Friday, April 25, 2014

GIPC Celebrates IP Champions – And America Should Too!

On April 23, the Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted its 2nd Annual IP Champions Conference. The event honored innovators, creators, and defenders of intellectual property for their contributions to increasing awareness of and protecting IP rights. The core theme of the event was the importance of safeguarding IP rights in order to promote the positive impact of IP-centric industries on our nation’s innovative economy. As GIPC president and CEO David Hirschmann stated, “Intellectual property rights are the cornerstone of our innovative economy and are critical to dozens of industries and millions of consumers around the globe.”

Panelists discussed the importance of supporting IP-based sectors, promoting IP awareness, and enforcing strong IP rights in the contexts of business innovation, consumer safety, and economic development domestically and worldwide.

Mark Crowell, Executive Director of U.Va. Innovations, reported that three-fourths of new jobs in the U.S. economy are in entrepreneurial companies founded on inventions that come out of universities, which demonstrates the importance of investing in research and education. For instance, U.Va. Innovations alone has created nearly 900 local jobs, brought 342 products to development or to market, and generated $329 million in external funding and $14 million in sponsored research. 

On a national scale, IP-driven industries provide 55.7 million jobs, 35% of U.S. GDP, and three-fourths of the nation’s exports. The impact of IP in the U.S. is valued at over $5 trillion. And, half of the economic growth in the U.S. economy takes place in industries that did not exist even ten years ago. These impacts clearly show that innovation drives economic development, and entrepreneurs and creators who rely heavily on IP protection for their products create jobs, attract investment to local and national markets, and make valuable contributions to the information economy.

Panelists lauded accomplishments like these, but cautioned that IP-based industries can only create value if investors and innovators can rely on the safeguards of IP rights to protect their works, and also to help ensure that creators will be able to recoup returns on investment. Representatives from the National Football League (NFL), U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the National IPR Coordination Center (IPR Center) discussed their efforts to prevent counterfeit products from reaching the market. They explained that piracy and counterfeiting have become much more sophisticated and global in nature and coordination between public and private entities and among nations worldwide must increase.

The U.S. loses over $250 billion each year to counterfeit products and global piracy; IP infringement is one of the biggest sources of drain to the economy. But there are some success stories. For example, the IPR, jointly with other federal agencies, international and local law enforcement, and private companies disrupted a massive sports counterfeiting ring involving arrests of 70 people, shuttering more than 5,000 counterfeiting websites, and seizing $37 million-worth of fake NFL merchandise in New York and New Jersey. The scale of these operations and the potential loss to the U.S. economy demonstrate the importance of helping promote, protect, and enforce IP rights.

While the financial impact of IP-based industries provides a clear reason to protect IP, the IP protection is embedded in the foundational values our country was built upon. Mark Crowell noted that our founding fathers recognized the value of the useful arts. He observed that Thomas Jefferson founded the patent office and was an inventor himself, and he quoted the former President who stated, “Wherever an invention proves useful it ought to be tried.” Congressman Doug Collins of the 9th District of Georgia noted that IP was so important to our Founders that it was enshrined in the constitution. He explained that although we are in the midst of fundamental change in our society, moving from tangible to digital, the property right and value of an intangible idea and innovations are no less important than the proverbial bundle of sticks.

David Lowery, Musician and Guest Lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, discussed how songwriters are among the original authors clearly protected by IP rights. He drew a comparison between songwriters and poets and innovators and entrepreneurs, suggesting that these groups are the "garage tinkerers." They are the creators that have always recognized, unlike many people today, that you do not have to choose between protecting IP and embracing new ideas or creating new innovations or technologies.

Finally, as Congressman Collins said, “strong IP protections are not a hindrance to creation but are the very spark for innovation… From healthcare, to technology, to poetry, it all starts with a creative spark,” these are all products of an intangible idea that comes from the individual that is valuable, “property that comes from within.” The only way to incentivize further creation, as our Founders recognized, is to provide protection for intangible property, the fruits of man’s labor, through strong IP rights.