From the beginning, the protection of intellectual property such as patents, trademarks and copyrights has been the driving force behind America’s economic rise.
The patent and copyright clause in our constitution led to the 1790 Patent Act and the first patent board composed of Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox and Edmund Randolph.
None other than President George Washington signed America’s first patent, for improvements in making potash.
Abraham Lincoln was awarded patent number 6,469 in 1849 for an invention to lift boats over shoals and obstructions in a river. Nikola Tesla was granted a patent in 1888 for the technology behind the electric vehicle, which wasn’t mastered until more than a century later by a company named after him; Disney (DIS) in 1940 for the art of animation; Bowerman in 1972 for Nike’s waffle sole; and Steve Jobs in 2007 for the basis of the iPod.
It is not an exaggeration to state that the protection of intellectual property has been the fuel for the engine propelling America to capture the commanding heights of the global economy.
Here is the good news: Last year America’s patent and trademark office (USPTO) issued its ten millionth patent.
Protecting America’s Crown Jewels
So in these turbulent times, when trade disputes dominate the headlines and globalization is under attack, it’s worth pausing to acknowledge that our primary agenda should be promoting the protection of intellectual property at home and abroad.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center’s (GIPC) research highlights the high stakes for America. Intellectual property is the foundation of 45 million high-paying U.S. jobs, 74% of our exports, and 38% of our GDP.
But here is a wrinkle that may not have occurred to you: When a foreign country puts in place a transparent legal framework to protect intellectual property rights, it is not only good for American companies; it is essential for their own economic vitality and progress.
The recently released sixth edition of the U.S. Chamber’s International IP Index ranks 50 countries on the basis of 40 intellectual property protection indicators.
The U.S. leads the pack, closely followed by the U.K. and the European Community. A quick survey of the country rankings shows a close correlation between strong protection of intellectual property and economic development.
For example, a robust IP protection results in a country being 53% more attractive to foreign direct investment, six times more likely to attract highly skilled researchers, 60% more receptive to entrepreneurship, and 42% more likely that an idea will be supported by venture capital and private equity.
This much is clear – a fair and transparent legal framework to protect innovation is the key to unlocking capital, talent, creativity and economic growth.
Protecting U.S. trademarks is also vitally important. Each year counterfeit goods rob America of 750,000 jobs and $250 billion of sales, resulting in 53 billion visits to rogue websites.
So while trade statistics are important, let’s center our economic diplomacy on the basic building blocks of America’s edge to further its leadership of the global economy and create more high-paying jobs at home. Progress in the protection of intellectual property by countries such as India and China is painfully slow and incremental. That fact should be at the core of America’s trade negotiations.
A Reason for Optimism
America’s ten millionth patent is a major milestone that deserves ample appreciation and recognition.
Next time you visit Washington, D.C., take the time to cross the Potomac to visit the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office’s impressive campus in Alexandria, Virginia. Fittingly, this organization does not rely on the U.S. taxpayer for even one cent of its budget. Bravo!
Jefferson, Knox and Randolph, names that grace the main buildings in this complex, must be looking down on it today in awe and optimism.