Episode 24: How IP rights saved my business

Lisa Desjardins, (Lisa): You're listening to Canadian I.P. Voices, a podcast where we talk intellectual property with a range of professionals and stakeholders across Canada and abroad. Whether you are an entrepreneur, artist, inventor or just curious, you will learn about some of the real problems and get real solutions for how trademarks, patents, copyrights, industrial designs and trade secrets work in real life. I'm Lisa Desjardins, and I'm your host.

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

Are you that busy entrepreneur who's too busy to think about how to protect your idea? You know it's something you should do, but you just can't find the time or money? You're not alone. No one knows this feeling better than today's guest. Johanne Boivin is a creator and successful entrepreneur with an impressive track record of creating, managing, licensing and selling several of her own brands. She also knows how overnight I.P. protection can suddenly be critical to protect your business. Johanne knows how to use I.P. protection in a competitive world and shares her expertise as an expert advisor at Point Cardinal who help entrepreneurs grow and succeed. Welcome to the podcast, Johanne.

Johanne Boivin (Johanne): Hello everyone.

Lisa: Johanne, I know you have a very important story to share, but first, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and the kind of work you do at Point Cardinal?

Johanne: It's a pleasure! I am happy since May 2021 to be part of Point Cardinal's team of expert advisors. Point Cardinal is a growth accelerator for companies, and we support clients in strategy, governance, innovation and ESG mandates.

I am first and foremost an entrepreneur and businesswoman, who was Founding President of Joanel for 25 years and this company has become a leader in fashioned leather goods in Canada for its registered trademarks: Joanel, Mouflon and Ugo Santini.

I have evolved in the world of small and medium size enterprise in the wholesale manufacturing sector, and I have a complete expertise in business management, and also in innovation as head of creation of the company's products.

In 2015, I was approached by a competitor and sold my brands and then worked as the Executive Vice President within this company with the mandate to set up a division of women's fashioned products in North America and thus promote its basket of trademarks.

In 2016, the company became the global licensee of the new Celine Dion accessories brand and I worked to develop the brand's DNA, and the deployment of this license globally.

At the end of my contract in 2020, I decided to focus my career on mentoring and coaching and share 32 years of expertise with entrepreneurs.

That's when Isabelle Foisy from Point Cardinal contacted me to join the team and I was charmed by her human and personalized approach to help clients in their business growth.

Lisa: Very interesting, tell us about your experience on creating luxury brands.

Johanne: As a CEO or Executive Vice-President, I have always led creative teams, by supervising all R&D processes, overseeing the production process and ensuring the company's social and environmental responsibility.

From researching market needs, to emerging trends and on the lookout for new technologies, I have ensured that each product respected the parameters and DNA of its brand, its market and its positioning. I have also developed dozens of fashioned registered private labels and among others, Joanel was the worldwide licensee of the Cirque du Soleil accessories brand.

From my past experience, before even thinking of investing, developing and exploiting a high end brand, or a popular product, whether it is domestic or foreign production, the brand must be protected and registered.

Lisa: Speaking about protecting a brand, you have an unusual story to share. A big franchise copied your brand, but your trademark and I.P. strategy saved your business. What happened?

Johanne: After 18 years when the Mouflon handbag brand was on the Canadian market, Mouflon was literally copied by an American giant company which at the time made 500 billion in turnover annually.

It was the hardest blow since the foundation of my company. I will always remember how discouraged I was when I found that identical copies of my Mouflon products were up on the shelves of hundreds of supermarket style stores, for a fraction of the price. They look the same and the only difference was in the material's quality the manufacturer used to produce these bags.

What to do? And in the name of what right could they copy me in this way and steal my market? It was terrible! It was so confusing that my customers felt cheated thinking they had paid too much for the Mouflon products I had sold them and were insulted thinking that I gave a much better discount to this specific chain store.

The sales of this brand have therefore dropped drastically at an incredible pace. Eighteen years of effort and heavy investments of the recognition of my brand were parading in my head. I felt helpless until I decided to contact a specialized law firm in intellectual property to find out about my rights.

It was then explained to me that the fact that Mouflon trademark was registered, renewed and kept up to date, during all these years, this constituted a shield and trademark usurpation procedures could be initiated.

Wow! What a joy to hear these professionals talking about unfair competition and that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Despite everyone around me, tried to convince me to give up, at the risk of losing everything, I decided to go for it, to give a clear signal to this competitor that I would fight for my brand but honestly I felt like David against Goliath!

