Francine is a Singapore advocate and solicitor representing clients from a wide range of sectors and jurisdictions. She is active in trademark adversarial proceedings, namely opposition and revocation proceedings before the IPOS tribunal, and works regularly with local authorities and her clients in dealing with counterfeit products, and infringement and passing-off issues. Francine has also distinguished herself as a domain name dispute panellist for WIPO, the NAF and the ADNDRC.
Describe your career to date.
Pupillage and my first year of practice were spent in what was then one of the largest commercial law firms; and in my third year, I joined one of the oldest IP law firms. Over the many years, having led the trademarks departments in other IP firms and having had the opportunity to develop and foster many business and personal relationships with clients and colleagues from across the globe through attendance at international conferences, my chosen path has been for me enriching, enjoyable, stimulating and rewarding. I have gained tremendously and uniquely through interactions with colleagues and clients from varied legal and cultural backgrounds. The biggest learning curve and the high point of my professional and personal development came at the time I made the decision to start my own law practice.
How has your practice changed since you first started practising?
Well, my seniors and peers will certainly remember the days of the typing pool in the office, carbon paper, fax machines and thermal paper! I remember as a trainee and young associate having to handwrite legal memos and draft letters for senior partners and working through dusty old files and deciphering print that had faded on the fax thermal paper. So much has changed over the years, with developments in technology and connectivity, and with it, the pace of work and level of expectations from clients in terms of responsiveness and delivery time.
Whereas IP practice was, in those days, not considered glamorous, nor a fresh graduate’s natural first choice of specialisation, and very few law firms had IP departments, the situation in the last 15 years has changed dramatically. IP law and the profession have been thrust into the limelight; and in the context of Singapore, a lot of it is attributable to the Singapore government’s years of consistent and extensive efforts to build up Singapore as an IP hub in Asia, by developing local expertise and know-how, and investing in the legal infrastructure to support and attract R&D and to encourage the holding of IP in Singapore.
The importance of going green and moving with the times has also led me to introduce a paperless work environment in my firm, and to adopt document management and accounting software and tools to work in a much more efficient and secure way.
How important is pro bono work to your practice, and why?
I have undertaken pro bono IP work for several causes. And when I’m not travelling, I serve as a volunteer at my local constituency and help its residents, especially the aged and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, in drafting appeal letters to various government agencies for assistance on various issues. This Friday-night commitment is something I prioritise as a way of “paying it forward” to society. While it has no connection with my day job, many have expressed appreciation for the assistance that the volunteers render in drafting letters on their behalf.
What qualities make a successful intellectual property lawyer in today’s environment?
Adaptability, resilience, good communication skills and a global mindset.
On what matters have clients most frequently asked you for advice over the past year? What would you say is driving this?
The most frequent issues I encounter relate to dealing with online infringements and the purchase of counterfeit items which are delivered, eg, by courier or the postal service, which are meant for resale in Singapore – all which pose challenges for brand owners.
What challenges has the boom of e-commerce presented in the efforts of clients to combat counterfeiters?
The challenges are one of selecting and identifying which “wars” to fight and which to let go. Brand owners have to manage budgetary constraints while counterfeits rear their ugly head, like in a whack-a-mole arcade game that seems endless. The borderless nature of e-commerce and the anonymity of those behind the counterfeiting activities are obstacles that one regularly faces.
What motivated you to set up your own firm?
While a large firm has its strengths and benefits, the downside can be its relative lack of agility and flexibility – to adapt to and introduce changes, in terms of fees that are charged, and catering to clients’ specific needs. The motivation came from a desire for change – from the staid to an environment that is energetic and energising, which allows for growth, on a personal and professional level – as well as from a desire to do things better and differently for clients.