Visionary Innovators and Intellectual Property in the 21st Century

April 26, 2012
University of Michigan "Responsive Envelope System Prototype"

Today, we celebrate the contributions of scientists and innovators such as Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham Bell. We recognize the writings of Jonathan Franzen, architectural designs of I. M. Pei, movies of Steven Spielberg, and many others like them whose works have changed the way we view our world and live our lives. Why today? Because April 26 marks World Intellectual Property Day, the annual celebration commemorating the formation of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 1970.

This year's theme -- visionary innovators -- recognizes the unique and valuable contributions made by gifted individuals all over the world. Without innovation, civilizations remain static. The economist Robert Solow was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1987 for showing that technological innovation was responsible for over 80 percent of economic growth in the United States between 1909 and 1949. The trend continues today. Modern economies are built on innovation. According to a recent Department of Commerce study, America's knowledge-based industries accounted for 35 percent of U.S. GDP and 61 percent of total merchandise exports in 2010.

Innovation is not limited to the developed world. Increasingly, innovative ideas and products originate in emerging markets where there is a growing number of research centers, innovative scientists, and highly entrepreneurial businesses. According to Ernst & Young, "70 percent of world growth over the next few years will come from emerging markets." And, in an interesting twist of fate, emerging market innovations often are adapted for use, or influence products, in the developed world, a process known as "trickle-up" innovation. For example, the $3,000 Nano developed and manufactured by India's Tata Motors has set new global standards for low-cost vehicles.

The incentive to develop new products and invest in companies that commercialize those inventions and creative works depends on intellectual property (IP) rights. This holds true for small businesses and large multi-national corporations, in developed countries and emerging economies as well as some of the world's poorest countries, where innovation is also occurring at a rapid pace. Tata Motors filed almost 40 patents associated with the design of the Nano to protect its research and development investment. Governments must therefore protect IP rights in order to support visionary innovators from within their own borders and throughout the globe.

Research and development in the twenty-first century is expanding from individuals to groups, from single disciplines to interdisciplinary approaches, and from a national to an international scope. WIPO found that less than a tenth of international patent applications in 1990 had a foreign co-inventor; 25 percent did in 2009. The same trend holds for scientific publications. This type of multi-national collaboration is exciting, because it takes advantage of expertise that exists around the world and applies diverse approaches to solve common challenges. Countries that fail to adopt and enforce policies supportive of IP rights will find themselves isolated from the global networks that drive innovation.

The Internet, social media, and new mobile phone applications afford an opportunity to collaborate and innovate on a previously unimaginable scale. But unless governments support the open and free exchange of ideas and reward risk-taking through protection and enforcement of IP rights, innovation will be stifled before it begins. Ideas from all sources must be allowed to compete, and those that succeed must be fairly rewarded. This is the basic recipe for an innovative economy, and it is the basis for America's economic success -- and indeed that of other nations -- over the past two centuries. Emerging economies will need to emulate this formula to sustain their dynamism.

The Department of State will continue to defend values and laws which are fundamental to innovation -- open discourse, freedom of expression, and IP rights -- in both developed and developing countries. And we will work with foreign governments to demonstrate that they themselves have an interest in pursuing sound innovation policies. Looking forward, the protection and enforcement of IP rights in support of global economic growth and innovation is key to our prosperity and that of our friends and allies around the world. It is also central to our shared pursuit of better jobs, higher living standards, and upward mobility.



Pennsylvania, USA
March 13, 2013

Tim in Pennsylvania writes:


Abdul K.
April 26, 2013

Abdul K. in India writes:

Creativity knows no boudries, the chalange is to align the criative flows to benefit the human development, and it obviously implicates changes on status quo globally. Following the same thought, the chalange for WIPO and least developed countries, like Mozambique specially, should be to stablish Intelectual Property knowledge platform inside or integrated in the national education system.


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