With both sides of the aisle focusing on bettering the middle class this new Legislative session, Congress should consider determining how to better protect the intellectual property of innovative Americans. America’s knowledge-based economy requires international treaties and enforcement of current laws to keep American IP safe and to encourage innovation. 

IP-intensive industries create more high paying U.S. jobs than any other sector. A 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Patent and Trademark Office found that direct employment in IP-intensive industries in the U.S. accounted for 27.1 million jobs, and indirect activities associated with those industries provided an additional 12.9 million jobs for a total of 40 million jobs. Jobs related to IP industries comprise a staggering 27.7 percent of all jobs in the U.S. economy.   

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Congress must act to preserve America’s ability to remain a world leader in innovation, but to do so requires some creative thinking. One of the reasons Congress has not been able to take further steps to strengthen innovation in America is that Washington has repeatedly tried to protect groundbreaking new technologies with out-of-date approaches. Protecting innovation in the 21st Century requires smart, 21st Century policies that address the problems we currently face.  

American industry is leading the way with new innovative strategies to protect IP. One of America’s most innovative companies, Apple, recently filed a patent for new technology that would allow buyers of content obtained legally to share it, according to a Bloomberg Business report. Apple believes that allowing legitimate buyers to share their content would cut down on the numbers of people downloading illegally.

Illegally downloading content is not a legitimate option. Just as in the physical world, online, freedom does not mean lawlessness. Users must be aware of the consequences of internet piracy. Pirating a movie is just as illegal as slipping a DVD into your pocket and stealing it at a discount store. A truly free Internet, like any truly free community, is one where people can engage in legitimate activities safely and where bad actors are held accountable. 

Unfortunately, too many foreign governments treat IP theft as a victimless crime and look the other way, ignoring the economic and societal benefits that innovative economies offer. The lure of access to the U.S. market should be used as an incentive to convince trading partners that they should adequately protect IP rights, and to this end, the Global Intellectual Property Center recently published its third annual International IP Index. The Index serves as a tool for both government leaders and industry to evaluate the IP environments in 30 diverse economies around the globe. Effective IP protections are critical to trade agreement negotiations to protect software developers, artists, creators, innovators, and industry.  

Protecting IP is more than just a policy imperative – it’s enshrined by our Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 8: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” 

This clause, articulated by the Founders, is rooted in the notion that the best way to encourage creation and dissemination of new innovations and creative works to the benefit of both the public good and individual liberty is to recognize one’s right to the fruit of their intellectual labor through intellectual property rights. 

Consumers’ Research calls on Congress to encourage U.S. ingenuity to protect IP both in the physical world and on the internet and to ensure that our trading partners crack down on IP theft. Protecting American IP will continue to make our country the world’s leading innovator and the most vibrant and diverse economy the world has ever known.

 Colangelo is the executive director of Consumers’ Research. Consumers’ Research was founded in 1929 as a product testing and consumer advocacy organization and publishes a bi-monthly magazine on consumer topics.