On June 29, 2021, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) of Canada hosted the virtual event, Indigenous business and intellectual property: Ensuring the Indigenous economy's continued competitiveness and growth.
The event featured a panel discussion with successful Indigenous entrepreneurs who shared their stories about leveraging their intellectual property (IP) to grow their businesses. The discussion started with questions relating to their experience with IP.
This article focuses one of our panelists, Marc Forgette, founder of and workshop facilitator for Makatew Workshops.
Marc is Bear Clan and a member of the Wahgoshig First Nation in Northeastern Ontario. Makatew Workshops delivers hands-on cultural workshops to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups. Its focus is making traditional and authentic Indigenous crafts such as medicine bags and dreamcatchers while also teaching others about Indigenous culture. Even when faced with numerous unique challenges due to the pandemic, Marc and his company have found success while leveraging IP. As a result, we asked Marc to share his insights, his experience during his entrepreneurial journey and the significance of IP for his business.
Q: What supports would you suggest to someone starting their own business?
A: My first introduction to IP at a basic level was when I met with the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada in October 2019 and learned the basics of different forms of IP. Then, in the fall of 2020, I enrolled in the Indigenous Tourism Entrepreneur Training program through Algonquin College in Ottawa. One of the modules was about branding and IP. This module piqued my interest when they brought in an IP lawyer as a guest speaker to explain how IP rights relate to building a brand. They also explained the fee structure for filing an IP application in a way that was easy to understand. I began to think about what my business had of strategic value that could be protected, and I immediately thought of my logo. It is unique and important to me, so it became particularly important to protect it.
Your brand is what you are going to build your business around. You can easily compare filing to protect IP rights with having insurance. You insure the things you own that are important to you! You insure your house, car and even devices against loss or theft. Recognizing the importance of securing IP protection early on, I decided to file for a trademark for my logo before Christmas 2020. That was my Christmas present to my company, and it's probably the best thing I've ever done.
If more people learn about trademarks, they'd realize that it's essential to building and protecting a brand. With more IP education, people will see that:
It is your logo – you put a lot of time into creating that.
It is your identity – the heartbeat of your business.
It would help if you protected it—not doing so is like wearing your personal identification number for your bank account on your shirt for anyone to steal.
I know that I'll continuously make changes to my business throughout my journey; however, I have committed to expanding my IP portfolio when applicable along the way.
I would also recommend using resources from reputable organizations to find the correct information and support in other areas of creating a business, including the areas of financing and mentorship.
The ISED website also contains a wealth of information. Their website is valuable because it links to pertinent information regarding the different steps you need to take to set up your business correctly. It also lists other helpful websites and services.
The BDC website was also especially useful for me. It contains great resources for anybody looking to better understand how financing works and how you should be setting up other business areas.
Another excellent resource was the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) website. I decided to apply to CCAB to be a Certified Aboriginal Business in early 2021, which has been a great experience and has brought me more business. Certification gives assurance to clients that the business they're dealing with is an Indigenous business. CCAB is constantly collaborating with its members to help us get ahead. Recently, they announced a new blueprint mentorship program that offers Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) companies a chance to get financing and support services. I'm still a new business, so I place a lot of value in mentorship opportunities.
Banks are also an excellent resource for any entrepreneur. They work closely with small businesses and innovators. Do not hesitate! Your bank will be there to support you. Opening a business bank account is a great first step for any entrepreneur. It's vital to have a separate bank account to help keep track of sales numbers.
Q: When it comes to intellectual property, what would you recommend a business do as a first step?
A: First, the business should look at what it's doing by analyzing its company internally. For many companies, the brand is the most important thing. Typically, the logo is the main symbol of the brand. After all, the logo is what people will recognize and remember you by. Establishing a solid brand and leveraging IP to protect that brand is crucial. It's risk-free and straightforward to meet with IP professionals, like an IP lawyer, to start creating a plan.
Do your homework before you go through the process. By going to an IP agent or lawyer, you'll save time. Allow them to file on your behalf so you can focus on what you're good at—your business. The IP agent or lawyer ensures that nothing is missed and that filing is done right the first time, with no delays. To me, it's worth it!
For more information, consult CIPO's guide to hiring an IP professional.