IP and Copenhagen – Final Thoughts

Dec 18, 2009

by Mark Esper

Despite the lack of real agreement in Copenhagen, there is clearly a consensus among the nations gathered that climate change must be addressed.  All agree as well that new and innovative technologies will be critical to helping nations deal with global warming adaptation and mitigation.  Most of these innovations will come from the private sector, which has been expending a great deal of time, effort, and resources—with much more to follow—on these cutting edge technologies.

Protecting the intellectual property (IP) rights of these firms and inventors will be critical to both incentivizing their continued investments, and helping spread the knowledge gained from such research and development.  Negotiators from the United States and other nations consistently reiterated this pro-IP position during negotiations over the past year, and worked together to protect IP from efforts to weaken existing laws and norms. Their steadfast support of IP rights and innovation should be commended.

Although no climate change agreement emerged from Copenhagen, efforts by some nations to craft political statements and treaty provisions s designed to weaken IP rights leaves much room for concern.  Efforts to undermine IP protections will not stop, and anti-IP activists already have their sights set on the next round of talks.  As such, it is important that we remain engaged and vigilant if we are to address climate change in a timely and effective manner.

To that end, the Chamber will continue to actively work to promote strong IP rights as a driver of innovation and a key part of the solution as climate change discussions move forward in other venues.  We will also work to remove the real barriers to technology transfer—such as high tariff and non-tariff barriers, and weak legal frameworks—so that critical technologies can be diffused widely and broadly in this global fight. 

But the value of protecting IP rights doesn't stop with the new green technologies it will bring to our climate change efforts.  Research shows that strong IP rights in sectors such as green tech can create millions of jobs in India and Europe, and most certainly for other developed and developing nations as well.  Conversely, research also shows that weakened IP laws will cost America over a million jobs in the next ten years, with that number increasing exponentially after 2020.   All of this will have a dramatic impact on each nation's economic growth and competitiveness in the years ahead. 

These are vital statistics that cannot be ignored, and the Congress and Obama Administration have demonstrated their continued support for strong IP rights. Whether it  is increased funding for enforcement, bipartisan legislative language urging IP protection in climate change negotiations, or direct intervention—such as Vice President Biden's recent IP roundtable at the White House—America's  political leaders remain spot on when it comes to intellectual property. 

This support will remain crucial as some nations and anti-IP activists regroup in the months ahead for the next opportunity to weaken the rights of inventors, undermine a time-proven system of incentivizing innovation, and sap America's recovery and competitive edge.

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