In the world of innovation—the future is now

Dr. Mark Esper Contributor
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Let’s talk jobs. Rarely in our history has the country shared the same focus and concern about a single issue as we do today. With unemployment hovering at almost 10 percent, and with an even higher number of Americans underemployed and unhappy with their current jobs, we are a nation faced with great challenges. Not only is one out of 10 folks looking for a job, but this fact coupled with everyone else’s insecurity means that many people simply aren’t spending money, let alone investing in their future. This trickle-down effect is further dampening our economy and clouding America’s outlook.

We’ve been here before, though, haven’t we? Each time America has faced difficult circumstances, we have seized the opportunity to improve our lot in life. Instead of looking around for yesterday’s answers, Americans capitalize on the solutions of tomorrow. The most innovative nation on the planet finds a way to reinvent itself—and today’s economic challenges are calling on us to do this once again. Can we do it?

Sure we can. The innovative and creative powers of America’s best and brightest have the opportunity to revitalize our economy and create the jobs of the future. Think about this—the job you have today would most likely have been considered a “job of the future” a generation ago. Without a doubt, the computers, smart phones and iPods you use on a daily basis are products of forward thinking innovators, as are the jobs of everyone who makes, sells, supports, and repairs them. Because of someone’s “great idea,” our world is what it is today.

Intellectual property, or what is often called ‘creations of the mind,’ is a key component to growth and development around the world. Whether it is addressing challenges such as chronic diseases and environmental problems, diffusing knowledge through books and journals, providing entertainment such as movies and music, or contributing to a recovering economy through technologies and software that create jobs, one thing is certain: protection of IP is the foundation of America’s competitiveness, and vital to our future.

The United States’ IP is a very valuable commodity; it is worth over $5 trillion—more than the GDP of any other country—and is responsible for the employment of over 18 million Americans. Accounting for over one-half of all U.S. exports, IP drives 40 percent of our economic growth today, with even greater potential going forward. Furthermore, IP-intensive industries pay higher than non-IP jobs, and these sectors are growing, creating not just jobs—but careers.

President Obama gets it. In an economic recovery speech he recently gave in job starved Ohio, he said “our competitive advantage in the world is going to be people who are using their minds to create new products, new services. But that only helps us and helps to build a multi-billion dollar company if somebody can’t steal that idea and suddenly start making it in Indonesia or Malaysia or Bangladesh with very cheap workers.”The president continued by citing “insufficient protection” of IP rights as one of the problems facing the economy today.

Congress gets it. Both the House and Senate have passed important measures over the years, such as the 2008 PRO-IP Act that created the nation’s first Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner.

And labor seems to get it. At its recent meeting in Orlando, the AFL-CIO Executive Council released a statement detailing the importance of intellectual property to American jobs.

Business certainly gets it. The Global Intellectual Property Center—an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that I lead—exists to champion IP rights and work towards increased IP protection and enforcement.

Yet despite White House, Congressional, labor and business support, IP rights and laws are still under assault. Counterfeiting and piracy causes the loss of thousands of jobs each year. Every dollar that an employer loses to IP theft is one less dollar they can use to hire more staff, purchase new equipment, or improve an employee’s benefit plan.

IP theft also discourages the next great idea from becoming a reality. How can we expect an individual or a business owner to invest their savings into a dream that could very well be stolen right before their eyes? IP protection and increased enforcement provides the confidence and assurance needed to incentivize the innovative mind, and encourage the investment in research and development that spurs progress and helps expand the economy.

So what can be done?

For starters, we need a domestic agenda that includes completion this summer of a government-wide National IP Strategy to improve IP protection and enforcement. This task is the responsibility of the nation’s first-ever U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator created last year.

Next, Congress must pass a Customs and Border Protection reauthorization bill that empowers officials to more effectively interdict counterfeit goods. Other legislative measures should include full funding of the PRO-IP Act—legislation which authorizes new personnel and programs aimed at curbing IP theft, and enhancement of the Special 301 process—an annual review of intellectual property protection and market access practices in foreign countries— to ensure that violator countries develop comprehensive, behavior-changing plans.

Internationally, the GIPC urges completion this year of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement that could raise the bar on enforcement standards and cooperation between nearly forty countries.

We also need further engagement with countries such as China and India to improve their IP rights systems, and strengthen U.S.-EU cooperation to advance the global protection and enforcement of IP rights.

We also must set our sights on the road ahead. Recent trends suggest that the U.S. is slipping when it comes to innovation; many seem to be taking IP for granted.

A signal needs to be sent to America’s future innovators that IP will be protected, and that innovation and creativity will be rewarded. We all benefit from it, and in so many ways, we depend on it. Strong IP rights and effective enforcement measures are vital to reclaiming our innovative spirit and global leadership in this arena.

Our elected leaders have a responsibility to protect IP and uphold strict enforcement measures to fight IP theft. This will strengthen the incentives necessary to inspire present and future innovators to create society’s next great advances. It is only through innovation that America will retain its cutting edge, and in the process, create the jobs of the future that will allow our economy to thrive once again.

Dr. Mark T. Esper is executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber’s Global IP Center.