09/14/2011 02:11 pm ET Updated Nov 14, 2011

A New Lever to Advance IP Protections

A recurring theme in this week's discussions between BSA member-company technologists and their counterparts in government has been the question of how to crank up America's innovation engine to more effectively foster new industries and create jobs that will drive a robust recovery in the near term and continue powering the US economy over the longer term.

We in the software industry see a number of ways we can contribute -- from capturing economic efficiencies by accelerating deployment of cloud-computing solutions to harnessing software innovations as a green-energy solution, which I'll touch on at greater length tomorrow.

But another critical piece of the innovation puzzle is strengthening intellectual property protections. For software, that means curbing piracy. And here, there is an opportunity for the US government to build on its already impressive record of leadership in ways that convince other countries to follow suit.

Here is how.

In 1998, President Clinton signed an executive order requiring all executive departments and agencies to use only legal software. Leveraging that proactive leadership, US trade negotiators have since been able to encourage other nations to adopt similar policies. Indeed, software-legalization decrees have been part of all 14 free trade agreements concluded since President Clinton issued his executive order, plus the three FTAs now pending with Columbia, Korea, and Panama.

It is a tremendous record -- one that we can build on by extending the policy to cover not just federal departments and agencies, but also the ecosystem of federal service providers.

Use of contractors has exploded in recent years as the government has outsourced more of its work, from $203 billion in 2000 to $537 billion in 2010. Today, more than 300,000 contractors are helping to carry out government projects and initiatives -- often working from desks right next to federal employees. But they are not yet required to abide by the same standards when it comes to using legal software, so there is no assurance that federal dollars aren't being used to acquire illegal software.

That should change.

A new executive order covering the federal ecosystem would give US officials greater leverage in trying to advance intellectual property protections in foreign markets -- especially in the developing world, where software piracy rates are unacceptably high and governments wield outsized influence in the private marketplace. If we raise our own standards, we can ask others to follow. The benefits will accrue to innovators throughout the US and global economy.

This post was also featured on the Business Software Alliance's blog, BSA TechPost. The Business Software Alliance is a trade group that represents software makers against copyright infringement.