Karima Bawa is currently the CEO for 3D Bridge Solutions which is designing a solution that can: facilitate the secure exchange of 3D print files; protect IP rights associated with 3D designs; support quality and warranty management for 3D replicated objects; and, facilitate the control of 3D printed regulated goods.While designing this solution, the company has also conceived a unique methodology that can facilitate the secure exchange and tracking of a wide variety of data files.
Karima is also a CIGI Senior Fellow and the former general counsel and chief legal officer for Research In Motion (now BlackBerry); she was involved in overseeing the development of the company’s valuable IP portfolio (with over 44,000 patents) as well as managing its IP litigation.
Q1 Do you believe that it is important to have more women involved in the IP system?
There is a growing body of research which suggests that increased diversity in the workforce can result in stronger performance. I believe this holds true for the IP system as well. I think women can bring a different perspective to evaluating ideas and can help better support women inventors, particularly those that are designing products that are targeted to women. I think female representation needs to be stronger in all of the different areas that contribute to IP – everything from coming up with the ideas and their expression, to protecting the ideas and their expression (through filing and enforcing IP), to leveraging IP in a commercial context.
Q2 Have you noticed a gender gap in your industry? Is the situation changing?
My own experiences as well as studies in the area point to a gender gap in the IP legal sector. There are fewer women who are patent agents, patent attorneys and IP litigators (likely because many of them do not have the technical background that is either a real or perceived prerequisite to practicing in these areas of law). For example, while there are no formal education requirements to become a patent agent in Canada obtaining a position as a patent agent trainee is almost impossible without having a science or engineering degree and because there are still fewer women who are pursuing fields like mathematics or physics or engineering there is an even smaller funnel for the number of women who can become patent agents. However, the landscape is slowly changing as more women pursue a STEM education and explore fields like biotech and clean tech. Also, women are increasingly becoming experts in other areas of IP law like copyright, trade marks, data privacy and protection (which are increasingly being recognized as valuable).
Q3 Do you think it is more difficult for female innovators and entrepreneurs to secure funding (and, therefore, be able to afford IP costs)?
Recent research suggests that the percentage of female founded companies that are venture-backed has not increased since 2012. These studies suggest that it is more challenging for women to secure funding from VCs because they are still predominantly represented by men who tend to pick which businesses they back largely based on “who’s running the ship.” Also, according to these studies, because men don’t use the products that many women innovators come up with and they don’t understand the need for these products or have a passion for them. I would agree with these observations, but I would also add from that from my personal experience, it is more challenging for women to secure funding because, it is often more difficult for them to ask for help and women don’t typically have the same extensive network as men do in the financial and VC space.
Q4 Are there unique challenges that female inventors and entrepreneurs face?
In my opinion, one of the most significant challenges for female inventors and entrepreneurs, is the lack of female mentors who hold leadership positions. For example, in the IP legal sector, there are still fewer women in leadership positions and therefore young women don’t have leaders and mentors that they can turn to who can support them through issues like maternity leave or how to balance work life and family life. Also, there is still an unconscious bias on a number of levels. For example, in a law firm, it is quite often a male partner that owns the client relationship and he may unconsciously disproportionately provide opportunities for his male colleagues with whom he may feel a closer connection. In addition, as alluded to above, women tend not to have the same influential networks that they can call upon. Also, a very real challenge which exists for women in all sectors is the fact that women are still the primary care givers in most family situations, and as such they simply can’t dedicate the same amount of time and energy for their professional endeavors because there are only so many hours in the day. As such, we need to have meaningful discussions about the structure of modern-day work, especially in time-intensive professions such as law, and what can be done about helping women who want to have a career and raise a family and actually be successful in both domains.
Q5 How can the innovation and IP ecosystem become more inclusive for under-represented groups, such as female entrepreneurs?
The innovation and IP ecosystem can become more inclusive for women by, as a starting point, encouraging women’s interest and engagement in technical fields (for example STEM). Also, women who are in leadership positions have to take it upon themselves to mentor other young women and to encourage flexible working arrangements and the adoption of programs that support issues tending to affect women like transitions to and from maternity leave.
Men too can play a very powerful role in bringing women along. I for example, had the benefit of working with men who supported my desire to have a family and be actively involved in raising a child because they understood that I needed to be able to have flexibility to remain committed to and passionate about what I was doing in the workplace.
Q6 What type of assistance will benefit female entrepreneurs?
I believe that women should be encouraged to network and that workplaces should find ways to facilitate this recognizing that traditional networking opportunities are sometimes more limited for women who are often already struggling to manage their familial commitments alongside their professional commitments. Also, women should be encouraged (through coaching if needed) to feel comfortable talking about themselves and their achievements and get over the fact that doing so is not boastful (if done appropriately). VCs need to have more female representation so that women entrepreneurs and their products aren’t as easily dismissed. And finally, it is important to implement working arrangements that are flexible and that recognize that many women have competing demands, like raising their children or supporting their aging parents, that many men simply don’t.