Opinion

Protecting ideas = creating jobs

Dr. Mark Esper Contributor

Victoria Espinel, the nation’s first Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, last week delivered to Congress a strong National IP Enforcement Strategy that will help create jobs, revitalize our economy, and spur innovation. It promises to do this by protecting the intellectual property rights of America’s innovators and creators, and the tens of million of jobs that depend on IP.

Intellectual property is the products—everything from movies, music and software, to shoes, medicines, and computers—that are protected by copyrights, patents, and trademarks, and that we Americans use and rely upon every day. Given the importance of these “creations of the mind,” and the associated rights and laws that safeguard them, to America’s future, we should expect the IPEC to deliver a comprehensive and forward-leaning plan that takes the U.S. to new heights of IP protection.

The Obama administration has been a strong advocate of IP rights, supporting efforts to safeguard American jobs and ideas in areas ranging from the protection of “green tech” patents to creative arts, while also defending American ingenuity against piracy and combating trademark theft through an Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement with nearly forty other countries.

Yet this upcoming plan—the first-ever of its kind—offers President Obama the opportunity to raise the bar considerably when it comes to stopping counterfeiting and stemming the rapidly growing problem of digital theft over the Internet and by enterprises. In other words, rather than merely playing defense and protecting jobs through traditional measures, the new White House plan has the opportunity to play offense in a comprehensive way against criminal networks and others who seek to steal Americans’ ideas.

Recently, while speaking at the Export-Import Bank’s Annual Conference, President Obama said, “Our single greatest asset is the innovation and the ingenuity and creativity of the American people […] It is essential to our prosperity and it will only become more so in this century. But it’s only a competitive advantage if our companies know that someone else can’t just steal that idea and duplicate it with cheaper inputs and labor.”

The president is right. America’s advantage in the global marketplace has always been our ability to harness knowledge and innovate; to be creative in ways that provide real value to others and help move mankind forward. It is the free market and IP rights embodied in our Constitution that have allowed the “American dream” to flourish as a result of “American ingenuity.” Millions of people from around the world come to this country each year to pursue both, and it is the same reasons why criminal organizations and a handful of governments around the globe want to take our IP for their own gain.

Additionally, IP intensive industries – such as the life sciences, computers, and aerospace – rely heavily on investment and research, which leads to job growth in a number of areas. According to a recent study, IP-intensive industries spent almost 13 times more on R&D between 2000 and 2007 than non-IP-intensive industries. Simply put, these sectors are putting money into the economy to grow their ideas, develop their inventions, and create products that people want.

Indeed, the old stereotype that IP industries are mainly white-collar businesses has been disproven; many traditional, heavy manufacturing sectors—such as automobiles and aerospace—are highly dependent on protected ideas. Moreover, IP-intensive industries also pay their workers higher salaries. Over the years, the annual salary of all workers in IP-intensive industries averaged about 60 percent higher than the workers at similar levels in non-IP intensive industries. These are the types of jobs Americans want, and what the nation needs to grow in the years ahead.

Given all these facts, and others equally persuasive too numerous to list, it is no surprise that Congress overwhelmingly passed the PRO-IP Act in 2008, with the support of both business and labor, to enhance America’s IP protections. A core feature of that seminal legislation was the establishment of the first U.S. IP Enforcement Coordinator, and the mandating of a National IP Enforcement Strategy that is expected soon.

The promise of this new strategy is not only that it will improve the cooperation and coordination of the various federal agencies engaged in IP protection, but that it will take the U.S. government to new heights in safeguarding America’s economic lifeblood. More specifically, this strategy gives America the opportunity to create newer, better, higher-paying jobs across the country—and to better protect consumers in the process–based on the simple notion of protecting the ideas of America’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative community.

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