October 28, 2016

An Innovator’s Worst Nightmare

What’s scarier than creepy clowns, ghosts, ghouls, and a never-ending election season? The year-round fright for business owners that lurks behind every corner: intellectual property theft.

It’s the counterfeit items hidden in online shopping carts, films downloaded on illicit sites, or unregulated goods manufactured by child laborers in a factory thousands of miles away.

These are the terrors of intellectual property infringement that do more than harm consumers: they undermine entrepreneurs.

Intellectual property represents thousands of ideas that power thousands of products and services – the very foundation upon which so many innovators depend.

It’s the genius behind the latest online technology or iPhone app; the value that hinges on the exact shape and color of a shoe or handbag; the recipe at the heart of the tastiest sodas and the most innovative medicines; and the pulsing beat of today’s top-twenty hits.

Many risk everything they have on their big ideas, only to have them stolen away by big-screen-worthy villains who turn around and sell them as their own.

Have you heard their horror stories?

There’s the one about the bridal dress designer, who finds that the dresses she spent years creating are cropping up as fakes on thousands of sites across the web.  The story ends when she has to shutter her shop, having lost over $500,000 to counterfeits in a single year.

Or how about the tale of the songwriter? He spends 3 years living off the tips from a pickle jar until he finds his one big hit; but his “fans” stream-rip his songs instead of buying them or listening on legal music services. He doesn’t have the money – or the heart – to release a second album.

Then there’s Joe. He trademarked his restaurant’s name, “Joe’s Diner,” only to find that a new Joe’s restaurant has opened down the street. Faux-Joe’s is selling undercooked meat and soggy fries. Joe loses a lot of business, because customers mistakenly believe the two restaurants are related. He goes bankrupt before his trademark infringement suit even hits the court floor.

These stories aren’t mere campfire folklore: they are the realities of hardworking men and women across the country and across the globe.

The bad news is that no innovator is truly safe. The good news is that strong intellectual property protections can deter and defend against the IP theft that threatens millions of jobs and businesses.

Because intellectual property theft is too scary to ignore.

Frank Cullen is executive director of U.S. intellectual property policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Intellectual Property Center. 

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