Published on 7 May 2009 @ 1:20 pm
Inside Views: Technology Essential For Green Jobs & Planet
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Intellectual Property Watch
By David Hirschmann, President & CEO, Global Intellectual Property Center, US Chamber of Commerce
Recently, we commemorated two seemingly distinct causes – Earth Day and World Intellectual Property Day. For decades, the former has served to inspire awareness and appreciation for Mother Earth, while the latter has helped highlight the role of patented inventions and other protected ideas in our economy and daily lives. Increasingly, these two goals have become inextricably linked as businesses invest billions of dollars and employ thousands of scientists, engineers and other workers to develop new clean technologies that will revolutionise how we produce and use energy. So I think we need to think about these two events in a new way, as “Green Innovation Week.”
Strong intellectual property rights are the underlying force driving innovation. America’s IP-intensive industries account for 18 million jobs, more than $5 trillion of the US gross domestic product, more than half of all US exports, and 40 percent of US economic growth. For centuries, innovation has driven economic growth – allowing America to flourish in good times and pulling us out of difficult periods. Especially during previous recessions, America has relied on the power of our ideas to help reignite the economy and put us back on the path to prosperity. Today more than ever, we need to safeguard and strengthen the system that encourages “green” research and development investments, and holds the potential of unleashing a new generation of green-collar jobs and solutions to energy and environmental challenges.
Standing in the way of these goals, however, are serious threats to environmental innovation – a growing number of foreign governments and global activists determined to weaken intellectual property rights in areas like energy efficiency and environmental technology. Citing the current patent system as a “barrier to technology transfer,” China and India, among others, have called for unwarranted exceptions to it.
More recently, Energy Secretary Steven Chu suggested that weakening intellectual property protections might be a suitable approach to climate change, saying, “[A]ny area like that I think is where we should work very hard in a very collaborative way – by very collaborative I mean share all intellectual property as much as possible. … But there hasn’t been a coordinated effort.”
If such views were to become law – or find their way into a climate change agreement – they would undermine President Obama’s vision to invest in new green technologies and create up to 5 million new jobs. The successful realisation of such a promise depends, in part, on an intellectual property system that promotes risk-taking, investment and perseverance. Weakening this system would threaten incentives for small and medium firms to invest in new ideas and overcome setbacks that inevitably arise on the road towards groundbreaking innovation.
This pro-innovation system simply cannot be bartered away. Intellectual property rights are and should continue being part of the solution to climate change, not be scapegoated as the problem and reason why we haven’t gotten there yet. And at this time of economic hardship, strong intellectual property rights are essential for developing cutting-edge inventions that will lead to recession-beating economic growth and job creation.
In response, President Obama and Congress must address these threats and insist on protecting environmental innovation, particularly in the looming domestic climate change debate and then likely at United Nations climate change negotiations in December 2009.
This challenge also requires the public and private sector to work together to find constructive solutions to these issues. We must work to keep providing incentives for innovative companies to turn ideas into inventions that create jobs and help us be responsible environmental stewards.
We can all agree that it is in everyone’s interest to work with organised labour to promote and protect green jobs, and to work with environmental groups, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders who understand intellectual property rights help promote innovation that solves the world’s most difficult energy and environmental problems. And given the uniqueness of these challenges to the developing world, our collective leadership can address the real obstacles to technology access issues, such as lack of infrastructure, weak legal and regulatory regimes, and protectionist tariffs.
As Congress and the administration prepare to tackle these issues – in Washington and abroad – they are reminded of the importance of protecting America’s green innovation economy and creating new jobs by enshrining strong green tech intellectual property rights as part of the solution to this global challenge. In doing so, they will give us more reason to celebrate the next time “Green Innovation Week” comes around as we make progress towards a healthier planet and putting people to work through innovation.