“Strengthening IP protections can improve incentives for innovative, domestic companies and deter patent thieves—both of which are proving to be more important than ever.”
Societies are always most vulnerable in times of crisis. Right now, America is in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, subsequent economic devastation, and justified nationwide protests for social and criminal justice reform—perhaps an unprecedented level of unrest. As such, it is also perhaps more important than ever for us to demonstrate our ability to unite, cooperate, and innovate. Fortunately, through the improved protection of our intellectual property (IP), America has an opportunity to do exactly that.
COVID-19 has demonstrated the equal importance of encouraging and protecting America’s innovators. Worldwide manufacturing shutdowns, part of the global effort to slow the spread, exposed our country’s reliance on China for many of our basic necessities and raw materials. America often generates the ideas of tomorrow. But, until we can generate the ensuing products as well, independence from China will be impossible. This reliance, and lack of investment in domestic production, is proving to have serious consequences.
Exploiting a Crisis
Every year, Chinese IP theft costs the U.S. economy between $225 and $600 billion. Since 2001, more than 3.4 million American manufacturing jobs have been lost to China. America cannot afford these losses, particularly considering COVID-19’s economic impact and the impending uphill recovery. This issue is about more than profits, though—it’s about giving American consumers and innovators the protection they deserve.
America’s current state of disarray is being exploited domestically, too. 3M, an American-based manufacturing company, has committed itself to supporting the national response to COVID-19. Specifically, last month, the company tripled its domestic production of desperately needed N95 respirator masks. Sadly, in exchange for their efforts, they may be getting a handful of dates in court.
3M filed four lawsuits against companies alleging they falsely affiliated themselves with 3M and gouged the prices of respirators by up to 600% while selling to government bodies. American companies that produce critical products need to be encouraged, not targeted by bad actors who want to exploit the demand for those products during a pandemic. Strengthening IP protections can improve incentives for innovative, domestic companies and deter patent thieves—both of which are proving to be more important than ever.
A Rare Bipartisan Issue
Fortunately, America’s leaders recognize the need for action. Last month, during remarks in the Rose Garden, President Donald Trump said, “China’s pattern of misconduct is well known. For decades, they have ripped off the United States like no one has ever done before…China raided our factories, offshored our jobs, gutted our industries, stole our intellectual property, and violated their commitments under the World Trade Organization.” Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), one of my home state representatives, and former tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, stepped up and raised these same concerns on the Democratic presidential campaign trail.
The need for improved IP protections is one of the few bipartisan areas of agreement on Capitol Hill, too. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK), and Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper requesting he take steps to address Chinese threats. Still, immediate and comprehensive action is needed to achieve the end we all want.
We Must Act with Urgency to Speed Recovery
We live in an IP-driven economy; industries rely on the enforcement of their patents; consumers expect safe, guaranteed products; and the implications of IP protections generate our level of economic growth and competition. America’s IP is worth $6.6 trillion, more than any other country in the world, and we need to keep it that way. Overall, the direct and indirect impacts of innovation account for more than 40% of U.S. economic growth and employment. Just last month, still in the wake of COVID-19’s economic fallout, the Dow and S&P 500 recorded their best performances in six weeks after news of a potential vaccine, further proving innovation is the strongest driving force in our economy.
America needs to act with a sense of urgency in reforming our IP system. Improving its protections could mean achieving independence from China, erasing hundreds of billions of dollars in losses to Chinese IP theft, and saving millions of American manufacturing jobs – revenue and jobs that have never been more important. But, as we navigate these unprecedented times, it is also crucial that we don’t allow exploitation. America has always demonstrated its ability to unite, cooperate, and innovate in times of adversity—it is right and necessary that our innovators not only be protected during this crisis, but encouraged as they fuel our recovery.
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