In Memoriam: Atty. Ignacio ‘Champ’ Sapalo, father of the Intellectual Property Code (1944-2023)

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | July 25,2023 - 08:08 AM
Atty. Ignacio Sapalo | Contributed

Atty. Ignacio Sapalo | Contributed

The carabao symbolizes strength, power, efficiency, perseverance, and hard work.

Carabaos are the main attraction of “Pasungay Festival” in San  Joaquin, Iloilo every third Saturday of January.

Spectators gather to watch the ferocious display of power by male carabaos, bulls and horses to win the fight. Locals said that is a celebration of the importance of farm animals in their daily life as an agricultural community.

San Joaquin is the hometown of  Atty. Ignacio “Champ” Sapalo, the managing partner of our Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan (SVBB) law offices.

Sapalo was born in San Joaquin on July 31, 1944 as the only son  of former mayor Modesto Sapalo and Maria Savillo.

He was valedictorian of St. Clement’s Academy of Iloilo City in 1959 and later finished his Bachelor of Science (major in engineering) in 1963 from Ateneo de Manila.

He obtained his Bachelor of Laws in 1967 at Ateneo law school where he was one of the co-founders of Utopia fraternity in 1964 along with classmate Eugene Tan.

After years of working with Sycip Salazar Gatmaitan Law offices and Ross Selph Salcedo Del Rosario Bito Misa law firm, Atty. Sapalo established the “Tan & Sapalo” law offices along with Tan on  August 1, 1976 specializing in the areas of intellectual property (IP) and admiralty/maritime laws.

Sapalo was appointed Director of the Bureau of Patents, Trademarks and Technology Transfer (BPTT) from 1987 to 1996, the predecessor of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

As BPTT head, Sapalo was one of the persons who actively worked for the enactment of Republic Act 8293 or the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines (IP Code) that was signed into law in June 6, 1997.

He is a Professor of Intellectual Property at the Ateneo School of Law since 1991 and at the Jose Rizal University since 2016. He was the founder of the Intellectual Property Foundation.

In Developers Group, Inc. vs. Sapalo (G.R. No. 114802, June 21, 2001), the Supreme Court ruled in the affirmative on the  issue whether, despite the institution of an Inter Partes case for cancellation of a mark with the BPTTT by one party, the adverse party can file a subsequent action for infringement with the regular courts of justice in connection with the same registered mark.

In 2000, he rejoined the SVBB law offices which is one of the front-running law firms in the country engaged in intellectual property prosecution, maintenance, licensing, and enforcement.

SVBB later evolved into a full service law firm with diversified practice areas in Philippine law, including corporation/taxation, litigation and labor (specifically seafarers’ claims) with branch offices in Cebu, Davao, Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro.

The almost five decades of existence of SVBB law offices, during which it witnessed episodes of political turmoil and economic crisis, is a testament to the sterling character and resilience of the partners, lawyers and staff of the firm.

“Serving with a heart; driven to master change” is SVBB’s motto that captures what the firm is, its  culture and values in the protection of the clients’ interests with sensitivity, care, and attention.

The motto, in essence, is an adaptation of the dictum “No master but law. No guide but conscience. No aim but justice” immortalized by former Supreme Court Justice Jose Benedicto Luis Reyes.

Notwithstanding Shakespeare’s derogatory remarks about lawyers (“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” from Henry VI), Sapalo underscored that lawyering is very much a noble profession. Lawyers apply their knowledge of the law to sort out, settle and resolve the countless conflicts among individuals, families and communities.

Sapalo stressed that on the lawyer’s shoulders fall the challenging task of ferreting out the truth in every case they handle, carefully balancing contending interests to reach fair and just results, and always staying within the bounds of the rule of law.

“Change, indeed, is the rule of the day, but our basic commitment and obligation to protect the interests of our clients remain constant. As good lawyers, we will carefully balance contending interests to reach fair and just results, and always staying within the bounds of the rule of law,” Sapalo said.

SVBB is committed to perform the noble task of upholding justice with excellence and professionalism, for the good and interest of society, especially the poor and underprivileged.

In line with its commitment to the principle of social justice, SVBB advocates Filipino seafarers’ rights through initiatives to ensure better protection in coordination with various groups like the Stella Maris Philippines.

Atty. Sapalo married Dra. Maja Ayaso on March 27, 1977 and had one son, Ignacio “ Dito”.

Atty. Sapalo died last July 21, 2023 due to cancer, days before his 79th birthday on July 31 and the SVBB’s 47th anniversary on August 1.

(Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email info@sapalovelez.com, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)

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