IP and the Black Experience in Canada
For Black History Month, I am reﬂecting on the intersections of intellectual property, business and the black experience in Canada. In the past several years, the spotlight has increased on people with black heritage and our contribution to Canada’s national identity. On the plus side, this has led to greater engagement from the black community and new ventures that lift up black culture and ideas. We know as intellectual property professionals that IP protection creates real value for business owners, but for black founders there is perhaps a less obvious benefit: IP protection can enhance pride and community.
When I was growing up as a black kid in a largely white neighbourhood in Vancouver, there were no conversations around black culture and identity. My personhood was defined within the dominant culture: whether coloured, black or negro, it was a label placed on me for others, by others. In my youth, like most kids I was just trying to fit in and find my place, and I didn’t have the language or exposure to understand how this impacted my identity and sense of self.
In the decades since, Canada has progressed in its understanding of race, culture and identity for all peoples, and I have been educated along with my fellow Canadians. In the black community, there has been an uptick in black-owned businesses, groups and organizations, and with that, the need to secure unique IP. I am lucky to work every day with diverse communities and educate them on the importance of IP protection, however, I didn’t anticipate the way they would educate and inspire me with their dynamic ideas on race and identity. Whether through a unique perspective on skin care, hair or clothing or an inclusive approach to providing professional services, more black founders routinely invest their business ideas with heritage and culture. Some establish businesses to address the unique needs of our community, others employ a diverse business perspective to attract consumer attention in the larger marketplace. Instead of trying to hide in plain sight like my younger self, these young, black entrepreneurs build business ventures in bold celebration of black identity.
Working with founders, my job is to identify the unique perspective of each business to protect its intellectual property. We all know the brand landscape is increasingly crowded, so when young entrepreneurs start from a place of embracing cultural identity, they can deploy a unique and singular perspective for
their business. The lesson for IP professionals and others: these black founders exemplify the ideal partnership of social good and business excellence that is so important to consumers today. Black founders are founders first, adding value to the overall Canadian marketplace through outstanding business growth in this sector. They show honouring your own identity does not limit success, it provides a distinct brand personality that is essential for creating value in your intellectual property as well as a profitable business. Consumers expect businesses to exhibit core values and integrity: by coming from a place of pride and authenticity, black founders create brands and businesses with broad, contemporary market appeal.
Canada is still in its infancy when it comes to celebrating black perspectives. This must include a look back, and forward, at racial bias, injustice and inequality, but it also opens the door to a new class of black idea makers looking to serve our community and all communities with unique passion and creativity. Canada is strengthened socially and economically by diverse perspectives that enhance personal dignity and forge new pathways for growth. Just like the culture, the protection of trademarks and other brand assets must evolve to meet the needs of the target audience and give them the tools they need to own their innovations. Black founders who celebrate culture and identity in their businesses are contributing to the national identity of Canada and they should reap the benefit of their ideas. They have made me more present in my own identity, and it is a privilege to assist them with IP to secure their own unique and valuable Canadian perspective.