IP Rights Promote Innovation and Prosperity

Commentary, Lorenzo Montanari

Artists, inventors, and organizations of all stripes are joining hands on Wednesday April 26 to celebrate the contributions that Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) have made in driving limitless human innovation. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), “Innovation is a human force that knows no limits. It turns problems into progress. It pushes the boundaries of possibility, creating unprecedented new capabilities. World Intellectual Property Day 2017 celebrates that creative force.”

This year, World IP Day events will be held on six continents and online. In Saudi Arabia, the Girls’ College at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University will host a debate on the negative impacts of trademark infringement on health and the economy; in Indonesia, high schools students will compete in an essay contest themed around “developing the country with intellectual property” to win a scholarship; in Australia, young artists from the film industry will give presentations on the importance of IP protections in promoting creativity.

Online, Property Rights Alliance and 54 partner organizations have signed an open letter to WIPO General Director Francis Gurry to call the organization to take greater action in an era where IP rights have never been more at risk. The letter asks WIPO to review the ways IP enhances economic development and access to new products; work with countries to stabilize and grow their IP regimes; support IP as a property rights and a right to enhancing development; and finally, to oppose adoption of policies to the contrary such as the UN High Level Panel report on Access to Medicines.

IP rights grow developed and developing economies. Countries with robust IP environments have a GDP per capita 21 times that of countries with the weakest regimes. Currently, IP-intensive industries employ over 30% of the workforces in the U.S. and EU and are responsible for producing 40% of their Gross Domestic Product. There is no reason all countries should not reap the same economic benefits, or contribute to the same task of discovery.

Today, more inventions are being developed than ever before, thanks to adoption of stronger IP regimes that allow innovators to pursue solutions to global challenges. In 2015, a record 2.9 million patents applications were filed, a third from China alone. More than just a product, every new invention provides positive follow-on effects including creating jobs, extending life, saving time, and increasing well-being. Even failed inventions yield useful lessons.

IP rights allow inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs to have their original works protected in the marketplace, incentivizing greater investments for greater rewards. Countries with strong IP rights have more full-time researchers, greater investments in R&D, more articles and books published, and greater rates of entrepreneurship.

Many low and middle income nations, the most populated countries, rank poorly in protecting intellectual property rights. This hurts local economies, and the rest of the world is robbed of the immeasurable value of full-participation. Their economies are plagued by counterfeiters who peddle rip-offs dangerous to consumers, and IP creators are unable to compete, let alone invest, in such an unfair market.

Nigeria, for instance, has become home to one of the fastest growing movie producing centers in the world. Dubbed, Nollywood, it has produced celebrities like Omotol Jalade who has starred over 300 films and has a fan base spanning the world. Yet, due to rampant piracy its producers are unable to garner large investments for blockbuster films. Profits can only be earned before stolen versions saturate the market. Last year, Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics reported less than 1% of the industry’s valuation can be traced to official ticket sales and revenues.

The largest cost of poor protection of IP rights is that which is not seen. Future cures for cancer, AIDS, and diabetes are not just a question of science, but a matter of rights.

Lorenzo Montanari, Executive Director of Property Rights Alliance, an advocacy policy group in charge of publishing the International Property Rights Index.

Originally appeared in Forbes, April 26, 2017.