How do intellectual property protections help economy? | Opinion

America is the most innovative country in the world. Or at least it was.

In many ways, the title now belongs to China. The authoritarian powerhouse issued more patents than the US for the first time in 2019 and has left us in the dust ever since.

In fact, raw patent data doesn’t tell the whole story, and China has used non-market incentives to increase its numbers. However, in recent years, China has surpassed the United States in the number of scientific publications published in peer-reviewed journals, the number of scientists and engineers with advanced degrees, and other similar metrics.

The trends are all pointing in the same direction. China aims to outperform the US in the most important technology of the future.

Worryingly, it is very likely that these innovations and the technological innovations that enable them will determine control of the global economy in the 21st century. In the past decade, China has accounted for nearly three-quarters of all patents related to artificial intelligence, a technology of enormous economic and military importance. It is widely believed that China’s 5G communications network is far more advanced than ours. Even in biotechnology, an industry that has historically been dominated by the United States, the Chinese are quickly catching up. Chinese companies currently account for about 18% of cancer treatments worldwide in their early stages of development, and their share tripled in 2015. And in quantum computing, China was the first country to demonstrate quantum communication on a satellite network.

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Our economy and national security depend on regaining and maintaining our initiative. Unfortunately, instead of promoting policies that support and protect America’s innovators, too many political parties in Washington fail to recognize the inextricable link between innovation and intellectual property protection.

A strong innovation economy does not exist without a strong intellectual property (IP) system. Stanford University professor Stephen Haber concluded in a 2016 paper that “there is a causal relationship between strong patents and innovation.”

Strong intellectual property protection deserves credit for transforming America from a colonial past to the richest country in the world. The founders took the protection of patents and other intellectual property very seriously and included intellectual property protection in the Constitution itself.

It was a wise move. IP rules protect inventors and investors from others stealing their work. Few writers or artists pour sweat and tears into creating masterpieces, because without copyright, others can mutilate their work without punishment. Even if a small number of individuals continue to write and record purely for their enjoyment, the public will have little opportunity to enjoy the work, as publishers and record labels are rarely hand in hand.

The same dynamics apply across all IP-intensive industries. A wide range of inventions, from semiconductors to communication algorithms to life sciences, are very risky, expensive, and prone to failure, but easy to imitate once the investment is made and failures are overcome. Without the temporary exclusivity afforded by intellectual property rights, America’s best performers would have no incentive to make new breakthroughs, and it would be nearly impossible to raise funds to support their efforts.

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Historically, American workers and consumers have been richly rewarded by America’s strong IP system. Our intellectual property-intensive industries accounted for $7.8 trillion of GDP in 2019. This industry has supported more than one in three U.S. jobs and pays, on average, 60% more than jobs in other industries. And over the next decade, job creation in IP-intensive industries is expected to outpace other industries.

However, this prediction is rarely guaranteed. American intellectual property is under attack abroad and here at home.

As an example, China routinely steals American technology. To make matters worse, recent policy mistakes have allowed and even legalized such theft.

Last summer, the Biden administration helped push ahead with the World Trade Organization (WTO) initiative to renounce IP protection for mRNA vaccines that have saved millions of lives around the world. That decision has effectively provided mRNA-based technology free of charge to our adversaries and economic competitors, without providing any benefit in the global fight against the epidemic.

While this move did not give one additional patient a single additional injection, it provided a windfall for foreign powers as it gave them free access to a powerful platform that could lead to further scientific advances. Indeed, this move could help scientists from other countries outdo the American innovators who pioneered mRNA technology in the first place.

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Meanwhile, in Congress, lawmakers urged President Joe Biden to effectively invalidate the intellectual property of America’s top research universities. This is a move to cool research that benefits many industries, including climate, energy and pharmaceuticals.

Whether innovators are individuals developing new cybersecurity tools, or small teams of scientists developing promising new drugs, undermining intellectual property protections or raising doubts about America’s strong intellectual property commitments is the key to developing the agriculture of the future. Whether it’s a biotech company, it will hurt innovators who finance ventures. Solutions or clean energy startups fighting climate change.

Although we are from opposing parties, we have dedicated our adult lives to promoting and protecting intellectual property. It is the driving force of our economy. Any legislator who wants to increase innovation in the United States must understand the need for strong IP rights. They are inextricably linked.

Andrei Iancu served as Deputy Commerce Secretary for Intellectual Property and Commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under former President Donald Trump from 2018 to 2021. David Kappos served as Deputy Commerce Secretary for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office under former President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013. Both are co-chairs of the newly formed Innovation Promotion Committee.


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