The Golden Egg of Innovation: The Importance of Protecting Intellectual Property

Close-up of a Few of the More Than 350 Counterfeit Faberge Eggs Seized by Customs Agents During an Arrest in 2010. (AP Photo)
Close-up of a Few of the More Than 350 Counterfeit Faberge Eggs Seized by Customs Agents During an Arrest in 2010. (AP Photo)

This blog originally appears on Huffington Post’s Business blog and on

In many cultures around the world, from the Fables of Aesop to the Mahabharata, there is a parable about a goose, hen, or bird that produces golden eggs or feathers. When people try to exploit the bird to reap more profits, they destroy its ability to create the gold and, ultimately, everyone loses.

As we mark World Intellectual Property (IP) Day, this parable seems especially appropriate to help underscore the importance of protecting the “gold” of any vibrant economy: the ideas, innovation, and creativity of its entrepreneurs.

Everywhere that I travel around the world, I meet entrepreneurs who are striking out on their own with creative products and new ideas. The determination and energy they put forward are inspiring, as they work to turn their dreams into reality.

Those ideas are the difference between success and failure  — not only for them individually but for the economies around them. A successful product, patent or service has the potential to generate jobs, benefit communities, and make a positive difference in many lives.

The case for protecting their innovations could not be clearer.

When I traveled across India last month, as part of the State Department’s “American Innovation Roadshow” series, I led a delegation of U.S. clean energy companies to meet with entrepreneurs in three cities and learn about their innovations in solar and other renewable energies.

From a builder of affordable solar microgrids for villages in Uttar Pradesh to a biofuel research venture in Gujarat, the breadth of clean energy innovation was astounding.

Given Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious target of 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022, with 80 percent of the needed energy infrastructure to realize this goal yet to be built, India’s need for innovation and investment in this area is critical.

But if their intellectual property rights are not protected, there will be little incentive for investors and innovators to rise to this challenge and invest in clean energy.

Sadly, this situation is not unique to India. Innovators around the world are meeting with challenges in trying to attract the investment and capital they need to get started and grow. Whether in India, Senegal, Peru, or any number of places, today is a time to think about how we can spur investment in these entrepreneurs by securing their intellectual property.

Each year, our embassies and consulates join with other organizations around the world to celebrate World IP Day, to draw attention to the many industries for which intellectual property is crucially important.

Last year, the U.S. Embassy in Abuja drew the Nigerian public’s attention to the complementary issues raised by World IP Day and World Malaria Day.

Their message was clear: protecting intellectual property is not only important for creating jobs and critical for the growth of innovative businesses, it is equally vital for public health. With a focus on Nigeria’s massive counterfeit medicines challenge, participants spoke about the human health toll that malaria has taken on Nigeria, and how that toll has been made even worse by the widespread sale, distribution, and use of fake malaria medicines.

This is just one example of the creative ways we will work to highlight the importance of intellectual property rights this year. But while it’s important to take this day to raise awareness, protecting IP should not be a conversation that occurs only once a year.

Our embassies and consulates overseas do incredible work all year long to promote better intellectual property protections. They point out that protecting intellectual property is about more than helping entrepreneurs to succeed, it’s also a way to encourage entrepreneurs to brave the risks of starting that business. And they advocate, both publicly and in private meetings, for governments to put stronger IP protections in place.

But it isn’t just governments who can make a difference. At Embassy Abuja’s aforementioned event, our diplomatic officers launched the “Make a Difference” program, offering up to $10,000 to anyone who reports information concerning the illegal distribution of fake medication in Nigeria.

Drawing attention to the issue is not enough. We can all do our part to guard against IP theft, for big businesses and small.

The greatest potential for entrepreneurship is for people to develop unique and marketable ideas that can help address the world’s greatest challenges. With innovations — like the one in Uttar Pradesh that combats climate change and allows students to study past sunset –entrepreneurs are already changing the world, one great idea or invention at a time.

Building the ecosystems they need to protect and profit from their ideas is one way to make sure their innovations help deliver prosperity to everyone.

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