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Lifestyle lawyers combine passion with legal work

|Written By Michael McKiernan

Combining your passion and your practice is the recipe for a perfect career, according to lifestyle lawyers Ashlee Froese and Sara Zborovski of Toronto firm Gilbert’s LLP.

Ashlee Froese has launched a blog on fashion law.

Trademark lawyer Froese helps players in the fashion industry to build up and protect their brand while Zborovski brings a food-industry slant to her regulatory practice.

“I have a personal interest in fashion,” says Froese. “It’s something I enjoy on a personal level, and I think that when you can marry your hobby and your job together, you’re not working. It’s fun.”

Zborovski says her blog, thefoodlawyer.ca, gives her an outlet to comment on the latest legal developments in the field as well as look at news items or scientific advancements that catch her eye. Froese also runs her own blog on the fashion industry, canadafashionlaw.com.

“It’s kind of a highlight of my day sometimes,” says Zborovski. “I like to sit on the couch after the kids are in bed and write about something I want to write about. I think we’re lucky that we’re genuinely enthusiastic about what we do every day.”

Zborovski says her lifelong fascination with food intensified after having children.

“I became more and more aware of the food we feed ourselves,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in what we’re putting into our bodies, the way food is marketed, and the evolution over the years in terms of what we care about as consumers.”

Early on in her career, Zborovski’s regulatory practice largely focused on work involving pharmaceutical and natural health-product companies, but now she says food law is ready to explode.

“We’re going to see many, many health-conscious Canadians continue to push the food industry to do good things and innovate in healthy ways and I’m excited to be a part of it,” she says.

“I’ve heard loud and clear that the food industry is in need of representation and there don’t seem to be a lot of food lawyers out there.”

Zborovski says the government-relations side of the business has underserved the food industry. She intends to help clients learn lessons from the lobbying practices of pharmaceutical companies. She says some of her clients have been unhappy with the regulatory roadblocks thrown up by some agencies.

“We’ve been very involved in advocating on behalf of pharmaceutical companies for changes in the law in both Canada and the U.S., and I don’t see food companies banging down the doors in the same way,” she says. “There needs to be an industry approach where you find common ground and present a united front to government.”

Zborovski works with companies to take advantage of food-label claims that Health Canada must approve. She also guides them through the approval process for new products and deals with import and export issues once they’ve reached the market.

She encourages clients to bring her on board as early as possible.

“When you get an idea, call me. At the early formulation stage, you want to maximize the allowable label claims so you can say, for example, ‘very high in fibre’ as opposed to ‘high in fibre.’ That might just be one little tweak in your formulation. Then you can roll out an actual plan with the client for how you’re going to bring the product to market without any hiccups.”

Froese also likes to get in on the ground floor with clients when it comes to talking through the registerability of trademarks and the potential opposition from other parties.

“It’s a hell of a lot cheaper to do that work at the outset than to turn around and relaunch your product and your brand after you’ve invested all this money and maybe acquired some publicity,” she says.

“It’s not good from a PR point of view to be going back on yourself.”

Froese says the fashion industry is also an underserved market when it comes to lawyers. She notes she often has to fight against preconceptions when enforcing intellectual property rights in the field.

“There seems to be an idea with fashion that because it’s so functional that it shouldn’t be afforded the same intellectual property protection like other industries,” she says.

“I’m kind of fighting against that instinct and trying to help fashion brands to build up their own portfolio.”

Froese has blogged frequently on the high-profile dispute between Yves Saint Laurent and French shoe designer Christian Louboutin over a trademark for distinctive red-soled shoes. When Yves Saint Laurent launched its own line of red-bottomed shoes, Louboutin applied for an injunction to stop them.

“When I talk about this, people have a very strong reaction,” says Froese. “Generally, they think it’s ridiculous and why should one company have exclusivity over the colour red for shoes. But if it’s distinctive of one source and you see a girl wearing shoes with red bottoms and you automatically think, ‘Wow, that’s a Louboutin, an $850 shoe,’ well those things add up. The whole purpose of a trademark is that it’s indicative of one source. Why should that not be protected, notwithstanding that it’s a functional shoe?”

Froese says some companies are also unaware of their rights when it comes to branded social media sites. She helps them obtain Twitter handles and LinkedIn pages and navigates them through the resolution process when disputes arise.

“There’s a misconception that if it’s the online world, there’s no police force, which is not true,” she says.

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