Canadian women are in a strong position to excel in the business world, but something is still holding them back. In 2013, 47% of small to medium-sized enterprises in Canada were entirely or partly owned by women, and those businesses that are majority owned by women experience more growth and were less affected by the 2008 recession than men-owned enterprises. Nonetheless, women are largely absent from the ownership and management of large corporations. Could intellectual property (IP) help to level the playing field? Despite being more aware of IP issues than their male counterparts, women entrepreneurs are far less likely to register their IP.
Enabling women entrepreneurs to better leverage their IP was the focus of IP Osgoode’s Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Symposium at Osgoode Hall Law School on 11 February 2019. The symposium brought together IP experts and accomplished entrepreneurs for a full day of panels, break-out sessions, and networking opportunities. The inspiring event was the brainchild of IP Osgoode’s founder & director, Professor Pina D’Agostino, and the team at Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) led by Darlene Carreau, Director General of the Business Services Branch at the CIPO. The symposium continues the organizations’ efforts to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship across Canada.
Keynote Address and Panel Discussion
Jessica Rawlley, cofounder of MaaS Pros & TIEIT Inc, discussed challenges she overcame as a young female entrepreneur. She highlighted the benefits she experienced from having a male business partner whom she trusts and who advocates for her. Through discussions with the attendees, Rawlley advised that finding a trustworthy partner requires following your gut and looking for a personality that complements your own. In addition to having an advocate, it is essential to be confident in business interactions. You can develop confidence from self-learning and equipping yourself with new technical skills. Rawlley also balances confidence with vulnerability. She suggested that vulnerability through sharing negative experiences when networking with others is important to make meaningful connections and learn from colleagues in the industry.
During the panel discussion, Darlene Carreau discussed the issues with low IP awareness and use among Canadian enterprises. IP is essential to businesses as they grow and scale. Karima Bawa, Senior Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and former Chief Legal Officer for Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM), contextualized the conversation by adding that even after paying registration fees, maintaining IP can be a significant cost. For example, having IP registrations can make companies a target for patent trolls.
Jacqueline (Jackie Cooper), former Chief Revenue Officer at Muse™, discussed how these business challenges present opportunities to find new ways to leverage IP rights. Jessica Rawlley added that IP has to be seen as an investment and not as a cost. Thinking about IP in early business stages is not typically a priority and it tends to be pushed down on a company’s list of things to do. Through her discussion questions, Professor D’Agostino highlighted issues such as the lack of innovation that aims to address women’s needs. Considering women’s perspectives in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is a step toward this goal. One example of how women entrepreneurs have changed the way innovation addresses women’s issues is Sheertex Sheers, which uses a fiber found in bullet proof vests and climbing materials to create indestructible pantyhose.
The event was an incredibly unique opportunity for women entrepreneurs to obtain advice from a female perspective, instead of receiving business advice that is blind to their realities. Those that attended the event had the rare chance to receive guidance from IP professionals in circumstances that were safe and welcoming for women.
In the afternoon breakout sessions, participants were able to have direct conversations with IP experts and receive immediate feedback, without any interruptions or condescension. As we heard throughout the day, these are issues that continue to beguile women in business, especially in the technology industry. In particular, Alexis Black, the Waterloo Region IP Advisor at the CIPO, spoke about her experiences advising male Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) who think they know everything about IP, and the keynote, Jessica Rawlley, reflected on the times when business connections would ignore her until her male business partner repeated the same thought. This is a sad reality which hinders progress for professional women, but at the symposium participants were actually respected and heard.
The Women Entrepreneurship Symposium provided a wealth of information for women business owners. It provided resources, information, and networking opportunities for women who are accomplishing incredible things and stimulating the Canadian economy through business. But perhaps the most important takeaway was the hope and inspiration that will undoubtedly give participants the confidence they need to succeed.
Meeting so many formidable women who had started or were planning to start businesses was immensely encouraging. At the start of the day, Interim Osgoode Hall Law School Dean Mary Condon had expressed her hope that we would all leave with more “inspiration and enthusiasm” than when we arrived. And she got her wish.
Written by Gillian Burrell and Summer Lewis. Gillian Burrell is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School. Summer Lewis is an IPilogue Editor and a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.