By Alyssa Gaffen, Meika Ellis, Jeremy de Beer, and Adam Soliman

Is intellectual property (IP) gender neutral? No. Neither is the dominant discourse on innovation. Recognizing this bias is the first step toward remedying it.

Copyright, patent, and trademark laws may seem to refer to a faceless – genderless – “creator”, who discloses knowledge in exchange for a limited monopoly. However, feminist legal literature has identified that IP and innovation frameworks not only negatively affect women, and positively affect men, but also project a male-dominated perspective on ownership and compensation.

Professor Carys Craig helped open our minds to this fact at the University of Ottawa with her presentation on the overlapping tenets between Feminist Legal Theory and Open Access approaches to innovation. Through this lecture, and the literature it inspired students to read, women and men within Open AIR’s New and Emerging Researchers Group, our “NERG”, seek to bring a new, gendered perspective to our research.

Craig notes that feminists in other fields of law strenuously resist the notion that property should be privately held to empower one individual and exclude all others. She unapologetically asserted that knowledge should not be a commodity to be sold. For that reason, feminism and the open access movement share many tenants, like seeking to emphasize distribution over compensation and to eliminate barriers to “access to knowledge”.

Both approaches also:

  • embrace complex concepts of creativity and draw attention to formal power structures;
  • disrupt established orders by creating room for those who are currently silenced;
  • emphasize the critical importance of information and participation, because technology can be a transformative social catalyst; and
  • appreciate the fundamental interdependency and social nature of human life.

Open access seeks to empower people by realizing the open ethos of the Internet and prioritizing A2K and quality education. Feminism supports this approach by calling for equal opportunities for all people to have access to and contribute to the knowledge economy.

Craig, therefore, encourages scholars and educators to engage with open access to knowledge, offering tips such as:

  • pushing back against proprietary defaults;
  • eliminating price, permission, and other access barriers;
  • responding to the threat of legal and technical control (DRM ‘blocking’ software); and
  • empowering authors by giving them agency.

Taking Professor Craig’s call to action seriously, Open AIR is now seeking to integrate a gendered perspective into our on-going research including different cultural dynamics of gender. Visit here soon to see our follow-up blog post, where we explore gender, IP, and innovation issues and future implications for the Open AIR Network.


Alyssa Gaffen, Meika Ellis, and Adam Soliman are members of Open AIR’s New and Emerging Researchers Group (NERG). Click on their names to follow them on Twitter or connect with them on LinkedIn. Jeremy de Beer is a co-founder and director of the Open AIR network. He is a Full Professor at the Centre for Law Technology and Society, University of Ottawa, and a Senior Research Associate at the University of Cape Town’s IP Unit. You can follow him directly at