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Taj Hotels GC Rajendra Misra interview: On in-house digitisation in the hospitality industry and IP landmarks

Taj Hotels GC Rajan Misra on image marks and streamlining legal function through tech
Taj Hotels GC Rajan Misra on image marks and streamlining legal function through tech

Under Taj Hotels current general counsel Rajendra Misra, the iconic Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai is set to join the rare registered trademark category of what are known as “image marks”. The Louvre in Paris is another one.

“The Taj Mahal Palace opposite the Gateway of India is an iconic property. One look at that property and you know it is the Taj. We don’t even need a signboard over there. To my mind, as a trained lawyer, I thought that’s exactly what a trademark is,” notes Misra.

Misra had instructed Anand & Anand managing partner Pravin Anand, in September 2016, to file an application to register the image of the dome-shaped Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai as a trademark. The registration is expected to be completed in around two years.

“It’s a very unusual trademark. Very few buildings around the world have secured trademark rights but it has happened. The Louvre is a registered trademark and certain other buildings like the Empire State building have secured intellectual property rights protection. In that way, the Taj Mahal, Mumbai will be a unique hotel in India with such IP protection.”

The Taj Mahal Palace – started in 1903 as the first venture of the 1899-established Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces Safaris group – is now one of 100 hotels (in 62 locations) and part of the oldest and, for the longest time, the largest Indian hotels company (it was overtaken by the Marriott in September 2016).

Misra says that one of the major issues for the hospitality industry in India is the plethora of regulatory approvals required before a hotel can commence business – upwards of 100 in many cases. “There is a crying need of simplification in this area.”

And then complex litigation is another dish on the platter, the recent high court and Supreme Court proceedings relating to the proposed auction of the group’s iconic Delhi property - the Taj Mansingh - is a case in point. Senior advocate Harish Salve acted for Taj in the matter at the apex court.

Land is a critical factor in any hospitality project, Misra says, therefore working in the hospitality industry has given him a knack for handling issues such as those related to lease and licenses, land acquisition, municipal taxes, stamp duties, data privacy and data protectionapart from other issues relating to sales and marketing agreements, guest offers, guest experiences, among others.

His answer to deal with the consequent onslaught of compliance and potential litigation a company of this size entails: Digitisation, standardisation and awareness.

His in-house team of 18 lawyers, segregated under a partner each for real estate, operations and sales and marketing, is supplemented by law firms Khaitan & Co, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and Mulla & Mulla for external advice.


“On digitisation and use of technology I have gone big in a way,” he remarks.

Taj has now digitised and archived all its contracts under a contract management software that alerts legal managers with automated advance intimations for the expiry of contracts, including leases. The monthly advance reminders are timed at one year before the expiration date.

The software also helps flag off the properties where certain rights are about to expire so that the legal function can initiate the process of identifying issues and getting internal clearances, and the contract negotiation teams can approach hotel owners to sign off renewed contractual terms.

Misra’s team tracks Taj’ IP registration on a software called LIPS by Legatrix, where scanned copies of all certificates are also available and retrievable through keying in search terms under various fields.


To increase the legal team’s efficiency and mitigate risk, Misra constituted a task force last year. In four months the task force revamped and standardised all of the 25 main contracts of Taj.

“The reason why that was important to us was because we have around 65 companies and I wanted uniformity of practice and format across the group.”

The contract management software will be the single point of retrieving all the 25 drafts.

“I have a legal team sitting in Mumbai, one in Delhi, couple of members sitting in Chennai – all of them can download from this single destination the appropriate formats for contracts,” he explains.

Awareness and preparedness

The palace hotel’s image mark registration may soon become a historical landmark in both Misra’s and Taj Hotels’ career, but it would not be the only thing setting the company apart.

Taj will soon have the rare distinction of employees trained in the legal implications of day-to-day scenarios in their jobs. Misra and the legal team have developed interactive audio-visual e-learning modules to this end.

“Let’s say somebody in sales and marketing, HR, etc. needs to know about competition law. Sometimes in their day to day work they don’t have the scope to learn about it. So we have deployed technology to be of assistance.”

Misra has developed e-modules on 5 subjects: insider trading, sexual harassment, related party transactions, competition law and data privacy. Actual case by case scenarios play out in the module which then explains the legal implications of each in simple language. Each e-module is around 30-45 minutes long followed by a quiz at the end, and though the completion of these is not tied into the company’s appraisal system, Misra says that the company will track the progress of all employees.

“We will ensure each of them completes it.”

Misra’s experience across a wide array of industries since his University of Calcutta LLB in 1991 – he has been a part of the aluminium and steel sector, FMCG and hospitality – has evidently given him the confidence to innovate with the legal function, and Taj is also keeping him close on its executive committee.

This executive role in turn gives him all the leverage he needs to get into the skin of the business, he says.

“I look into legal issues, I also look into business issues. As part of the executive committee of Taj, I get the opportunity of looking at issues across the functions. That gives one a great insight into the business and the way it is conducted.” he remarks. “It also gives a unique understanding of organisational priorities, and allows me to plan for risk mitigation wherever necessary.”

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