From the outset, the court immediately issued a provisional injunction for the opposing party to immediately remove all products from all the stores pending legal proceedings.

The first round was won but it was necessary to mount this file and prove the counterfeiting. With the lawyer's help, we demonstrated all the Mouflon brand commercial activities and proved that we were the creators with all of our drawings, catalogs and testimonials.

 We have listed all the sales statistics of the copied styles, by quarters and territories for the 18 years prior of this conflict.

All reports were corroborated by the import and manufacturers production files.  With this extensive repertoire and the strength of our registered brand, we finally won and got a favorable settlement despite the fact that Goliath had tried everything to annihilate us.

Registering my trademark was therefore the best way to protect it.

So, I found back my market and took advantage of the visibility that this situation had caused. Consumers were asking for the original Mouflon bags and the brand had experienced strong growth with our retailers.

The story ends well. After that situation, and for 7 years, the brand continued its growth and obtained its letter of nobility. In 2015, the Mouflon brand was part of the commercial transaction where Joanel sold its basket of brands to a competitor.

Lisa: Wow, what a story and what a good thing your trademark was protected. Now, in your own words. What is an intellectual property strategy and what's the purpose of having one?

Johanne: An intellectual property strategy is used to manage and protect the company's assets. It protects you from competition because you must be the only one to benefit from your innovations, your investments and your efforts and hard work.

In other words, it serves to give a clear signal to your competitors and dissuade them from encroaching on your market. It's a way to prepare yourself to compete in a new market and achieve your goals and become a leader in your field.

As with every strategy, budgets and a clear plan must be considered to be able to protect your brand or innovation in a given territory. It must consider investments and close monitoring.

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office is a special operating agency in Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and whether for a patent, a trademark application or for an industrial design, you can consult their website and find answers to your questions.

Lisa: Thank you. What are the first steps for an organization that wants to protect itself with an I.P. strategy and how would boutique firms typically help them with this?

Johanne: The first step above all, is to do research before even giving birth to a brand, an innovation, a new technology to avoid any potential commercial conflict. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office website is an excellent source of information and has an extensive database.

Once consulted, the application for registration of the trademark and its wording must be filed.

After you must support a plan and provide the financial and human resources that will be able to make this intellectual property project a reality, taking into account the evolving needs of your business.

A perfect example would be to export or to exploit a new territory so you must take into consideration a short- and a long-term plan.

Finally, make an inventory of your assets. Is it a trademark, an industrial design, a patent? And ensure that any renewal in the given territories is filed.

Now that your intellectual property is maintained, you may constantly ensure competitive intelligence to identify any infringement of your rights.

Yes all this has a cost you will tell me! But just like this home or car insurance that we take to protect our properties and buildings, being the owner of an innovation and evolving in business without protection is really risky. Your competitors can acquire your market and your idea in a fraction of a second.

Protecting yourself requires discipline and rigor but this ensures the sustainability of your innovation or your brand. Think about it, don't ride without insurance!

If I had one piece of advice for those who feel it is too difficult to consult the databases, to navigate the terms and conditions, applications, renewals, fees or to follow-up a patent in the process of homologation, well, it would be to consult a patent and trademark agent. These people are intellectual property professionals. They know about it and can support you and save your valuable time.

That's my trick and the reasons why my brand has been so well filed because this agent I was working with watched over my brand and notified me in advance of deadlines. To me he was a soldier standing guard!

Please protect yourself and your assets. At Point Cardinal, we often meet entrepreneurs who create great products and new technologies without even protecting their innovations and we guide them with a profitable plan to ensure sustainability and growth. We make sure their intellectual property plan is in line with their strategic plan.

I hope that my personal story, that I shared today, will raise awareness and convince you of the importance and the power of the intellectual property.

Lisa: Excellent summary and really good points about ownership and protection. Johanne Boivin, we've been privileged to listen to your story. Thank you so much for sharing both your expertise and story. Thank you.

Johanne: It was a great pleasure for me. Thank you.

Lisa: You've listened to Canadian I.P. Voices where we talk intellectual property. In this episode you heard from Johanne Boivin, a successful entrepreneur and expert advisor at Point Cardinal, a boutique firm helping companies grow. If you want to learn about intellectual property and how you can protect your invention, brands, creations, visit our website www.Canada.ca/ip-for-business, where you can also find our contact details if you have questions about intellectual property.