Geneva can be a tough place for those who defend the role of intellectual property rights (IPR) in the future of innovation. Although the value of IP has been proven worldwide, multilateral organizations and activist groups often promote wrong-headed initiatives to weaken IP. For example, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unitaid have encouraged countries to undermine IP in the name of improving access to medicines.
But on November 8, United States Ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Dennis Shea challenged the anti-IP narrative in Geneva. He delivered a speech to the WTO Council on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) explaining how IP rights (IPR) foster innovation and spark economic growth.
Ambassador Shea focused on the “critical nexus between business development, intellectual property, and economic growth.” After noting the role that IP-intensive industries play in the U.S. economy – supporting at least 45 million U.S. jobs and contributing more than $6 trillion dollars to, or 38.2 percent of, U.S. gross domestic product – he explained what the United States government does to help entrepreneurs protect their innovative work and bring it to the marketplace. Ambassador Shea also noted the role of international cooperation in protecting IP, highlighting joint U.S. and European Union efforts to “work together to make sure their startups and small businesses share best practices about how to protect their IPR in each others’ markets.”
At the end of his speech, Ambassador Shea said:
“As we have discussed over the past year, the nexus between trade, IPR, and economic growth is profound, as intellectual property not only fosters new business, but it creates new jobs and leads to higher wages. IPR is an integral part of our local American innovative economy, and through trade and investment, IPR contributes to the economic growth of the global economy, improving lives and society as whole.”
Ambassador Shea’s robust defense of IPR was a welcome breath of fresh air in Geneva. Fortunately, more countries – at all levels of development – are coming to understand how protecting IP can help them grown their economies and improve the health and welfare of their citizens. Even at the United Nations in New York, representatives have increasingly recognized the value of IP to incentivize new research into cures for tuberculosis and other deadly diseases.
We agree with Ambassador Shea. Protecting innovation creates a strong engine for health and prosperity.