it took 2-3 months for me. I did everything on my own and it can become complicated. In case someone has a shortage of time, that would be another factor they may want to consider.
How was the course structure in your University?
The MIPLC and the Max Planck are packed with a lot of courses. What I feel is underrated about the MIPLC is that they focus on the EU laws, the US and the international system as well. The focus is on giving different points of view on different subjects. The MIPLC is a collaboration project between the Max Planck, the Technical University of Munich, the George Washington University in the USA and the Augsberg University in Germany. We have faculty coming from George Washington University. There is a Summer Session in the second semester where one can choose subjects from a whole list which are then taught with another batch of students that come from George Washington University.
It is an elaborate course that is divided into many parts. The first part consists of mandatory basic courses comprising of the basics of IP & Competition Law, like the EU Competition Law, US Competition Law, EU Trademarks, Patents, Copyrights, etc. Irrespective of your specialisation, they make sure that you at least know the basics. Before the basic courses, there is also an introductory session which is like an induction into the courses. The second part consists of Electives and Advanced Courses. The third part comprises of Seminars, where everybody prepares a Seminar paper, which is like writing a thesis. Every student writes a seminar paper, presents it and discusses technical issues. You also need to take the Thesis module. This is a good experience for those who are inclined towards research, writing and learning. There is only so much time in a year, so you need to allocate some of it for your thesis and seminar paper.
You mentioned being on the same level as everybody else coming from different backgrounds. How did you then settle in?
The batch size at the MIPLC is fairly small-30 to 38 students at the most. The number of Indians are also limited. They probably don’t take more than 5 Indians in a batch to ensure representation. The MIPLC also has tie-ups with the Japanese Government and the DAAD which offers scholarships to students from developing countries. This ensures that we have diversity in our batch, which means there is an inculcation of different ideas and perspectives. There is no scale to measure whether you are on the same level or not. When you go after completing the requirements, you start from the basics. Even someone not from an IP background (which are many, by the way) can still catch up. The introductory and basic courses help you get at par with everybody else.
Even though I had writing experience, incorporating the thesis work, seminar paper, working on job applications, exams etc was too much for me. A lot of people had already thought of their thesis topic and wrote about something that they had already researched upon, worked with deeply and was close to them. I was very ambitious and chose subjects that were upcoming and I wanted to learn about.
How did you fund yourself?
The only scholarship I applied for the MIPLC Scholarship which I realised later is mostly offered to students coming from jurisdictions that are less represented. Considering that I worked for a couple of years, I self-financed myself, and the rest was funded by my family.
Can you work part-time while doing an LLM, considering that the course is very rigorous?
Technically speaking, it is possible. It depends upon how many courses you opt for. Since it is a law centre within the Max Planck Institute, there is no campus as such. In case somebody is looking for campus life, they will not find it there. There are no on-campus jobs, like Research Assistantships and Fellowships. You will have to look for external opportunities.
Do you think an LLM actually adds value to your career, irrespective of whether you wish to stay abroad and work or come back to India?
Given how the Indian legal system works where each year matters and makes you eligible for a new position especially in law firms, going for a one-year course may make you feel like you will be one year behind your peers if you want to come back. I personally think that it is worth the investment and gives you the kind of tools and resources that you need in order to become a more refined professional. It not only gives you networking opportunities but also knowledge of a particular field. If someone wants to do an LLM in IP, but also explore other fields, there are Masters programs where you can take IP as a subject along with other subjects. I feel an LLM adds value for sure, especially if you do it from a well-known University. For certain jobs and internships, having a Masters degree is a mandatory requirement. Given the current strained legal market, getting jobs is difficult. If you get the opportunity to attend in-person classes and be a part of a group, I think it is a wise decision to study.
Most of the career opportunities we see are in law firms as an attorney. Are there enough opportunities in the field of research or do you think it is yet to grow?
I think it is yet to grow. Yes, there is a lot of potential that needs to be tapped on, but it is still picking up. While in law school, you feel like there are only 2 options: corporate and litigation. But there are many opportunities as content writers, researchers, legal operations, legal managers. Even if people are working in corporate firms, there is a litigation team with them. It all depends upon what one wants to do.
You are working in plant variety, which is interesting as we don’t get to see and hear about it much. Please tell us more about it.
During law school and my Masters, we studied plant variety as a subset. My exposure to the subject comes from the research project I worked on while at Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan. Apart from that, even I did not have much experience, as plant variety is a technical subject and requires someone having a science background or dealt with patent applications. Apart from plant variety, my workplace also deals with data protection. The Community Plant Variety Office is an EU institution and is managed and monitored by the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS). The EDPS ensures that all EU institutions are following the directives for data protection and are privacy-sensitive. They also look at the use of new technologies, especially with the pandemic where there is a usage of new technologies like Zoom, Teams, etc. Data Protection is my primary thing, while legal issues are the secondary thing. Talking about plant varieties, the common issues that we deal with are novelty and entitlement.
This is a good opportunity not only in terms of exposure, but you also get to see how the inter-governmental organisations work. They also have many international co-operation projects, wherein they co-operate with the EUIPO, WIPO, and the other national & regional IP Offices, Plant Variety, Technical and Examination Offices for training and awareness programs. It also includes coordinating with countries that are not UPOV-compliant. I think these are important skills for every IP professional, irrespective of their field. Another reason why I chose this place is that I wanted to see if I could learn and speak French since I had already done some training back in India.
We do not get to see ‘pure IP’ as such, with other subjects like Cyber Law, Competition law, Media and Entertainment being offered along with IP. We tend to catch on to these subjects, thinking it will open new doors. What do you think about this?
I think pure IP consists of different things and skillsets. When people want to employ someone, they would like to have somebody who can do multiple things. It’s like adding multiple skills into one basket, which may help employers to find you worthy. Talking about in-house counsel jobs, there is a huge team that looks at legal matters, while at times there may be a dedicated IP team. It is indisputable that IP is everywhere, which is why it is easy to marry IP with different subjects. I have been asked that how can one choose a specific subject within IP. For someone with a science background, Patents may go understandably well. Otherwise, as legal professionals, it is okay if you do not want to narrow down to a specialisation within IP. There are many IP strategies and valuation jobs, where you get to combine all kinds of IP in one. I think having the knowledge of these subjects is helpful to define value from a business point of view.
What is your general advice to those who wish to do an LLM?
It depends on the person - how and where they do they want to go, what do they wish to get from their masters. See what do you want to do for a long time. Try to identify what do you expect from your Masters. Think about your financial capacity - even if you don’t have it, there are many scholarship opportunities. In the EU, there are many Universities where the Masters may be cheaper than it is in India. Identifying these Universities is also important. Having a list of things that you wish to achieve will be helpful.