August 26, 2014

Building a Global Community of First Markets

By Patrick Kilbride

Today, many innovative products—technology, software, life-saving medicines—see an unnecessarily limited initial introduction to those few countries where high-standard intellectual property laws provide protection from copycatting and piracy. As a result, businesses, consumers, and patients in many of the world’s countries have limited or second-hand access to innovations that frequently improve quality of life—which can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Likewise, innovators are effectively locked out of the broad, global marketplace which could help ensure the commercial success of their ventures.

What’s more, to a discouraging extent, outside this small circle of IP-protecting countries, innovators struggle to bring groundbreaking ideas to market in successful fashion, denying all of us effective access to much of the world’s creative capacity. Consider that it has only been in recent decades that women have been successfully integrated into the U.S. workforce as career professionals, yet today it is difficult to imagine how the United States ever got by without fully capturing the productive and creative energies of half its population. It’s a process that continues today, and in much the same way it should be a moral imperative for all of us to empower the innovators of every race and nation across the globe.

Intellectual property has a key role to play: Where innovators are able to temporarily reserve the right to produce or license their inventions, they enjoy access to a legal and financing infrastructure that helps bring ideas from mind to market securely, expeditiously, and cost-effectively. That has not generally proven to be the case where IP is absent. Accordingly, it’s not difficult to see a strong benefit from expanding the community of nations that provide a strong, enforceable framework of IP laws.

One opportunity to do so lies in the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, which brings together twelve Asia-Pacific nations, representing a wide range of development. If these countries can reach consensus on a strong set of protections for copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets, the TPP promises to create a new global benchmark for IP. And in doing so, they may establish a community of “First Markets,” an economic bloc of $28 trillion in collective GDP that will provide a substantial safe haven for innovation. Such First Markets would be likely to enjoy not only early access to innovative products, but also the type of investments in R&D and production that would cultivate ever greater domestic innovation.

Sometimes policymakers have a tendency to think of their countries as “importers of IP,” and question the domestic benefit of a strong IP regime, ensuring a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fact is, the TPP can help foster the environment for more innovation at home, building tomorrow’s IP “exporters.” The U.S. example is illustrative, where due to a strong IP regime, fully three-fifths of U.S. exports are generated by IP-intensive industries, supporting some 40 million jobs.

What’s more, free trade agreements are not the only road to a strong IP framework, and the “First Market” benefit ought not be limited to the TPP countries. China and India together represent nearly half the world’s population – and, logically, half the world’s innovative capacity. A unilateral investment in an enhanced IP environment by those two countries could unleash a torrent of new and diverse innovations on the world.

Whether it’s through a strong TPP, or by any other means necessary, it’s time to expand the community of First Markets. When we do, from cancer to climate change, there won’t be a problem out there that can’t be solved.

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