Actions belie India's talk on respect for intellectual property

As Attorney General Eric Holder said when discussing intellectual property, “[the] crimes are not victimless. The theft of ideas and the sale of counterfeit goods threaten economic opportunities and financial stability, suppress innovation and destroy jobs.” Despite this, Americans still illegally download songs and buy counterfeit products on the street because they fail to recognize the broader impact of their actions. As citizens of the most innovative country in the world, this point-of-view is incredibly shortsighted.

In the U.S., intellectual property plays a central role in our economic success. To maintain our position as the most innovative country, with incredible advancements in technology, biopharmaceuticals, renewable energy and other research-based industries, sound IP policies in the U.S. and abroad are essential. Unfortunately, recent actions by the Indian government have jeopardized this key sector of the U.S. economy, which could very directly result in lost jobs for Americans if action isn’t taken.

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As a former member of Congress, I worked tirelessly to ensure the U.S. supported policies both here and abroad that protected jobs and innovation. To see the Indian government’s recent disregard for U.S. intellectual property is frustrating, especially given Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to the U.S., where he told U.S. CEOs that the Government of India is committed to “fostering an economic environment that is open, predictable and transparent.”

Actions, however, speak louder than words, and in the past year, we watched India make decisions that have put U.S. companies and workers at a disadvantage. India has been putting our jobs at risk by forcing local production of certain information technology and clean energy equipment, and issuing compulsory licenses and revoking patents for innovative biopharmaceuticals. These actions are not merely inconsistent with the country’s international obligations; they also discourage innovation and investment in India’s own economy.

When companies are confident their intellectual property will be protected, it encourages them to pursue advances that push efficiency forward, drive costs down and increase employment. If a country like India, one of the U.S.’ most important strategic trading partners and one of the world’s fastest growing economies, decides not to protect global innovation, the opposite occurs.

With approximately 55 million U.S. jobs supported by IP-intensive industries, or 46 percent of private sector employment, any disincentive to innovate is unacceptable. India’s recent policy decisions not only stifle trade and foreign investment that would benefit their own economy, but also cut off U.S. companies from a incredibly large, important market. As a result, U.S. companies will have less incentive to grow and could expand at a much slower rate. This not only means that the jobs created by this sector of the economy, which pay 30 percent more than the national average, will be limited or eliminated, but that innovation will occur more slowly and future technologies and medical advances may not reach patients as quickly as they could.

One can sympathize with India’s desire to boost the fortunes of its homegrown companies, especially as countries continue to claw their way out of the recession, but creating such an unfair trading environment doesn’t benefit anyone long-term. It only discourages foreign investment in India and suppresses U.S. economic growth. We’ve heard a lot of talk from India, and now it’s time to see action. If India remains unwilling to protect intellectual property, then it is the U.S. that must take action. As a leader among other emerging economies, we’re already seeing some of India’s hostile actions being replicated. To protect U.S. innovation and jobs and ensure our economic competitiveness, we must show the world protecting intellectual property is a priority.  

Klink served in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2001. he is currently a senior policy adviser at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP.