During these challenging times, it is important to examine the role that innovation and intellectual property (IP) protections play in curing diseases and treating chronic conditions; all the more relevant right now with the global outbreak of COVID-19. When one thinks about the tight connection between IP and medical breakthroughs, it is not unreasonable to say that the type of innovation that is facilitated by IP is exactly the kind of breakthrough that will likely lead to a cure for COVID-19. So, as we approach World IP Day it is a perfect time to reflect on the vital role that IP protections play in our way of life. In addition to the important role IP can play in medical advances, it is also important to examine the impact of IP on the larger U.S. economy. If American entrepreneurship, ingenuity and innovation are to stay at the forefront of the global economy, there must be strong IP protections in place to support its continued growth. It is the only way to continue to maintain our competitive advantage in an extremely competitive global economy.

Intellectual Property is the foundation on which the development of new cures and treatments are produced by private sector medical research and development (R&D) innovators. Protecting IP and allowing innovation to flourish is critical to improving medical treatments and patient care, spurring economic growth and strengthening our economy that thrives on innovation. Without the protections of a strong, modern IP system, researchers may not have an ideal environment to explore new areas of medical innovation and unearth the findings that will lead to much needed treatments and cures for chronic and other illnesses. Currently, we are facing an unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 outbreak which is impacting our families, businesses, and daily lives. We need researchers and innovators in the medical and biopharmaceutical fields to be focused on nothing but finding a cure for this virus and not hesitate to invest as much time, energy, and money as is needed. Luckily, we have witnessed a rapid mobilization of life science companies working around the clock to develop diagnostics, medical devices, and therapeutics to combat the virus. Currently, there are more than 140 experimental COVID-19 treatments and vaccines in development worldwide with 11 in the clinical trial stage.  This unprecedented commitment and pooling of resources by the biomedical industry to develop, manufacture, and distribute billions of vaccine doses globally underpins could only be possible with a robust innovation ecosystem built upon strong IP protections.

Having the right environment for innovation is exactly what leads to investment in research and development (R&D). According to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) 2019 Global Innovation Index, a study that considers 80 indicators of innovation, public investment in R&D in some of the top income countries (including the U.S.) is growing either slowly or not at all. For this reason, and many others, it is extremely important that we create an environment where private investment in R&D is encouraged and rewarded. Take the U.S. biopharmaceutical industry as an example, which powers the nation’s economy of research and development and helps keep America at the forefront of developing new innovative health solutions. The U.S. biopharmaceutical industry ranks first in creating jobs in manufacturing R&D and one out of every six dollars spent on R&D is spent by the industry. There is an inextricable link between continuing to encourage investment in R&D and the private sector continuing to innovate and develop medical breakthroughs that improve our lives, not the least of which being a possible cure for COVID-19 that is desperately needed to save lives. 

Though the number of jobs created by IP, specifically in R&D, is encouraging, when you broaden the scope to include all IP-intensive industries the numbers are even more compelling. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, industries that particularly thrive on IP account for more than 45 million U.S. jobs, which represents almost a third of all jobs in our country. Also, worth considering, workers in IP-intensive industries earn higher wages – by more than 42 percent in many states – than their counterparts in non-IP-intensive industries. And one of the main pillars that keeps these industries stable is comprehensive IP protections that continually encourage and protect innovation. We must ensure a comprehensive system that is stable and provides protection from both foreign and domestic abuses. This is one of the essential ways to keep the U.S. working and competitive. Currently, with COVID-19 causing significant job loss, it is more important than ever to ensure that when the situation stabilizes, people have a job to which they can apply. One way to ensure the continued creation of quality jobs is to ensure industries that thrive on IP protections are able to grow and expand as quickly as possible and one major way to ensure that continues to happen is to ensure the regulatory environment contains strong IP protections.

As we approach World IP Day, which WIPO has confirmed will not have any in-person events due to COVID-19, it is a perfect time to reflect on the power and impact that strong IP protections have not only on our economy but our way of life and well-being. Protecting intellectual property is necessary for job growth and sustainment, which is something we currently need with the COVID-19 quarantine causing massive furloughs and job loss. Additionally, intense research, innovation, and development of a cure for COVID-19 should be the only focus of biopharmaceutical companies right now and there should be no shortage of investment in finding a cure. This type of focus and confidence is best achieved when everyone in the environment is confident in knowing their intellectual property is safe, as intended by the U.S. Constitution.