Your research is a journey, not a destination — An Interview with Anilkumar K Samtani

Your research is a journey, not a destination — An Interview with Anilkumar K Samtani

Deeptanshu D
Monali Ghosh
Deeptanshu D, Monali Ghosh

Typeset Interview Series on Connecting Global Authors, Researchers and Publishers

We were joined by an energetic and established professor from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Anilkumar K Samtani.

To make you all familiar with him, Samtani Anil has been serving as an Associate Professor of Law at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore and is the Head of the Division of Business Law at the Nanyang Business School. Besides, he has appeared as an expert spokesperson at international conferences and his articles have been a part of many top-tiered journals such as the European Intellectual Property Review, the Intellectual Property Quarterly, IIC: International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law and the International Journal of Law and Information Technology. He has worked with WTO, WIPO, WTO, UNICEF and UNESCO in training and lecturing to academics, government officials and private practitioners from more than 70 countries.

Cutting the clutter, let's jump off to the interview part where he shared with us his experience on almost everything from his early life, past research works, his stints at various institutions and much more.

1. Could you please share with our readers about your transformational journey from a scholar to a well-respected intellect on Business Laws?

I have been fortunate to have had wonderful Deans and Heads of Division who have fully supported and encouraged my research aspirations. As a result of this, I was successful in obtaining a Fulbright scholarship early in my career.

This enabled me to spend time at the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology and the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley. Again in Berkeley, my fortune shined over me as I got the opportunity to work under the esteemed Professor Pamela Samuelson's mentorship, a decorated scholar recognized globally as a pioneer in digital copyright law, intellectual property, cyberlaw and information policy.

I was also blessed and fortunate to have been a recipient of the ECAP II Postgraduate Intellectual Property Rights Scholarship (awarded by the European Commission), which enabled me to hold visiting scholarship stints at the Munich Intellectual Property Law Centre at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute at the University of London. These opportunities enabled me to engage and interact with the very best scholars and researchers in my domain, i.e. international and comparative intellectual property law, regulation and policy.

I have also had the good fortune to work with many global institutions like WIPO, WTO, UNICEF and UNESCO in training and lecturing to academics, government officials and private practitioners from more than 70 countries. These opportunities have enabled me to hone my skill sets further, obtain visibility for my research, and better appreciate the multiple and often contradictory and contesting approaches & perspectives of the many stakeholders at play in the international intellectual property landscape.

2. You’ve been on a hop-on, hop-off journey so far.

You went to different institutions, donned different roles, sometimes as a learner and sometimes as an expert. How have all these roles shaped you?

The leadership and management roles I have assumed have given me a broader perspective of how academia operates and how we can better contribute to society's more significant needs and concerns. These roles, I believe, have made me less insular, more aware and sensitive to the struggles and needs of others. Now, I feel more connected to the real needs of the young scholars that I have been blessed to oversee, mentor and lead.

Moreover, my previous and current roles and appointments enabled me to better appreciate the contributions and interconnectedness of faculty members of the broader university community. All this led me to get connected with various think-tank organizations to encourage collaborations.

3. All that you just shared with us takes a lot of hard work and perseverance.

So, what were the key factors that brought wisdom and led you to success?

I would flag the following:

  • curiosity;
  • hard work;
  • unrelenting interest and passion in my chosen fields of research;
  • openness to contrarian viewpoints;
  • a conducive environment at my university that supports and nurtures research wholeheartedly; and
  • a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to be in academia and to engage in work that I find to be meaningful and fulfilling.

4. Could you share with our readers the experience of your first research paper?

Were there any obstacles that you faced because of the lack of technology back then?

For my very first journal article, I was fortunate to have been approached by a senior colleague at my university who asked if I was interested in writing a particular topic that he felt had resonance and was underdeveloped. He provided valuable and meaningful feedback on my paper as I developed it. I will forever be grateful for that jumpstart to my research journey.

Technology wasn’t so much of a concern or constraint at that point in time, given my field of research.

5. Moving ahead, please give us some insights into the projects you have been working on recently.

I am concurrently working on three strands of research, but the most recent topic I am revisiting and actively engaging with relates to what can be loosely described as the international and comparative law, policy and perspectives pertaining to scandalous or immoral trademarks.

