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All posts by Rob Atkinson


Transatlantic Digital Cooperation Will Require Hard Debates

As the global Internet economy evolves and becomes more interconnected, cross-border policy tensions are rising, as is the need to resolve these tensions and conflicts in ways that continue to spur growth and innovation. To that end, I was honored to be a member of the Atlantic Council’s Task Force on Advancing a Transatlantic Digital Agenda. However, I was one of five members who, at the end of the day, could not have my name listed as endorsing the Task Force report.

First, it’s important to recognize the hard work of the commission members and staff and the significant parts of the report that will make a real contribution to better resolving transatlantic digital tensions. The report comes up with a number of creative and useful proposals, such as creating a new US-EU Digital Council, increasing cooperation with regulators on both sides of the Atlantic, lifting foreign investment caps in the telecom sector, and others. And its broad based support for transatlantic data flows and multi-stakeholderism for Internet governance is needed and welcome.

But there were other proposals and language I cannot support. The report’s discussion of net neutrality

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Copyright Infringement: Science Pirates Are Still Pirates

The scientific community has become embroiled in a debate around online piracy after Alexandra Elbaykyan, a graduate student based in Russia, setup Sci-Hub—an online database of 50 million stolen scholarly journal articles. After encountering paywalls for scientific journals, she setup Sci-Hub because she said she believed that scientific information should be free to use and share. Elbaykyan can try to justify it in whatever way she wants, but what she is doing still involves the theft of property that is not her own.

Sci-Hub has garnered some support in the online piracy debate as the business model used by scientific publishing firms has clearly not caught up to the digital age and is in need of reform. The firms commonly charge as much as $35 for a digital copy of a journal article. Yet, an annual subscription to a top journal, such as The Lancet, costs $233 for both digital access and a print copy. This means, assuming four journal articles per weekly issue, that they charge 31 times more for a single digital article than a paper one, with zero marginal costs for the digital. While

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5 Myths About Life Science Innovation in the United States

There has long been a de facto consensus among U.S. policymakers that America’s system for discovering and developing new drugs is the world’s best, and that there are two reasons for that success: First, the federal government provides robust funding for scientific research, mostly through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Second, the U.S. system encourages vigorous innovation in the private sector by providing strong intellectual property protections and a drug reimbursement system that allow companies to earn enough to reinvest in risky research and development.

But this consensus is now under intense pressure from critics across the political spectrum, especially on the populist left, as left-leaning think tanks and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) question the legitimacy of both the public-private policy framework and the results it produces. The critics’ various indictments revolve around a number of misconceptions about how the U.S. system functions. Here are five of the most common myths:

1. The U.S. private sector does a poor job of discovering and developing new drugs.

The reality is that America’s biopharmaceutical sector is by far the world’s most innovative and productive. The industry today has

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Another Nail in the Coffin of Tax Reform

Perhaps without realizing it, the Obama administration sent Congress another signal that it is not serious about passing corporate tax reform this year, even a narrow bill limited to the international aspect of corporate taxation. Speaking at a conference devoted to the corporate taxation of intellectual property in a global economy, the chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, listed several reasons why an “innovation box” (sometimes known as a “patent box”) would be bad policy. The problem is that an innovation box is one of the few serious components of corporate tax reform that has drawn interest from leaders in both parties in Congress. By preemptively ruling it out without proposing a serious alternative, the administration left little room for finding common ground with Congress.

There is widespread agreement that the U.S. corporate tax system is broken. In addition to imposing a significantly higher rate than most of its international competitors, the law taxes U.S. companies on all of their income earned abroad, but only when the income is brought back to the United States. This gives companies a strong incentive to keep foreign profits overseas.

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The Demography of Innovation in the United States: Who Innovates and How Do They Succeed?

Behind every technological innovation is an individual or a team of individuals responsible for the hard scientific or engineering work. And behind each of them is an education and a set of experiences that impart the requisite knowledge, expertise, and opportunity. These scientists and engineers drive technological progress by creating innovative new products and services that raise incomes and improve quality of life for everyone.

