We find ourselves in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic as we arrive at the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO’s) World IP Day, April 26th. As we collectively respond to this medical crisis, it is important to remember the essential role that Intellectual Property (IP) plays in our modern world. IP protection is fundamental to fighting disease with new pharmaceuticals, to maintaining the integrity of medical supply chains, and to ensuring the quality of protective equipment. We should take time to ponder the importance of protecting intellectual property — because it is absolutely essential as we wage a collective fight for our common welfare amidst this medical crisis and as we seek new and inventive ways to prepare for and solve future challenges.
The Office of Intellectual Property Enforcement at the State Department has responsibility for encouraging the increased protection of intellectual property rights globally, through our Embassies and Consulates around the world, as well as working with U.S. companies owning intellectual property, to help ensure the protection of their rights. In the time of COVID-19, we have been constantly meeting with U.S. companies, to ensure their intellectual property remains protected, and to best support our innovative industry’s efforts to meet this unprecedented challenge.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2000 selected April 26th as a day for people around the world to learn about the role intellectual property (IP) plays in encouraging innovation and creativity. Since then, each World Intellectual Property Day has had a unique theme. This year’s theme is “Innovate for a Green Future.” In areas as diverse as solar energy, electric cars, and alternative fuels, incredibly bright and creative people in the United States are at the forefront of developing new technologies that improve the lives of people everywhere.
As we approach World IP Day, I hope you will join me in honoring American ingenuity. It is a value as old as America itself. Enshrined in the Constitution is the obligation for our government, “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
Think about how, every day, almost every aspect of our daily lives has been improved by the inventive geniuses who have come before us and the many who continue to create today. The freedom to innovate is truly the secret to America’s creativity and economic success. The need to protect our innovators and inventions is a central tenet of our national security strategy.
Our strong IP system establishes and protects American preeminence in almost every field of endeavor, improves the lives of our people, and creates and protects jobs. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, intellectual property intensive sectors sustain 45 million American jobs, contributing more than $6 trillion to our country’s economy annually.
By contrast, failure to protect IP undermines creativity and innovation, results in job losses, lost revenue for legitimate businesses, and impairs economic growth. Losses from IP theft cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions every year. The losses are not only in the U.S., but extend to many countries around the world.
Vice President Pence said in a speech last October that, “Free enterprise depends on the ability of risk-taking citizens to pursue their ambitions and reap the rewards of their sacrifice. When the product of their labor is stolen, when the sweat of their brow is made futile, it undermines our entire system of free enterprise.”
A strong IP system has worked for the United States and we know it can boost the prosperity of nations around the world. Around the globe, strong IP regimes correlate to increased foreign investment and a better standard of living. IP protections also allow our companies to conduct business abroad with greater confidence.
I am consistently amazed by the ingenuity and creativity of our citizens. Our strong IP protections support the very foundation of the unparalleled American innovation base, with deep rooted security implications as well.
On January 24th, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a report offering ways both the U.S. government and private industry can better protect IP at home and abroad. One week later, President Trump published an Executive Order laying out additional ways to protect Americans from pirated goods and contraband made available through the misuse of e-commerce.
The unprecedented emphasis this administration has placed on protection of American IP reflects the importance of protecting innovation for the benefit of us all. Abraham Lincoln summed it up this way, noting that our patent laws “added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.”
As we embark on a new decade, the application of technology to our environmental and health challenges is more important than ever. It will bring us the medicines, vaccines, devices, and equipment needed to take us beyond the coronavirus pandemic. On World Intellectual Property Day, let’s think about ways we can better protect the innovations that can support development and deployment of the technologies, products, and services needed to innovate for a productive future.
About the Author: Tarek Fahmy is the Director of the Office of Intellectual Property Enforcement in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.