International Women's Day Profile - The Honourable Justice Janet M. Fuhrer
Marked annually on March 8th International Women's Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Participation is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women's achievements and rally for women's equality. This year's campaign theme is 'Choose To Challenge,' as a challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge comes change. In celebration of this day IPIC has introduced its IWD Spotlight Series featuring some of the many incredible women within the IP profession.
The Honourable Justice Janet M. Fuhrer
Justice Fuhrer studied law at Queen’s University, where she obtained her LL.B. in 1985. She was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1987 and later obtained her LL.M. in e-Business from York University while working full time. She was in private practice in the intellectual property law field from her call to the bar until her appointment to the Federal Court in June 2019.
She was a certified specialist by the Law Society of Ontario in Intellectual Property Law (Trademarks and Copyright). She is Past President of both the Canadian Bar Association and the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada. She was among the first Canadian members invited to become Fellows of the American Intellectual Property Law Association. She has served in various leadership roles with all three organizations, as well as with the Ontario Bar Association and the International Trademark Association. Prior to her appointment, she was a frequent speaker at national and international conferences on intellectual property law topics.
Justice Fuhrer taught the Trademarks and Unfair Competition Law Course at Queen’s University Faculty of Law the fall of 2016 and served on the Dean’s Council for about six years until her appointment. She is a previous associate editor of the Canadian Patent Reporter and a former chair of the Trademark Agents Examination Board.
Why is equity, diversity, and inclusion important to the IP profession?
Different perspectives and viewpoints engender more creative problem solving and enrich us generally. Positive steps toward greater equity, diversity and inclusion can result in enhanced relevance and growth of the profession. More work needs to be done, however, to address their absence or encourage their embrace. I note the International Trademark Association recently reported, in connection with the work of its “The Women’s LeadershIP Initiative,” that women in North America sometimes need to start their own firm to realize a leadership or management position. Anecdotally, I have noticed an increase in women-led firms in the last decade.
In my current position, I note the Federal Court’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan emphasizes that the Court’s “legitimacy is enhanced by the appointment of judges and prothonotaries whose diversity better reflects the society it serves.” The Court thus encourages candidates with diverse backgrounds from across the country to apply for appointment and further, the Court is committed to evaluating its processes and working conditions with a view to reducing any systemic barriers to appointment.
Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the mentoring relationships I have formed over the years. To the extent I may have played a small role in encouraging others to have confidence in themselves and their abilities, I find that rewarding. I’m also proud of the leadership roles I have been fortunate to hold in several organizations, including IPIC.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge” which encourages individuals to call out and challenge gender bias and inequality, because from challenge comes change. What do you believe is the best way to challenge biases and inequalities to achieve change?
I don’t know whether there is a single best way. For me personally, I try to lead by example. By that I mean, and not to oversimplify the complexity of achieving greater equity, diversity and inclusion, I try to be respectful and cognizant of the dignity of others. As well, I believe acknowledging we all have biases (conscious and unconscious) is an important step on the road to achieving such change.
What advice do you have for aspiring women IP professionals?
My advice includes: focus on developing your network; be proactive in your own career path and mentoring – seek out mentoring and sponsorship relationships that work for you; be confident; volunteer with organizations like IPIC – the experience can lead you in unexpected and rewarding directions.
What will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women leaders in the IP profession?
Certainly a challenge is identifying leadership positions and pursing them or being willing/able to create leadership opportunities, such as the example of women-led firms.