Today, April 26, marks World Intellectual Property Day. Although this commemoration might go unnoticed by many, it's worthwhile to imagine for a moment what life would be like without innovation or the inventions innovators produce. Thomas Hobbes famously quipped that humanity without social structure would be "solitary, poor, brutish, nasty and short." The same can be said about humanity without innovation.
April 26th was chosen as the date for World Intellectual Property Day because it coincides with the founding of the World Intellectual Property Organization, otherwise known as WIPO, in 1970. For this year's celebration, WIPO has chosen to focus on "Creativity and the Next Generation."
Inventors, scientists, artists, entertainers, and other creators devote substantial amounts of capital, imagination, persistence and sweat to their work. Intellectual property rights -- in the form of patents, copyrights, and trademarks -- allow innovators to benefit from the fruits of their ideas and inventions. Through royalties from copyrights, patent licensing fees and revenue from brand loyalty attributed to trademarks, large numbers of artists, writers, inventors and entrepreneurs earn money and have the incentive to produce new creative works, inventions and branded products. World Intellectual Property Day celebrates their creativity and the contributions of inventors worldwide. More broadly, a strong intellectual property rights system encourages investment by millions of people in the United States and abroad to engage in ongoing innovation. This is critical for future economic growth in the United States and elsewhere. America's founding fathers considered this to be so important that they included the legal basis for our national patent and copyright system in the U.S. Constitution.
Many nations have adopted strong intellectual property rights systems, which have benefitted not only their own people but also the global economy. Many governments, however, still turn a blind eye to trade secret theft, counterfeiting, and piracy. Some governments also believe in "innovation nationalism" which discriminates against innovators abroad. In the long-term, intellectual property theft or nationalistic innovation restrictions -- that often appear to be attractive options in the short run -- benefit no one. Innovators -- young and old alike--deserve the opportunity to be rewarded for their efforts. And, the world economy benefits from new innovations, and growing collaboration among global innovators, to fuel growth and development.
Inventors and creative innovators should be seen as role models for this generation. It is they who will make the future work! Governments and individuals gain when more and more nations recognize and respect the value of intellectual property rights. All of us have a common interest in protecting and respecting intellectual property rights, which support innovative efforts and creativity.
In addition, our young people, and indeed all creators, inventors and entrepreneurs, must educate themselves about intellectual property rights regimes and take the time to learn how to protect their creations. They must know that a patent is only valid in the country where it is filed. They must consider the quality of intellectual property rights protection in the country, or countries, where they do research, work, manufacture, invest and sell their inventions, so those inventions are protected. Stopfakes.gov is a great place to start that research.
Finally, it is important for recognize the overall cost of failure to protect intellectual property rights. While fake handbags, illegally used software, counterfeit drugs, stolen copyrighted works or pirated movies may look appealing, many people who worked hard to create and produce them suffer from their sale. (And many are downright dangerous such as counterfeit drugs, auto and airplane parts etc.) Moreover, the incentive to put more money, creativity and energy into new creative products is diminished. The economy suffers. And there is a huge ripple effect. So, we all share responsibility to encourage our friends, families, associates, and governments to understand and respect intellectual property rights, for ourselves and coming generations.