World IP Day – Trailblazing innovator: Julie MacDonell

World Intellectual Property Day – April 26, 2023
Women and IP: Accelerating innovation and creativity

For World IP Day this year, we're featuring a Canadian who is a champion for women and also a trailblazing innovator. Julie MacDonell, co-founder and CEO of Haloo, is a senior lawyer specializing in trademarks. She has over a decade of experience helping entrepreneurs and large companies registering their trademarks both in Canada and abroad.

We met with Julie to discuss women in artificial intelligence (AI) and the intellectual property (IP) ecosystem.

"At Haloo, we very intentionally built a company and a tech team that was led by women."

Julie MacDonell

Why is hiring women important for Haloo?

There are many angles to Haloo's mission and what we believe around diversity. I think all women have experienced bias in some ways. I have many friends in tech who would talk to me about the bias that they faced, often being the only woman in the room.

We have a woman CTO, which is extremely rare for a tech start-up. We also have a woman leading the science for our AI platform. 90% of our product team are from underrepresented groups of people in society. I strongly believe that this diversity allows us to build better products for more people. It's a strategic choice.

I'm going to use a clothing trademark as an example: When someone applies for a trademark, they also need to identify what goods and services the trademark will be associated with. For clothing goods, some of these goods are gendered; there are goods descriptions for women's clothing, for men's clothing, and there are also gender neutral descriptions for clothing. Our diverse team brought this to our attention and said, "we want to create a really more inclusive tool, and so we're going to deprioritize these gendered descriptions, and instead, prioritize the more inclusive descriptions". So, our tool that helps people create fail-safe trademark applications, auto-suggests more inclusive goods and services descriptions.

At Haloo, every choice we make, whether it's hiring or product design, contribute to our specific, very special, and I think very different way of building a company. Haloo's mission, on the whole, is to bring down the barriers to economic participation, which we believe is core to so many of our problems that we face in society.

What do you do that accelerates innovation?

We innovate in 2 ways at Haloo: one is with AI, and the other way is that we are one of the world's only deep-AI start-ups with the gender profile that we have. We have women in leadership, not just on the business side, but we have women leading on the technology and the AI side.

We have a 50% women engineering team. That is in and of itself, outside of technology, innovative in the true sense of the word: we're changing the status quo for the better.

What inspired you to get involved with IP?

I was working as a media and entertainment lawyer, and did an apprenticeship where a wonderful apprentice taught me trademark practice. I just fell in love with it and built a career out of it. I saw so many small businesses dealing with brand infringement, and I found it unfair that small businesses couldn't keep up with the big corporations. The potential of all businesses truly depends on their brand. I wanted to get involved with IP so that small and medium-sized enterprises could have the possibility of building big businesses.

Haloo was created to democratize access to trademarking: so many minorities/women couldn't afford lawyers or were intimidated by the process. I knew that they could only do this if they own their brand, and I did something about the disparity in access.

What are some of the challenges women face in the IP and high-tech ecosystems and how could we improve things?

Funding is the biggest challenge women face in both tech and high tech. It is easy to get mentorship, in fact, I would say we are overly mentored. The hard thing is getting funding. Last year, funding for women in data was lower than 2%.

In order to overcome this challenge, we will need more representation, especially in tech and AI native companies. Even with a strong team it's difficult to overcome biases.

Fundamentally, I don't think society believes that women can build AI. There's a bias against women entrepreneurs. Venture capitalists (VCs) need to reflect on their "belief in the founder" when they don't have a tangible asset to invest it. Women present differently than men; they present in a way that is unfamiliar to male VCs. This entails that we need more women VCs. The government also plays a role in this and has a responsibility to improve things.

What's your advice for women innovators and creators, or any woman in the IP world?

Constantly ask for help and actively give help to others. You can't build anything alone. Also, women in underrepresented industries need to practice forgiving each other, because we tend to be managing more than others.

How can women in the IP ecosystem support each other? How do you lead by example?

The biggest way to support each other is to provide opportunity, which you can see in the way that Haloo is composed. I lead by example by adding value.

I believe women should be supporting each other by buying from women. Women are grossly underfunded for building tech and we rely on customers/revenue to fill the gap, and we should support each other in this way.

One thing that really stood out to me is when I met with an executive who gave me total access to her network. She told me to look through her LinkedIn contacts and find the people I'm interested in contacting and to use her name for access. This really helps to grow a start-up.

Bottom line: women should share our networks without reservation. It requires activism and joining hands together to build a stronger network.

Is there a woman in the IP or innovation world that you find inspiring?

There are many, but here are 2 standouts:

May Cheng, formerly Osler, is a champion for women and one of the strongest and most courageous voices around women in IP. She is intrepid and not afraid to get political.

There is also Lisa Dunner, who is a champion of Haloo. She is an Amazon IP accelerator lawyer, so she is serving a lot of Amazon sellers. She's committed to serving those sellers in a very accessible business model and to always be doing better to provide access to those who cannot traditionally access lawyers. She also mentors young women in IP. She is very well respected in her community and has had a huge impact on Haloo.

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The views and opinions expressed in this text are those of the interviewees, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

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