The United States is “the innovation center of the world,” according to Francis Gurry, Director-General of the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization. This is thanks in large part to a rigorous system of intellectual property (“IP”) laws, grounded in Article One of the U.S. Constitution.
IP provides the incentives for the world’s most innovative minds to develop cures for deadly diseases, productivity-enhancing software, safe and plentiful food supplies, and clean energy technologies; enhances our cultural life through the encouragement of creative works, such as books, movies, music, and art; and promotes brand accountability to safeguard an informed consumer from dangerous fakes and pirated products.
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, IP-intensive companies account for more than $6 trillion of U.S. GDP and support 45 million American jobs. American IP laws are the strongest in the world according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International IP Index.
U.S. IP laws create an intangible infrastructure that moves ideas from mind to market. Innovators invest their time and resources in developing ideas in the same way that a conventional factory invests in brick and mortar and machinery. When IP laws give those innovators the ability to turn their ideas into enforceable assets—through patents, copyrights, and trademarks, the same way a manufacturer holds legal title to its factory and equipment—they gain the confidence to invest in high-risk, often high-cost, research and development.
Likewise, investors, be they venture capitalists, local banks, or shareholders, obtain the confidence to invest in the entrepreneur. In this way, the strength of the U.S. IP system enables connections between businesses at every level of the economy—from start-ups through to multinationals—and the financing that underpins investments in ground-breaking innovations.
However, IP is under attack around the world. Counterfeiters and pirates have built a global criminal enterprise that destroys jobs, undermines innovation, and endangers consumers. IP is also under threat by some activists and a handful of governments that promote a view of IP rights as an obstacle, rather than a catalyst, to economic development and growth.
Outside our borders, the United States must continue to play a leadership role in pressing the global community of nations to protect IP. Given efforts by activists worldwide to undermine IP, U.S. officials must adopt a forward-leaning agenda to promote IP and innovation in multilateral forums such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, and regional forums such as APEC. In addition, U.S. officials should prioritize enforcement of IP provisions in U.S. trade agreements already in force and ensure that international accords now under negotiation include strong IP protections.
Greater international cooperation is essential to stemming the global tide of counterfeit and pirated products, which the OECD has estimated at more than $500 billion annually. In addition, the United States should act quickly and decisively against governments that undermine IP, e.g., by issuing compulsory licenses.
Above all, defenders of IP must educate key audiences around the globe about this vital issue. Success will depend on a close working relationship between the business community, Congress, the Administration, and other allies. Nothing less than America’s competitiveness is at stake.