Faculty of Law
University of Ottawa
The brightly lit runways and catwalks of the fashion world might seem a far cry from the less glamorous legal world but Courtney Doagoo is bringing these two distant worlds together as part of her doctoral thesis.
Courtney is now completing her Ph. D. at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa looking at the use of intellectual property law and social norms by fashion designers. She is not studying the Chanels, Louis Vuittons or Guccis of this world, but looking into the world of small and medium size independent fashion design entrepreneurs in Montreal and Toronto.
“How is one business owner who is also highly creative going to navigate this legal landscape without having to hire a lawyer," Courtney asked. "I looked at it through an holistic lens.”
Despite being a highly creative industry, she is looking at what they are able to create given the limitations they have within their segment and for their market.
The journey to her doctoral studies started in Ottawa in 2006 when she first registered for law school at the University of Ottawa. She then took the opportunity offered by the Law Faculty to do an exchange program at the National University of Singapore where she deepened her knowledge in intellectual property (IP) law. She realized she had more questions than answers following the completion of her initial degree and wanted to follow a different path than most of her peers who immediately went into practice. So she pursued an LL.M. at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, specializing in IP law.
“I felt this area of the law was more vast and where I could make some sort of difference.”
But to achieve this goal, Courtney was determined that she ought to do a Ph. D. She contacted a few law schools inquiring about enrollment for the subsequent academic year. Although the registration deadline had long passed, she was keen to start as soon as possible and expressed it to Florence Downing, the admission officer at the Graduate Studies office of the Faculty of Law.
To her surprise Florence called her back a few weeks later saying that two professors showed interest in her application and were ready to supervise her work in the coming fall.
“What are the odds that Florence would pick up the phone on that day that I called and say: ‘Wait a minute. Let’s see if we can give you a chance.’ The University of Ottawa fosters those opportunities.”
Courtney was matched with Professor Teresa Scassa, whose current research projects concentrate on information law, privacy, geospatial data and trademarks among other things. Considering Courtney’s past professional experience, she encouraged her to concentrate on the fashion industry.
“She has been so supportive, so encouraging. With Ph. D. studies, you have a lot of self-doubt throughout the process and Prof. Scassa has always been a pillar of strength. She has provided me with so many opportunities. She is a gem.”
During her doctoral studies, Courtney won in 2013 the Graduate Seminar Course Proposal Competition. She designed a unique course called Arts and Cultural Property Law that she taught in 2013 and 2014 at the faculty.
Once her thesis is successfully defended, she intends to turn it into a book to reach a wide audience.
“When I started, I didn’t think that it would turn out to be this fantastic multidimensional, interdisciplinary work.”
Courtney believes that her research has huge potential to inform us not only about the fashion industry in Montreal or Toronto, but about different innovative industries that rely on social norms instead of intellectual property law to thrive.