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Esper: A Pro-Innovation Agenda for America’s Rejuvenation

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue has been traveling the nation for months now outlining a common-sense strategy for reviving our economy and creating 20 million new American jobs as part of the chamber’s Campaign for Free Enterprise.

[IMGCAP(1)]A core foundation of this strategy, essential to past economic revivals, depends on simple American innovation and creativity. The intellectual property resulting from such hard work, investment and ingenuity are the “creations of the mind” — those copyrighted, patented or trademarked products that end up on store shelves as new computers or software, in theaters and on TV as the latest movies and shows, or in our medicine cabinets as treatments for chronic diseases or childhood ailments — that are a vital part of America’s economic growth and competitiveness.

Currently, IP-based industries from the automotive and entertainment sectors to the computer, electronics and medical products industries account for more than $5 trillion of the U.S. gross domestic product, drive more than half of U.S. exports and employ more than 18 million Americans. These industries continue to grow, usually offering higher-paying jobs and delivering advancements that are constantly improving our personal and professional lives.

At the same time, America’s innovative economy faces increasing threats from criminal counterfeiting and piracy networks, as well as from a handful of foreign governments and special interest groups determined to weaken the IP rights that protect and incentivize our creativity. These threats continue to erode America’s job base and put the welfare of consumers around the world at increasing risk.

As such, the chamber’s Global IP Center believes that government policies to both protect and promote innovation and creativity will be an essential part of our economic recovery and continued international leadership. We recently wrote to Congress and the administration to outline our priorities for 2010 and express our continued commitment to work with both branches of government, labor and other IP stakeholders to further IP-friendly policies that will create jobs, promote our economic expansion and protect the very system of IP laws and policies responsible for American ingenuity.

A major player in these efforts will be the intellectual property enforcement coordinator, a position created by the bipartisan 2008 PRO-IP Act. As the nation’s first IPEC, Victoria Espinel is charged with drafting a comprehensive national strategy to improve IP protection and enforcement — a major step forward for America’s economy that Congress should thoroughly examine. To complement Espinel’s efforts, it is essential that Congress fully fund the PRO-IP Act, which also authorized new personnel and programs aimed at curbing IP theft. Congress rose to this task in fiscal 2010 appropriations, but a consistent level of funding in fiscal 2011 and beyond is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of these initiatives.

To bring about better intellectual property rights compliance by America’s trading partners, the GIPC recommends that Congress enact legislation to bolster the U.S. trade representative’s “Special 301” process, which calls for an annual review of intellectual property protection and market access practices in foreign countries. Enhancing the tools available to the administration to better engage nations that fall short of meeting their international obligations to respect IP rights would help improve export markets for U.S. businesses both large and small.

Congress can also protect the health and safety of all Americans by passing legislation to improve the capabilities of U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These agencies should be funded and empowered to interdict dangerous counterfeit goods, which have in recent years included everything from fake brake pads to bogus medicines and antifreeze-laced toothpaste.

The administration also plays a pivotal role in protecting IP, and the GIPC is encouraged by the president’s recent pro-IP statements. A few weeks ago in Ohio, President Barack Obama cited “insufficient protection” of IP rights as one of the problems facing the economy today, adding that we cannot allow others to steal our ideas when “our competitive advantage in the world is going to be people who are using their minds to create new products, new services.” We couldn’t agree more.

It is essential then that the administration continue to promote and defend a robust international system of IP laws and norms, from protecting these rights in international forums such as the World Intellectual Property Organization and World Trade Organization to advancing trade agreements, such as the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, with strong IP provisions. It is also important to engage key trading partners such as China and India on improving their laws and policies to prevent continued harm to America’s IP-intensive industries. In all of these efforts, we need enhanced U.S.-European Union cooperation at the top levels to set and uphold the highest international standards possible to drive progress and stop IP theft.

Another area of great concern is online, where IP theft is rampant. The Internet is responsible for amazing advances in society; however, new online technologies have fueled an explosion of IP theft, which not only poses a risk to consumer health and safety, but also undermines sectors of our economy that have historically provided secure, high-paying jobs. An effective means of addressing this problem is the development of broadband policies that preserve the right of Internet service providers to use reasonable methods and effective tools to prevent the distribution of illicit content, whether it is child pornography, malware or stolen movies.

Finally, the GIPC encourages the administration to conclude an ambitious and comprehensive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. This agreement must build on existing international rules and norms and include robust provisions to confront IP theft in both the physical and online environments. While bearing in mind the practical limitations involved in the negotiation of any multilateral agreement, we encourage the administration to make every effort to increase transparency, especially with Congress, to ensure this issue is not used as a justification for delay.

Protecting intellectual property rights is an area that has long enjoyed the full support of Republicans and Democrats, business and labor, and everyone in between. The pro-IP agenda the chamber has put forth builds on that foundation; it is designed to foster job creation and economic growth — twin goals that are embraced by the White House, Congress and the public.

Innovation and creativity are the lifeblood of America’s economy and our global leadership. These are qualities that have not only defined our prosperity over generations; they are traits written into our collective DNA. The role of the federal government in a free market such as ours, especially in times such as these, is simple: improve and protect the rights of inventors and creators, enhance enforcement efforts in the U.S. and abroad, and give Americans the chance to invent, create, work hard and prosper.

That’s our agenda — a pro-innovation plan based on strong IP rights that are woven into the fabric of America’s free enterprise system.

Dr. Mark T. Esper is executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center.

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