March 22 2012
Carrie L. Lukas
The National Women’s Business Council released a report last month, Intellectual Property and Women Entrepreneurs, that details how women are receiving a growing number of patents and trademarks, and that there is no evidence of gender-bias in the processing of intellectual property applications.
It’s great to see the number of patents and trademarks increasing—it suggests that new products and protocols are coming online and that people are investing in discovering these new ideas, which have the potential to improve our quality of life. And it’s no surprise that women are increasingly playing a leading role in bringing new ideas to the marketplace.
The real challenge, however, is to make sure that these trademarks and patents mean something.
As Nicki wrote last fall, counterfeiting, piracy and other intellectual property violations are a growing problem with serious economic consequences. The process of developing a product, unique drug or treatment protocol takes time and typically a significant investment of resources. The presumption of those who invest in inventing something new is that they will be rewarded in the marketplace. If their new idea can be taken by others and reproduced, then they won’t recoup that investment, and ultimately, would-be entrepreneurs and inventors won’t bother trying to innovate out of fear that their efforts will just be stolen.
Americans generally understand the importance of property rights. One of the reasons that the “American dream” is tied up in the idea of home ownership is that Americans believe that owning something leads to positive outcomes. Consider how owning a house encourages good behavior – you take care of the house, make timely repairs, invest in improvements and additions that will improve your living standard and also add value to this critical asset, you care about the neighborhood and become involved in advancing policies that will help the community.
The same concept holds when “property rights” are applied to intellectual property – those property rights motivate inventors and entrepreneurs to work harder with the idea that they will benefit in the end. Americans understand that it would be terribly destructive to society if someone could just steal your house after you’ve made improvements to it; they should recognize that the same principles hold when it comes to intellectual property.
Nicki put it perfectly in describing what this should mean for U.S. policy:
Internally, the United States needs to consistently apply trademark and patent law - without special carve-outs, exceptions, and time-length provisions for the well connected. Externally, we should take a carrot-and-stick approach, rewarding nations that take these violations seriously through expanded trade preferences, and punishing those who fail to act on these crimes. In addition, we must continue to press the World Trade Organization and other international bodies to accord IP violations appropriate significance. Countries do not permit their citizens to steal physical goods from others - why should the theft of ideas be treated differently?
I’m glad to see that so many women are receiving patents and trademarks—now I hope the government makes sure that those assets have real value.