U.S. needs stronger intellectual property protections (Zahourek)

Kelsey Zahourek Contributor
Font Size:

The United States has remained a world leader in the global market when it comes to innovation and intellectual property. From the latest in life-saving medicines, to the iPad, to brake pads, the United States’ economy revolves significantly around businesses related to intellectual property. It is intellectual property that drives this economy to the tune of $5 trillion, accounting for half of all U.S. exports, and employing nearly 18 million workers.

The importance of intellectual property to the economy is difficult to overstate, yet this critical and fragile industry continues to be under attack.  Fake products of all kinds are entering the supply chain in record numbers, posing a serious health and safety risk to this country.  Tainted pharmaceuticals, substandard airplane parts, and virus-laden pirated software continue to cause serious harm to life and physical property.

This threat extends online as well. The growth of the Internet and advent of new technologies has made the theft of digital copyrighted works pervasive and unfortunately an underlying culture continues to rationalize this bad behavior by proclaiming “the future is free.”   What these people don’t understand is this is not a victimless crime. Workers of all skill levels, backgrounds, and educational levels are adversely affected by piracy.  The copyright industry alone employs over 11 million people, or 8 percent of the U.S. workforce, almost as high as the unemployment rate. Piracy and copyright infringement put many of these people out of work, further hampering our recovery.

Thankfully, lawmakers in Congress and some of those in the Obama administration also recognize the value of intellectual property and the vital role it plays for the future of the U.S. economy.

This week, Victoria Espinel, America’s first Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC), delivered to Congress this nation’s first National Intellectual Property Enforcement strategy.  The release of this report is a significant step in reducing the threat to the U.S. economy by increasing intellectual property enforcement and improving coordination among all stakeholders at the domestic and international level.

By increasing domestic and international intellectual property enforcement and coordination, Espinel would be taking the steps necessary to restore confidence in the economy.  Tougher monitoring and punishments for intellectual property infringers would not only protect the jobs we have, but offer opportunities to create new jobs.  The economic firm LECG estimated that if the rate of counterfeiting and piracy were reduced by just 10 percent, at least 174,000 jobs would be created each year.  Imagine what the impact would be if that rate were higher.

The rest of the world looks to the U.S. as a model for property rights protections, and we continue to require strong intellectual property enforcement provisions as a key part of negotiating free trade agreements.  Intellectual property rights can boost trade and foreign direct investment not only in the U.S. but in the developing world as well.

As highlighted in the 2010 edition of the International Property Rights Index (IPRI), people in countries that protect their physical and intellectual property enjoy a GDP per capita up to eight times greater than those without legal protection.  Implementation of the IPEC’s strategy would send a clear message to our trading partners that we are serious about protecting our creators and innovators and promoting prosperity around the world.

Economic expansion and job creation depend on securing property rights.  With the release of this report it is now up to Congress to take real steps to protect real American jobs and save real American lives by providing the tools necessary to protect intellectual property rights.

Kelsey Zahourek serves as executive director of the Property Rights Alliance, an organization dedicated to the protection of physical and intellectual property.