Jobs Summit - The Innovation Agenda and Green Jobs of the Future

Dec 3, 2009

Since the dawn of time, human innovation and creativity have transformed the world and our place in it, in ways known and ways yet to be discovered. From microwaves and washing machines, to vaccines and jet aircraft, innovation has provided new opportunities, helped solve old problems, and made life more efficient.

But these "creations of the mind" that we call innovation have also improved our quality of life, shaped our culture, and made the world smaller (and more connected).  These creations also drive our economy and create jobs in hundreds of different ways.  For every new invention or artistic work that finds its way into the marketplace, new jobs are created and new opportunities revealed that strengthen the economy and make us all more competitive.

A great example of an innovation that singularly changed the landscape of our lives and our economy is the personal computer.  Setting aside its impact on our personal lives, what would our economy look like and how would it function without the PC?  Not only does the computer industry employ millions of people, but it has contributed to the birth of new job sectors across the economy.

Another product of the computer age is the Internet, which has expanded our channels of commerce, completely changing the free market landscape and providing countless opportunities for more innovation and economic growth. 

Innovation is contagious, and spreads like wildfire in countries that encourage and protect it. It leads to jobs and economic stability while promising the potential of financial windfalls for those who take chances. Innovation is opportunity.

And the American economy depends on these opportunities. Intellectual property (IP) in the United States is worth over $5 trillion, surpassing more than the nominal gross domestic product of any other country. Driving 40 percent of our economic growth, IP accounts for more than one-half of all U.S. economic exports, contributing $37 billion to our trade balance. Over 18 million Americans go to work every day in IP-intensive industries, often in fields that far surpass earning levels of non-IP related jobs.  

As we look to the next great opportunity, we find great promise in the creation of green technologies.  Global energy needs are rapidly growing, and these demands, coupled with the challenge of reducing worldwide CO2 emissions, have sent us seeking solutions in bio-fuels, wind power, solar cells, and other renewable sources of power–with innovation holding the answers for us to discover and improve. The green technology revolution also promises to create millions of new jobs in the U.S. alone, and will play a central role in America's economic resurgence.  All of this can happen provided we take the necessary steps to protect the intellectual property (IP) laws that encourage innovation.

The message today is very clear–green technologies are needed to address climate change and provide new, sustainable forms of energy. Citing potential growth of up to 5 million jobs, the Obama Administration has placed green growth and economic transformation at the center of its economic plan. Indeed, the potential is there, and if we do not capitalize on this, other nations will.

A recent study by Copenhagen Economics—a European based consulting firm—concluded that the development and production of renewable energy technologies could create more than 2 million jobs in the European Union over the next twenty years. These figures could double when taking into account other sectors that would be impacted, such as the transportation sector. Many of these jobs would be highly-skilled research jobs that would go a long way towards helping the EU achieve the goals it set forth in the Lisbon Agenda–to transform Europe into the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world.

The EU is not alone in competing with the U.S. for green jobs. A recent report sponsored by the Coalition for Innovation, Employment and Development found that that the development and deployment of advanced clean technologies–from biofuels and hydropower to wind and nuclear energy–could create nearly 10 million jobs in India by 2025. The Indian government along with private industry is investing heavily in green technologies that will usher their economy into a new age.

Clearly America's interests lie in innovation, and protecting intellectual property is key to not only our progress, but global progress as well. While protecting intellectual property can lead to job growth, neglecting these protections will lead to tremendous job losses. One study conducted by a U.S.-based firm, Garten Rothkopf, projected that nearly 1 million American green jobs could be forfeited by 2020—a number that would increase exponentially in successive years—if IP rights are not protected as part of any global climate change agreement.

To this end, there are some foreign governments that look to weaken current IP laws for their own economic and industrial benefit. This would be devastating to the global economy and our ability to address climate change.  A lack of IP protection would choke research and development funding by stripping away the incentives to innovate, leaving us further behind in the rush to reduce CO2 emissions.  Such an action would also deal a severe blow to the U.S. economy by robbing us of green-tech jobs in America, and closing export markets abroad.

The Europeans and Indians understand the importance of green technology as a solution and job creator – it is part of their economic plans. And so far, Congress and the Administration have been supportive of innovation and the role it plays in our economy. But the U.S. must remain vigilant and reject proposals from other nations in climate change talks that would weaken or compromise current IP laws.

As we look to grow our economy and pull ourselves out of our economic malaise, our focus should be on job creation. We have a unique opportunity to paint the nation green and create jobs, but to be successful, we must provide the incentives (and safeguards) to thrive in this green tech revolution. This comes through protecting IP and encouraging investment in the technologies of the future.

The rest will take care of itself.

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