Işıl Sırakaya tells us that she was 24 years old when she was appointed as judge to the Çamlıhemşin district of Rize in 1980, at a time female judges were rare, adding that she was also the first female judge at the municipality. Explaining that she was a judge at the Supreme Court of Appeals until 1998, she adds, “there were 10-12 women at the Ankara Courthouse back then and we were all friends, we would all take our tea together after lunchtime. Now there are so many female judges no one knows anybody.”
How did you become a judge at the Civil Courts of Intellectual and Industrial Property Rights?
I’d already been working at the Civil Commercial Court of Ankara in 1998, while the Decree Laws on Industrial Property Rights were issued in 1995. Back in those days when Ankara was not yet so much a trademark land, we oversaw such cases in the Commercial Court. After the Civil Courts of Intellectual and Industrial Property Rights opened in Ankara, I transferred there from the commercial court in 2005, and I was once again the sole female judge. The Ankara Civil Courts of Intellectual and Industrial Property Rights is a unique place, it was a brand sparkling new courthouse built back to back with the Turkish Patent Office. With the Ankara Courthouse being so run down in those days, a lot of the people there envied our lives at the courts. While we had a marvelous working environment, our workload was massive. We never got through all the cases within work hours and would keep on working intensively through Saturday and Sunday as well. In 2007, the 27th anniversary of my starting as a judge, I thought I’d retire to try my hand at freelancing a bit, and took the exam to qualify as a trademark attorney. I’ve been working as a trademark attorney and lawyer since 2007.
Being on both ends of judgment and defense sounds like a singular experience.
Yes, it was quite enjoyable and I had my work cut out for me in the intellectual property rights courts because the attorneys coming in were extremely well-educated, knowledgeable people, and overseeing those cases felt like playing table tennis. They would bat me a ball and I’d return it and vice versa, we had an excellent understanding.
During my time as an attorney, naturally, it’s also a lovely feeling to know that the person at the judge’s bench knows exactly what I’m trying to say.
So what’s your assessment of the Industrial Property Law that was enacted in 2017?
The law was an imperative step in protecting property rights.
As the Decree-Laws were annulled by the Constitutional Courts, there were certain articles that we could not apply, which worked to the detriment of trademark and design owners. Through the Law, the articles annulled by the constitution became applicable. After all, the property right cannot be interpreted through the Decree-Laws.
Can you share any anecdotes from your time as a judge?
Let me give an example from one of the cases I was overseeing; it was one of the best-known cheese brands, let’s call it Z, and they’d just put out a product named, “Z Labneh”. Another cheese brand, we’ll call them XY, put out a product named “XY Labneh” and all hell broke loose. Yet ultimately, it was ruled that both brands could use the inscription on the grounds that, as the Court of Cassation also acknowledges, labneh is the name of a type of cheese also used in Arab-speaking countries that can be used by anyone.
Then let’s see, one time a prominent biscuit company, let’s call it X, introduced to the market a delicious product named X Brownie. Meanwhile, a famed patisserie in Ankara had brownies on their menu, and the attorney for the brand of X came into court with an appeal to have the patisserie’s menus confiscated. Why? “They have brownies on the menu, the brownie is our trademark.” It took a pretty minute to explain to their attorney that the brownie is not a trademark but a type of dessert, meaning they could not bar patisseries from producing it.
That’s the kind of amusing anecdote we used to experience with attorneys.
I also have a memory from my term as a teacher that I’ve never been able to forget. While also working as a judge, I gave classes, two hours a week for five years, in Legal Ethics at the Ankara Vocational School of Law. The students at this school were 17-18-year-olds who’d graduated from provincial high schools and come to Ankara to study with limited financial resources. Those who graduated would be eligible to work as clerks or personnel in the courthouses. I loved teaching them and even had an exemplary student named Zeki. Zeki finished the Vocational School of Law as an honors student, going on to transfer to the Ankara University Faculty of Law, from which he graduated to become an attorney. He’s still working as an attorney, but there’s a crucial detail to this story: Zeki was an inmate in prison while studying at the Vocational School of Law, for injuring his father. In the daytime, he had a study permit to come to school and would return to the prison in the evenings. Another crucial detail is that Zeki had an 80% loss of vision. I pointed him out to my students for motivation every year, telling them, “If Zeki can do it, so can you all.”
Another teaching duty I enjoyed greatly was the preparatory training for the attorneyship exam of the Patent and Trademark Agents Association, of which I am a founding member.
Since 2017 I’ve slowed my tempo due to health reasons and settled in Bodrum, where I continue to handle old clients’ cases long-distance.
A recent development that has made me very proud is that my younger daughter Ayşegül Sırakaya obtained Belgian citizenship via the title “public defence Ph.D.”.
Interview by: Nazli Sagdic Pilcz
Translated to English by: Zeynep Beler