Diversity in IP: Notes from the 5th Annual IP Data & Research Conference

HeadshotEmily Chow is an IPilogue Writer and a 1L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

This article is part of a series covering the 5th Annual IP Data & Research Conference, hosted by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

I attended the 5th Annual IP Data & Research Conference’s second session on diversity in intellectual property law. The panel broadly discussed how underrepresented groups navigate the IP and innovation space. I left the presentations with a better understanding of what various public service groups are doing to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (“DEI”) initiatives in their practices.

The first speaker was Peigi Wilson, research manager for the First Nations Information Governance Centre (“FNIGC”). Her presentation was titled “First Nations Data Sovereignty and the Intellectual Property Regime”. FNIGC’s mandate arose from trying to address the data gap caused by the federal government’s decision in 1994 to exclude First Nations people living on-reserve from three major national population surveys. Now, the FNIGC asserts data sovereignty and supports the development of information governance and management at the community level through regional and national partnerships.

After a brief overview of First Nations rights and sources, Wilson defined what First Nations Data is and how it is founded on the principles of ownership, control, access, and possession (“OCAP”). I thought it was quite powerful when she said that First Nations Data is “acquired from First Nations, by First Nations.” Some research areas FNIGC supports include data from resources and the environment, data about First Nations (e.g., demographics, housing, health, etc.) and data from First Nations (e.g., language, regalia, stories, songs, ceremonies, etc.).

With funding from Indigenous Services Canada, FNIGC is currently researching First Nations’ interests respecting orphan works and artists’ resale rights and developing possible solutions regarding opportunities to co-develop new laws or policies. Wilson emphasized that DEI initiatives are more than ensuring that First Nations have a seat at the table; it means that First Nations must have a role in the decision-making process as active participants in IP policy reform and innovation. She stressed the importance of recognizing Canada’s pluralistic foundations beyond the English/French history to include First Nations legal systems. She also called upon attendees to consider how they may shape new processes for consultation, free, prior, and informed consent, and co-development to address the economic inequality inherent in the system.

The next speakers were from the Innovation Asset Collective (“IAC”), a pilot non-profit organization whose mandate is to facilitate data-driven, clean-tech innovation amongst Canadian businesses. Lori DeGraw (vice president of partnerships and member engagement) and Julia Culpeper (program manager of education and strategy) jointly presented “Women and IP: Promoting Inclusion in the Innovation Ecosystem”. The IAC helps Canadian small-medium enterprises (“SMEs”) better understand, generate, commercialize, and protect their IP.

IAC presented the results of a study co-led by the University of Windsor on women’s underrepresentation in the Canadian IP ecosystem. Capturing qualitative data from their inaugural Forum for Women Entrepreneurs & IP, the study re-emphasized the need to build capacity for women in the IP field, and, in doing so, create a framework to replicate with other equity-seeking groups. They are currently working on three programs to increase community and networking, outreach, and policy and advocacy for women.

One program aims to tackle the inequitable gender balance in patent filing by implementing a twice-annual grant for women to fund IP. $50k is available twice a year to IAC member companies led, founded, or owned by women. The program is currently running, and applications are due on March 31.

The last presentation was a partnership between the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (“CIPO”) and Statistics Canada (“StatsCan”) on “The Awareness and Use of Intellectual Property by Underrepresented Groups in Canada: Insights from Survey and Administrative Data”. Speakers Danny Leung (director of Economic Analysis Division at StatsCan) and Eric Rowe (team leader of Service Insights at CIPO) highlighted results from two studies: the Intellectual Property Awareness and Use Survey (“IPAU”) and the CIPO Client Satisfaction Survey.

The IPAU study found that 9% of female primary decision makers of businesses had IP that they chose not to formally protect, compared to their male counterparts at 5.4%. Another interesting statistic was that women clients were generally less satisfied with CIPO services overall (51%) than male clients (55%).

The two studies found that firms that file for patent applications are disproportionately more often owned by men. They also found that women-owned businesses are less likely to have their applications for funding granted (54.8%) as compared to their male counterparts (56.1%). More promisingly, however, patent applications by women-owned businesses grew by 133% from 2001 to 2015. Women-owned business were more likely to file patent applications in chemical engineering and medical technology than men-owned businesses. Further research on women’s experiences filing patents could be useful in understanding the trends in the data.

Overall, the presentations were a significant reminder that we still have so much more to do to level the playing field for women-owned and First Nations-owned businesses. However, with organizations like the IAC and FNIGC spearheading new programs and tools, one can be cautiously optimistic about the future of innovation in Canada.

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