White House must strengthen foundation of US innovation

Last year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report highlighting how U.S. industries reliant on intellectual property supported more than 55 million jobs, contributed to $5.8 trillion in economic output and accounted for nearly 74 percent of total exports.

These figures prove what should be obvious: Strong intellectual property (IP) rights are essential to expanding economic growth and fostering innovation. Without strong IP protections, innovation will diminish and so will America’s economic greatness.

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Our future economic success and global competitiveness will depend on whether we adequately protect private property rights and the rule of law in the new virtual economy. America has always been a society that rewards good ideas and protects property rights in a free-market capitalist system, not one premised on permission-less innovation where others can free-ride or take someone’s creation without even asking. 

It’s wrong to deny creators and innovators the fruits of their labor or to deprive them of their individual right to profit for the work they legitimately create.

That’s why the U.S. Constitution under Article I, Section 8 recognized these natural rights and empowered Congress to secure them in a way that advances honest and legitimate activity. That’s what John Locke advocated in his Second Treatise of Civil Government in the 17th century. The origins of this constitutional clause are found in English copyright law, and 12 of the 13 colonies provided these rights after the Continental Congress.

As information becomes the common rate of exchange and new ideas continue to revolutionize markets, our government needs to step up to the challenge of ensuring that property rights are protected. While IP-based industries are busy creating jobs and expanding opportunity, our government can’t afford to let them down.

Last month the administration released its 2013 Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement. While the guidance is welcome, what we need is real action. We need stronger enforcement and policies aimed at protecting intellectual property. Title I of the report calls for the president and Congress to “lead by example.” But that should mean more than just securing the U.S. government supply chain against counterfeits and making the federal government use legitimate software.

Who is going to take the U.S. seriously if we continue to deny a performance right for sound recordings as the rest of the developed world already does? We’re in a league with North Korea, Iran and China that still fails to recognize these rights. Will other countries take advantage of U.S.-based innovation if we aren’t willing to take reasonable actions against foreign-based rogue websites that threaten U.S. health and safety?

We continue to allow 25 percent of all Internet traffic to go to illegal rogue websites. It helps criminal enterprises thrive but it kills American business and hurts consumers. Creators benefit from the certainty of consistent and strong enforcement.

America must do more than just offer reports that include the typical feel-good language: “transparency,” “fair use,” “coordination,” and “voluntary initiatives.” Instead of rehashing buzz terms and talking points, we need to institute a national strategy that puts Americans’ private property rights and the rule of law at the forefront. If we don’t, countries like China and India will have no problem taking advantage our failures to fight for what is rightfully ours.

In India’s case, they’ve adopted an industrial policy that exploits our intellectual property on a whole new level. India has found itself on the United States Trade Representative’s Special 301 “Priority Watch List” precisely because of the country’s lack of respect for U.S.-based innovation. Nearly every major U.S. industry — technology, bio, pharmaceutical, chemical, agriculture, communications, medical, and manufacturing — has strongly criticized India’s policies for clashing with internationally accepted IP standards.

If we’re not willing to take leadership on IP issues at home, we certainly can’t protect ourselves abroad. I share American job creators’ and innovators’ frustration that diminishing IP rights and weak enforcement undermines our economy. We should all share this frustration. Everyone should work together to do something meaningful about it.

Let’s begin an honest discussion that acknowledges that intellectual property is a catalyst for American innovation. The genius of the American people and the promise of the free market will outlast and outperform all alternatives so long as property rights and the rule of law are respected in our new virtual economy. 

As the world leader in innovation creativity, the U.S. has everything to gain in the fight to promote our intellectual property rights. We also have the most to lose.

Blackburn has represented Tennessee’s 7th congressional district in the House of Representatives since 2003. She serves on the Budget and the Energy and Commerce committees.