The Road to an Effective Innovation Diplomacy

May 20, 2013
A Drought Simulator Looms Over a Crop of Corn

Americans understand that one of our great national strengths is innovation. Great innovators -- Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and others -- are household names.

The social and economic impact of innovative American researchers, companies, and workers over the course of U.S. history have been enormous. Innovation has dramatically improved the quality of life in this country since the time of Benjamin Franklin, by many accounts America's most illustrious innovator. More recently, statistics show that innovation is responsible for nearly three-quarters of U.S. post-World War II economic growth. Knowledge-based companies exported more than $1 trillion -- approximately 74 percent of total U.S. exports -- in 2011.

The real story today, however, is the globalization of innovation. The United States is still an enormous generator of innovation, from which other nations have long benefitted. But, we now also have the opportunity to benefit from innovation taking place around the world.

Learning from the American experience, governments around the world have developed national innovation policies and programs to accelerate their economic prosperity and to help their citizens and companies compete globally. Many talented people abroad want to engage with American scientists, engineers, universities and research laboratories, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, and high-technology companies. Researchers and innovators increasingly work in global teams where problems are shared, supply chains bridge continents, and products move to markets across borders.

The success of many American companies is linked to their ability to compete in international markets. So, the U.S. government has a strong interest in making sure that other countries and, indeed, the broader global innovation system does not disadvantage U.S. companies, workers, and researchers. The growing phenomenon of "innovation nationalism" in the form of restrictive, discriminatory, or mercantilist policies -- or severe local content requirements -- can harm inventors at home and abroad by limiting their access to global networks. Piracy of intellectual property and trade secrets can also stifle innovation and do great harm to innovative companies and people in the United States and abroad.

The global innovation story is complicated. That's why the Department of State and National Academies of Science recently co-hosted a seminar to discuss innovation and foreign policy. Participants all agreed that the rapidly growing global interest in innovation provides a historic opportunity to enhance U.S. innovation capacity and international collaboration, and to advance U.S. foreign and economic policy goals. Based on the workshop, we are convinced collaboration between the Department of State and the National Academies can do much to shape U.S. policy in this area and open doors for enhanced international cooperation on fostering innovation as a tool for solving global challenges.

To see the full version of this blog post on The Huffington Post, click here.

About the Authors: Robert D. Hormats serves as Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, and Charles Wessner serves as Founder and Director of the National Academy of Sciences Program on Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship.

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