Maya Medeiros is a partner, intellectual property (IP) lawyer, patent agent (Canada, US), and trademark agent (Canada, US) at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP. She advises on IP strategy and manages international IP portfolios directed to a range of technology including artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity, cryptography, payments, communications, health devices, virtual and mixed reality. Maya is a key contributor to AItech.law, which focuses on the ethical and legal implications of artificial intelligence. She is an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University and teaches a course on the Commercialization of Intellectual Property. Maya works with the IP Osgoode Innovation Clinic to supervise its clinic students and service emerging companies. She has a degree in mathematics and computer science and gained valuable industry experience working for a technology start-up company.
Q1 Do you believe that it is important to have more women involved in the IP system?
I believe that diversity (including gender diversity) in business generally is important as it provides a range of perspectives for better decision making and problem solving to increase performance. This extends to the IP system, which includes IP professionals such as lawyers and agents, as well as innovators or IP creators. IP, and particularly patents, can be looked at through a “problem and solution” lens and a diverse set of players should highlight a wider range of problems, “eureka moments”, and innovative solutions.
Q2 Have you noticed a gender gap in your industry? Is the situation changing?
There is a gender gap in the legal industry and technology industry so the intersection of these industries further widens the gap. I am lucky to be part of a diverse team at my firm but I know this is not the norm. We are starting to see more data which creates awareness so hopefully this will lead to solutions.
Q3 Do you think it is more difficult for female innovators and entrepreneurs to secure funding (and, therefore, be able to afford IP costs)?
Research indicates that women-led ventures secure a lot less funding which suggests it is more difficult for female innovators and entrepreneurs to secure funding. A business network often leads to funding opportunities (or at least introductions) and if most of the network is made up of men it is likely harder for women to establish themselves within the network.
I am involved in SheEO (with their Radical Generosity funding model) as an activator and part of a global community of women that exclusively fund women-led ventures and provide business support. Learn more and join the community.
If a female innovator is solving a problem that targets female demographic it may be harder for male investors to understand the market and the value of the solution. Research also shows that the investor/financial industry is also predominantly male (see also).
Q4 Are there unique challenges that female inventors and entrepreneurs face?
The challenge of securing funding discussed above is significant if the inventor or entrepreneur cannot bootstrap their venture. There is also the significant problem of unconscious bias and the unfair results it can lead to particularly in industries where females are not well represented. Research suggests a lack of females in leadership positions which leads to a smaller pool of female mentors. In my personal experience, female mentorship has been very important for navigating issues in the professional world (and personal world).
Q5 How can the innovation and IP ecosystems become more inclusive for under-represented groups, such as female entrepreneurs?
Both men and women in leadership roles should take active steps to provide assistance to female entrepreneurs, such as informal strategy discussions, feedback on business plans, and mentorship generally.
Q6 What types of assistance will benefit female entrepreneurs?
An increase in funding opportunities can address the lack of funding noted above. Mentorship and business networks targeting female entrepreneurs can also provide support for their business. Sponsorship programs can be established and linked to funding models. A sponsor may be rewarded if a female entrepreneur meets significant milestones with their support, for example. Increased flexibility in the workplace can help both women and men, particularly when they are also caregivers or have other significant family roles.