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Robert Hormats Headshot

Protecting and Promoting Innovation

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More than two centuries ago, the first Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson said: "My knowledge is like a candle; with it I can light your candle, and now we both have light." Innovation is one of America's greatest assets and is increasingly a cornerstone of our diplomatic engagement abroad.

The social and economic impact of innovative American researchers, entrepreneurs, companies, and workers over the course of U.S. history have been enormous. Innovation has dramatically improved the quality of life in this country since the time of Benjamin Franklin. More recently, statistics show that innovation is responsible for nearly three-quarters of U.S. post-World War II economic growth. Knowledge-based companies generated more than $1 trillion -- approximately 74 percent -- of total U.S. exports in 2011.

The real story today, however, is the globalization of innovation. The United States is still an enormous generator of innovation, from which other nations have long benefitted. But we now also have the opportunity to benefit from innovation taking place around the world.

Learning from the American experience, governments around the world have developed national innovation strategies, policies, and programs to accelerate their economic prosperity and to help their citizens and companies compete globally. Many talented people abroad want to engage with American scientists, engineers, universities and research laboratories, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, and high-technology companies. Researchers and innovators increasingly work in global teams, where problems are shared, supply chains bridge continents, and products as well as services move to markets across borders. As a result, innovation diplomacy is now integrated into research collaborations, business partnerships, as well as traditional government-to-government engagement.

The success of many American companies is linked to their ability to compete in international markets. Thus, the U.S. government has a strong interest in making sure that other countries and, indeed, the broader global innovation system provide growing opportunities for, rather than disadvantage, U.S. companies, workers, and researchers. The growing phenomenon of "innovation nationalism" in the form of restrictive, discriminatory, or mercantilist policies -- or severe local content requirements--can harm inventors at home and abroad by limiting their access to global networks. Piracy of intellectual property and of trade secrets can also stifle innovation and do great harm to innovative companies and people in the United States and abroad.

Many countries lack strong intellectual property protections. And, it is clear that if others can steal new ideas, this undermines the ability of innovators to recoup the costs of their investment, reducing the incentive to innovate further. Respect for and enforcement of intellectual property rights give innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors the incentives to devote their time and energy to risky initiatives and to make risky investments. However, when property rights are not respected, innovation is severely discouraged. I see a strong intellectual property system as a prerequisite for innovation and it is a theme on with which we engage officials in countries around the world. The subject is a very high priority for the Department of State and many other U.S. government agencies.

My colleagues and I at the Department of State are pleased to have contributed to and to be a part of the release of the White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator's 2013 Joint Strategic Plan (JSP). The Strategic Plan focuses the efforts of the U.S. government to strengthen the enforcement and protection of intellectual property rights, as well as the protection of the health and safety of consumers from exposure to counterfeit products.

In the coming year, the Department of State will work to further the goals outlined in the JSP. In our bilateral and multilateral engagements we will work to improve the protection of intellectual property rights, advocating for a level playing field where foreign standards, and procurement and regulatory policies do not discriminate against American creative products and services. We will also continue to advocate for governments to adopt high quality international intellectual property norms, including full respect for trade secrets. During fiscal year 2013, the Department of State's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs will also fund $342,000 in 33 public outreach campaigns through our embassies to combat the spread of counterfeit medicines, other counterfeit products, and Internet piracy. We will also work with the Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs to improve intellectual property enforcement through government-to-government training in countries around the world.

Our intellectual property is the cornerstone of American ingenuity. The Department of State will continue to advocate for stronger recognition of intellectual property rights. However, we all share responsibility to encourage our friends, families, colleagues, and governments to understand and respect intellectual property rights. You can do your part by reporting violations of intellectual property rights to The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), so that we together can protect American innovation and, by doing so, America's future.