September 30, 2015

Innovation Policy – the Elephant in the Room

This is the fourth in a series of innovation pieces leading up to the 3rd Annual Global IP Summit on November 5 & 6, 2015. Check out previous posts – Part 1: Why Innovation Policy is Critical NowPart 2: A Legacy of Inventors, Entrepreneurs, and Innovators; Part 3: Being Competitive in the Global Marketplace. At the Summit, GIPC will release a new study looking at the state impact of IP, updating the 2013 IP Jobs Map. Join us. 

Six blind men each come upon an elephant. As each reaches the pachyderm, they describe the part of the animal they are able to touch. The tail is proclaimed to be a rope, the leg a tree, the side a wall, the ear a fan, the tusk a spear and the trunk a snake. In this Buddhist parable, each man perceives the whole only by the component they encounter. The lesson, as the English poem version by John Godfrey Saxe concludes:

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Unfortunately, innovation policy today is being debated in much a similar fashion.

When looking at the problem in the U.S. of a “start up deficit”—there was a net loss of 70,000 businesses in the past six years—Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton recognized the impact of small business failure also affects overall job growth. In doing so, he also pushed back against the notion that innovation is an economic fix in and of itself: “Our leadership keeps thinking that the answer to economic growth and ultimately job creation is more innovation, and we continue to invest billions in it.  But an innovation is worthless until an entrepreneur creates a business model for it and turns that innovation idea in[to] something customers will buy.”

Clifton is looking at the WHOLE elephant.

Certainly, we have to increase the talent pool in our labor force. Absolutely, we have to improve the STEM educational programs in our schools—elementary to PhD. Without question, there needs to be more investment in R&D. However, that represents only the innovation pipeline, not the supply chain, retail store shelves, and online venues where the real marketplace exists.

A conversation about innovation policy without discussing intellectual property’s role would be incomplete and leave inventors stuck in the garage or research lab, without the entrepreneurs to help take them to the marketplace. Innovation by itself is Steve Wozniak without Steve Jobs. Developing a single product is different than creating the sort of long-term, viable businesses critical to economic growth.

The solution lies in connecting these various components successfully.

For a historical perspective for where this has been achieved, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s exhibit Places of Invention outlines the success of integrated ecosystems paired with innovative ideas to show “what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, untapped resources and inspiring surroundings come together.”   Silicon Valley, Medical Alley in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and Hollywood each saw amazing advancement in computing, medical technology, and entertainment respectively in a short period of time.

To build upon these past successes for today’s economy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in partnership with the startup experts at the 1776 organization, undertook this challenge in their recent study, Innovation that Matters, which looked at how partnerships and connectivity at the local level can help boost civic entrepreneurship, so we can find tomorrow’s Silicon Valley, Medical Alley in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and Hollywood.

At the national and international levels, public officials and community leaders must connect innovation policy to discussions about improving intellectual property standards and diminishing regulatory burdens, among other vital areas. The first being the intersection in the marketplace where ideas meet investment; the latter creating an environment for growth. Both are necessary for the Free Enterprise system, which has historically fueled U.S. growth, to continue to thrive.

Brian Noyes is executive director of strategy and communications at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC).

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