April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day, the day the World Intellectual Property Organization sets aside every year to promote discussion of the role IP plays in driving innovation, creativity, social progress and economic growth. But in truth, robust discussions of these issues are already well underway.
In industry, policy and academic circles, there are ongoing debates about how best to ensure that IP rights and protections are optimally calibrated to provide the right incentives for today’s creators and innovators. In the United States, for example, the Patent and Trademark Office is partnering with the software community to identify ways to improve the quality of software-related patents. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the US House of Representatives has announced a comprehensive review of copyright law. And while these administrative and legislative processes are unfolding, the courts are hard at work refining case law on a gamut of related issues.
These are healthy and constructive processes — and other governments are holding similar debates and undertaking parallel work all around the world. But while it is important to have thoughtful discussions about the particulars of IP law, it is equally important not to lose sight of the big picture, which is that IP has never been more important to economic growth and social progress.
To cite just one example, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has issued a report on knowledge-based capital as part of its ongoing work around New Sources of Growth. The report finds that investment and growth is increasingly created by intangible assets such as research and development, data, software and patents — that is, assets heavily based on IP rights and protections. It notes that business investment in knowledge-based capital now accounts for as much as 27 percent of average labor productivity growth.
As a group, IP-intensive industries account for a substantial share of direct employment and overall economic output. (In the US, for example, it comes to about one in five jobs and more than a third of the country’s GDP.) But the benefits of IP-based innovation accrue to the whole global economy and society, not just the sectors or regions where sparks first fly. And that fact is well understood around the world, as BSA has found repeatedly in surveys we have conducted for our Global Software Piracy Study. So the question most worth pondering on this World IP Day and in ongoing debates is not whether or how IP plays a role in encouraging innovation and creativity, but how best to sustain it.