2020 World IP Day: Intellectual Property More Important Than Ever in the Age of COVID-19

Stephen Ezell April 23, 2020
April 23, 2020

(Ed. Note: The “Innovation Fact of the Week” appears as a regular feature in each edition of ITIF’s weekly email newsletter. Sign up today.)

World Intellectual Property Day, an annual event observed on April 26 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), is designed to raise awareness of how intellectual property rights (IPRs)—such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, and designs—positively impact daily life. As the world confronts the global coronavirus pandemic—for which there is currently no effective treatment or vaccine—there exists an urgent imperative to foster IP-driven innovation to incentivize and protect creativity, the leading force toward finding a cure for COVID-19.

Established in 2000, World Intellectual Property Day celebrates “the contribution that intellectual property makes to innovation and cultural creation—and the immense good that these two social phenomena bring to the world.” Intellectual property matters because it is very difficult to achieve innovation without the protection of ideas. As renowned economic historians Gregory Clark and Douglas North noted decades ago, the introduction of global intellectual property rights in the 19th century has since catalyzed levels of technological innovation and economic growth unparalleled in human history.

Recognizing the central catalytic role that intellectual property rights play in fostering knowledge-driven innovation, select members of the Global Trade and Innovation Policy Alliance (GTIPA), a global network of 36 independent think tanks supporting global trade liberalization and integration, released a statement affirming the crucial importance that IP has in our global economy.

The “Joint Declaration on the Critical Importance of Strong IP Rights for Innovation and Economic Development for the Benefit of All Peoples and Nations” contends that robust IP rights and protections are vital to spurring economic growth and enhancing standards of living in both developed and developing nations, especially as economic output becomes increasingly knowledge-driven. Likewise, the rules governing global trade flows need to evolve to reflect the reality that trade increasingly entails exchanging intangible products and services—like data, digital media and content, and business services—as much as physical ones.

The statement contends that robust intellectual property rights matter for several fundamental reasons, including that:

  1. IP incentivizes and maximizes innovation, in part by spurring competition, which in turn drives country-level productivity growth, the key to driving economic growth and reducing poverty.
  2. IP maximizes economic development, at all stages of a country’s growth. The notion that less-developed countries benefit from weak IP protections is not supported by research.
  3. Strong IP maximizes access to emerging technologies, which matters especially when foreign sources of technology account for over 90 percent of domestic productivity growth in all but a handful of nations.
  4. Strong IP encourages trade and foreign direct investment among nations, especially in advanced technology sectors like information technology, clean energy, and life-sciences.
  5. Strong IP is beneficial for small and large companies alike and is particularly important for smaller companies to defend their innovations and protect them from counterfeiting and IP theft.

To enhance IP’s potential to continue to spur global economic growth and make the benefits of breakthrough innovation more accessible to all, GTIPA members call on global policymakers to take several key actions, including:

  • Governments and international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization and WIPO, should encourage respect for IPRs.
  • Governments should expand education on the importance of and respect for IP rights.
  • Governments should implement strong IPRs without discrimination against types of technologies or who owns them: big or little, local or foreign.
  • Governments should promote a strong rule of law underpinned by an independent judiciary.
  • Governments should ramp up efforts to combat the online piracy of digital goods and to interdict counterfeit physical goods at their borders.

Whether it comes to global climate change, pandemics, or the innovative agricultural biotechnology needed to feed the world, the 2020 World Intellectual Property Day brings into stark relief the reality that the world needs robust intellectual property rights and protections now more than ever.

Signatories of the GTIPA World Intellectual Property Day declaration:

  • Bay Area Council Economic Institute
  • CASE
  • Center for Global Enterprise
  • Competere
  • Free Market Foundation
  • Fundación Eléutera
  • Fundación IDEA
  • Geneva Network
  • Libertad y Desarrollo
  • Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
  • I-Com
  • Macdonald-Laurier Institute
  • Property Rights Alliance
  • TicTac