Joan Clark, who died this month at age 90, was the first female partner of Ogilvy Renault, the largest and most prestigious law firm in Montreal at the time. She was also president of the SPCA, and was responsible for getting rid of puppy mills in Quebec. Miss Clark (she always went by “Miss”) was an expert in the arcane area of patent and trademark law, and argued complex cases before the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Lawyers who practice intellectual and property law are a rare breed,” said Lise Bergeron, the second woman to be named a partner at Ogilvy Renault, though a specialist in corporate law who found patents mystifying. “Most lawyers couldn’t get past the first dozen words in a patent.”
Miss Clark led the patent law department at Ogilvy Renault and took three cases to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“It was a remarkable feat to go to the Supreme Court three times and in each case overturn the judgments of the lower courts. Joan Clark was a dynamic lawyer who presented well-thought-out arguments in a clear and convincing manner,” said Malcolm McLeod, a lawyer who worked closely with her for three decades.
One of the Supreme Court cases involved a patent on an innovative curling broom that was more flexible when it swept the ice. She found a way to defend the patent of its Quebec inventor.
The second was a complex pharmaceutical case, and again she won for a smaller Quebec firm.
In the third she represented the engineering firm Dominion Bridge, which was being sued by a man who had been fired after working on the design of the Ottawa Civic Centre. He claimed the copyright on the plans. The Supreme court ruled in her client’s favour.
Joan Clark was born in Montreal on Feb. 8, 1930, the only child of Olive (née Pritchard) and Thomas Clark. Her mother had a science degree from McGill University, where her father was a professor of paleontology and headed the geology department. He taught his last class when he was 98. Joan went to public high school and did her undergraduate studies at McGill. She then went to the French-language University of Montreal for her law degree, an unusual choice for a Montreal anglophone, but something that helped her stand out when starting her career. For two years she was the only anglophone in her class, and she graduated magna cum laude with the Governor-General’s Medal, the first woman to do so. In November of 2017 she gave a talk to the law graduates society at the university when it gave her an award.
“In my first year there were 110 students in our class, of whom only about a dozen were women. I am told that today the first-year class in law has about 500 students, of whom 62 per cent are women. Already an important change,” said Miss Clark, who went on to describe a rather unusual hazing event.
“In my day there was a bizarre initiation procedure which no doubt does not exist today. The women students were put on sale, and each was sold to the male student who paid the highest amount, probably less than a dollar. I was purchased by a second-year student, Philippe Gélinas, who was the most charming and gallant gentleman possible, and who acted as my godfather for the next three years.”
She joined Ogilvy Renault (now Norton Rose Fulbright) in 1954. She founded the intellectual property practice. She had to fight for a number of things, some of which seem quite petty today. When she went to the firm dinner at a men’s only private club she had to enter through the “ladies’ entrance.” She fought to have that changed, and won. The University Club only accepted male graduates; she put an end to that.
Miss Clark was a formidable woman and her juniors at Ogilvy Renault treated her with great respect. “She was head of the intellectual property group and though everyone was on a first-name basis, she was always called Miss Clark,” said George Locke, now a judge on the Federal Court of Appeal. Judge Locke remembers the biggest case he worked on with her involved complex patents held by AT&T for how the 1-800 service worked. She represented the Stentor Alliance, a group of all the Canadian phone companies. The case lasted four or five years.
When Miss Clark was elected president of the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property, her gender led to some confusion at its Tokyo meeting in 1992.
“As she arrived at the auditorium for the opening ceremonies, the congress guides immediately directed her to the seating reserved for the wives of the dignitaries, who were seated on the stage. She was able to convince the guides that her seat was on the stage. She had a speech to make,” said Robert Mitchell, a patent agent who worked with her at Ogilvy Renault.
Miss Clark was in demand for big international cases. In 1979 she was approached by Polaroid to launch a patent infringement action against Kodak, in Canada. She went to Cambridge, Mass., for a meeting with Edwin Land, the inventor of the instant camera and the CEO of Polaroid. Others at the meeting were the company’s legal team, attorneys William Kerr and Herbert Schwartz, who were leading the parallel U.S. litigation.
In a book on the case A Triumph of Genius, Edwin Land, Polaroid and the Kodak Patent War, the author, Ronald Fierstein, detailed how Miss Clark handled the American lawyers.
“Land had requested an additional day of meetings with Joan Clark. Land clearly liked Clark. She was bright but unthreatening.” It seems Mr. Land found William Kerr, another alpha male, a challenge to his large ego, in meetings.
“Kerr and Schwartz were troubled by the extra meeting with Clark, wondering what Land expected to get out of it.” It turned out that Edwin Land loved dogs. He had two bullmastiffs named Per and Se. The extra meeting with Miss Clark was to discuss dogs.
Miss Clark was a dog lover. She was known to bring her dog Rhoda, a large Rhodesian Ridgeback, to dinner parties where the dog would sit quietly in the corner. She was president of the SPCA in Montreal and led the fight against puppy mills, unscrupulous breeders who bred dogs for profit without a thought for their welfare.
“She personally lobbied the Quebec government for a law to protect the welfare of animals. When she finally realized that there was interest but no legislative action, she sat down and drafted the bill in French and presented it to the government,” Mr. Mitchell said. “It was adopted by the National Assembly without much objection. The law was fine but there was no budget set up to hire inspectors. Joan then went on a fundraising campaign to shame the government into hiring inspectors.”
Her work in this area was one of the reasons that in 2008 Miss Clark was named an officer of the Order of Canada, the second-highest level of the Order.
The citation called her “a pioneer for women in the legal profession,” and went on to note that she “helped lead non-profit animal welfare organizations and was a major force behind the creation and implementation of a groundbreaking animal protection law in Quebec. She also played a key role in bringing about national standards regarding the use of animals in research.”
Joan Clark was an elegant woman who would buy designer clothes in Paris when there for business trips. She was mildly eccentric and for many years drove a Humber Super Snipe, a luxury British car, keeping it repaired long after its best-before date. Later she owned a red Mercedes roadster as well as a series of Volkswagen convertibles which she drove to Ogilvy Renault’s offices in Place Ville Marie. When her mother became infirm she bought a large SUV to accommodate her wheelchair.
Miss Clark lived with her parents in the inner Montreal suburb of Town of Mount Royal. Her mother was a powerful influence in her life and encouraged her independence. Miss Clark was once engaged to a fellow lawyer but broke off the engagement after he insisted that she quit work once they married. She took care of her parents in the family home as they grew older. Miss Clark was popular in the neighbourhood, especially at Halloween, when she stocked up on expensive chocolates.
Miss Clark died at home in Montreal on April 8, from complications after a fall in November.