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Originally published Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 5:32 PM

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Guest: Protecting our intellectual property is a must for America

Developing nations such as India have to respect intellectual property rights for Washington’s innovative companies to thrive, writes guest columnist Norm Dicks.


Special to The Times

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WASHINGTON is the most innovative state in America, according to Bloomberg research. Bloomberg attributes this top ranking to a “large technology workforce, high productivity rates and plethora of public companies in aerospace, biotechnology and computer technology” in the state.

At the recent Washington Council on International Trade conference, during which I had the privilege of leading a panel from Washington state’s congressional delegation, it was evident the degree to which trade is vital to our state. In 2013, Washington exported $82 billion, ranking our state as the fourth-largest exporter in the nation and largest on a per-capita basis. Research has shown a close correlation between innovative economies and advanced trading regimes, and this has certainly proved true here in Washington state.

All great innovation economies are built on great ideas. And creating an environment in which great ideas can flourish, and ultimately lead to market realization, requires an effective system that values and protects those ideas. Underwriting Washington’s leading role is a strong tradition of respecting intellectual property rights. In his August 2014 visit to Seattle, U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman noted the importance of intellectual property protection, especially in view of the highly innovative and productive companies in sectors such as information technology, advanced manufacturing and pharmaceuticals that call Washington home.

In recent years, however, intellectual property protections for all American companies are under assault. Foreign entities are taking the intellectual property of American companies through piracy, counterfeiting and even cyber-enabled theft of trade secrets. The scale of loss is staggering. The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, co-led by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Adm. Dennis Blair, concluded that the annual loss was upward of $300 billion, or about the amount of all U.S. exports to Asia in any year, at a cost of more than 2 million U.S. jobs.

Washington state feels the effects of poorly protected intellectual property very acutely because our innovative industries rely greatly on the formulas and sophisticated processes that require high intellectual property protection standards. And Washington’s connection to the global economy as an important trading state means that policies and practices in other countries have real impacts on our own economy.

The National Bureau of Asian Research, where I am a senior counselor, is currently looking at a key developing country and important trading partner of the U.S. — India — in this regard. Some Indian national policies are creating disincentives for foreign firms to trade with and invest in India’s growing economy. Chief among these concerns are the use of government compulsory licenses to limit the term of patents, or to disallow patents altogether. And in other cases, copyrights and trademarks are not protected. As India is Washington state’s 10th-largest foreign trading partner, with trade volumes having grown nearly threefold in three years, developments in India really matter.

However, India seems poised to make important changes. The new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made clear that it understands India’s policies must welcome foreign investment. The Modi government has taken encouraging steps by declaring its intent to issue a new intellectual property policy soon and hire 1,000 new patent examiners to address a serious backlog of patent filings.

Perhaps most important, the new government appears poised to change the culture of protecting innovation as it seeks to become an innovative economy itself. Last month, President Obama visited India for the second time during his tenure, demonstrating a unique opportunity for bilateral engagement on intellectual property rights. Much remains to be done, but these are important first steps.

Washington state’s innovative companies wish India well as it works through these important issues, even as we remain steadfastly committed to maintaining and supporting high levels of intellectual property standards.

Former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks represented Washington state’s 6th Congressional District from 1977-2013. He is now a senior counselor with the National Bureau of Asian Research.



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