116th Congress – Intellectual Property Deserves Your Attention
Last month some of the most prominent thought leaders on intellectual property (IP) sent a letter to members of the 116th Congress providing guidelines that should inform IP policies developed during this, or for that matter, any congressional term in the foreseeable future. The letter is a comprehensive statement that highlights the outsize impact knowledge-based industries have on the U.S. economy, the health and cultural lives of our citizens and America’s national security posture. ALEC is one of the signatories, and the letter can be accessed here.
The first section following the introduction describes the constitutional roots of IP thought and law in America. Our Founding Fathers specifically recognized intellectual property’s ability to unleash American ingenuity by promising to protect the “Writings and Discoveries” of the new nation’s “Authors and Inventors” in Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. The letter also emphasizes that protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) facilitates free speech by “affording innovators and creators the ability to support themselves … unencumbered by government.” More about the constitutional underpinnings of IP law in America can be found here in an ALEC article on the topic.
It is impossible to overstate the role that IP-driven innovation plays in the U.S. economy. The letter observes that, “IP rights create jobs and fuel economic growth, turning intangible assets into exclusive property that can be traded in the marketplace.” According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 27.9 million direct jobs and an additional 17.6 million indirect jobs totaling 30 percent of all American jobs owe their existence to IP-intensive industries.
The letter details threats posed to the United States by inadequate IP protections and weak enforcement of IP law. They include: counterfeit movies sold on websites harboring malware, a problem explored more thoroughly here; counterfeit parts found in weapons systems compromising the safety and security of the nation and members of America’s armed services; and counterfeit pharmaceuticals which risk the health and lives of American consumers, the subject of the article here. Insisting on strong IP chapters in the free trade agreements (FTAs) to which the United States is a party is one of the most effective and efficient ways to encourage respect for American IP and IPR globally. The newly-negotiated United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that would govern trilateral North American trade has exceedingly strong IP provisions that are likely to become the gold standard for FTAs of the future. Read more about IP and USMCA here. The emphasis on protecting IP internationally benefits our industries, which are disproportionately the victims of IP theft, as the OECD chart here clearly demonstrates. However, strong IPR protections and enforcement are also good for our economic partners – especially in the developing world. OECD studies have found a strong correlation between the strength of a nation’s IP regime and its prospects for economic growth.
Institutions shoulder most of the burden of IPR protection and certainly enforcement. However, since we all share in the fruits of America’s knowledge-driven economy, it is incumbent upon us all to value the intellectual property that is its foundation. Theft is theft irrespective of whether it involves a stolen car or a piece of music. America’s Founding Fathers understood the power of American ingenuity and as the letter to the 116th Congress observes, “continued protection of these fundamental rights is essential to American innovation and competitiveness.”