Most countries have incorporated into their laws legislative provisions that seek to prohibit the registration of trademarks that are “scandalous” or “immoral” (referred to in the general sense of the term). The actual terminology used in the laws of the various countries may differ somewhat and prohibitions to registering a mark under a statutory trademark regime could be on the basis that such a mark is either “scandalous”, “disparaging”, “contrary to principles of morality” or “public policy” or a combination of all or some of these. It has been noted that there is no fixed definition of any of these terms and that there is no general international consensus of how to classify marks that may be contrary to moral principles or public policy.

My current research project seeks to uncover the legislative intent and potential application of provisions of this nature across a range of jurisdictions and, in the process, seek to provide some clarity to the confusion and complexity that currently typifies this field of the law. In addition, this project seeks to investigate, through a series of consumer surveys, the impact of cultural and geographical factors on what passes off for an immoral or scandalous mark across a range of jurisdictions.

6. So, what triggered you to work over this and what are its possible real-world applications?

A larger aim of the project is to distil areas of commonality across various jurisdictions. It is to ascertain if a degree of international consensus is attainable (and the contours of that consensus) in deciding if a mark is contrary to moral principles or public policy.

The outcome of this research is likely to be valuable to policymakers as they develop, tweak and/or refine their regulatory responses to such trademarks. The research is also expected to be helpful to businesses that thrive on using risqué words or logos as part of their branding efforts.

7. You have authored many journal articles to date.

Can you tell us how today’s publishing domain is different from the time when you started?

The landscape has become a lot more complex and multifaceted. In my opinion, it is primarily due to the advent of electronic publishing. It led to the emergence of new and niche specialist journals in emerging areas of study. The automation of submission processes and the sometimes varying, contradictory and different formats and other requirements of the different journals have also added to the work required for successful academic publishing outcomes, particularly in the top tier journals.

8. What are your views on Open Access Journals?

Been in this domain for such a long time, how well do you see the future of Open Access Journals?

The democratization of research and knowledge will mean that there will always be a place for open access journals. I see a very strong and vibrant future for such journals, particularly those that adhere to very rigorous and sound peer-reviewed standards and editorial oversight.

A key benefit of such journals is that the key costs involved in the production and distribution of a printed journal is minimized and research can be disseminated more widely and quickly. It has the effect and potential of enabling a wider and more equitable sharing of research and further developing the open access movement in a broad spectrum of research areas.

9. Striving for enhancement and getting published, what mistakes do young research fellows often commit?

The following would be my (non-exhaustive) list:

  • stretching themselves too thin in terms of the subject areas they research in such that they do not develop depth and domain-specific expertise;
  • not asking colleagues for guidance and a first look at their research paper, which oftentimes will lead to further refinements and a better and more robust journal paper, when it is finally completed and submitted for publication; and
  • not spending time cultivating networks amongst other scholars in one’s chosen (and other ancillary and related) fields of research.

10. What advice would you give to early-career researchers to avoid common mistakes while writing research papers?

I would identify the following (again, this is a non-exhaustive list):

  • Carve out meaningful and uninterrupted slots of time during the course of the week where you are generally at your most productive to engage in research-related work;
  • Stay focused in relation to the areas you choose to research on – whilst breadth may seem tempting and all-encompassing, particularly at the start of one’s career, it is depth in a niche area that often enables a scholar to do a deep dive and to fully grapple with difficult and important issues and to, ultimately, make the best and most meaningful contributions and consequently develop a reputation for being an impactful and worthy scholar;
  • Pay attention to details;
  • Approach the research process as a craftsman would approach his/her craft – do not expect perfection from yourself straight off the bat and see yourself as someone who is dedicated and devoted to your craft and who will get better at it as you practice day by day and you get better in the process;
  • Obtain feedback from colleagues and other scholars in your field of research as that oftentimes enables the improvement of your work and may highlight blind spots and other issues that you may not have thought of; and
  • Always remain humble and curious as there is much to learn and explore. Try to embed in yourself that research is best seen as a journey and not as a destination.