But who are these individuals? How old are they? Were they born in the United States or abroad? Are they male or female? What are their races and ethnicities? What kind of education do they have?

To find out, ITIF surveyed more than 900 people who have made meaningful, marketable contributions to technology-intensive industries as award-winning innovators and international patent applicants. We learned that the demographics of U.S. innovation are different from the demographics of the country as a whole, and also from the demographics of college-educated Americans—even those with Ph.Ds. in science or engineering.

The study finds that immigrants comprise a large and vital component of U.S. innovation, with more than one-third of U.S. innovators (35.5 percent) born outside the United States. Alarmingly, women

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Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Poised to Destroy All Jobs but One

In the last few years a growing number of techno-futurists, like venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, former software executive Vivek Wadhwa, MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson, and author Martin Ford have all asserted that advancing technologies like machine learning and robotics will destroy jobs. Khosla for example, recently stated that “machine learning will replace most jobs.” But they and others clearly “don’t get it” and are doing a real disservice to the public by sugarcoating the future.

Never mind that we have been automating work for hundreds of years and employment has kept expanding. This time, everything is different. In fact, these new technologies are so awesome and amazing that they won’t replace most jobs; they will replace all jobs, save one. That job will be held by Zhang Wei, who is now a 15-year-old boy studying computer science at his local high school in Nanjing, China. He will invent the best artificial intelligence system ever and then run the company that puts all other companies out of business. His technology (an AI robot more powerful than Asimov’s Daneel) will be so good that it will do

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President Obama’s Final State of the Union and the 2016 Presidential Campaign

President Obama’s final State of the Union address serves both as a marker for his last year in office and as a reference point (and foil) for candidates on both sides of the 2016 presidential race. So the State of the Union speech that ITIF would hope to hear the president deliver and the campaign stump speech we would hope to hear his would-be successors deliver are one and the same.

Last June, ITIF sent an open memo to all presidential candidates outlining exactly what we would dearly love to hear someone say. Written in speech form, the memo provides a detailed policy agenda to foster innovation, boost productivity, and make the United States more competitive in the global economy.

In the campaign debates that have ensued, several candidates have touched on issues that ITIF highlighted—from reforming the corporate tax code to bolstering STEM education—but none have yet embraced the fundamental precepts of our agenda, so we continue to hope.

On the eve of the State of the Union address, here again is our policy wish list:


Read the detailed campaign memo here.

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Three Big Things ‘Back to the Future’ Got Right (Thanks to Government)

Today is the day that Michael J. Fox’s iconic character Marty McFly landed in a future that Hollywood imagined almost 30 years ago in Back to the Future II. It turns out that many of the amazing things McFly saw in the movie have indeed come to pass—from 3D video to wearable technology.

But in celebrating our technological advancements, it is important to remember that none of these innovations happened by chance. They are the product of an enormous amount of investment in research and development—much of it seeded by the federal government. Since today also is the day that the White House is releasing the third iteration of its national “Strategy for American Innovation,” here are three prime examples:

Tablets and Other Smart Devices

The tablet computing props in Back to the Future II accurately predicted the miniaturization of electronic devices in recent years. The parallels between the movie and modern society’s use of tablets seem uncanny: from the way Marty’s nemesis Biff paid a taxi fare with his thumb print to the way policemen in the movie used a tablet computer to check the identity

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Bridging the Infrastructure Divides

In an era of inflated political passions, where is the pragmatic center when it comes to comparatively dull issues like infrastructure? That was a key question up for discussion last week at an event where I had the pleasure of speaking as a panelist. Hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and supported generously by Bernard L. Schwartz, the event focused on job creation and infrastructure policy, featuring speakers such as Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Chris Coons and Mark Warner, and a host of other policy leaders and experts.

The central theme of the event was the critical need for increased public and private investment in infrastructure, including not just traditional physical infrastructure, but also new digital-physical hybrid infrastructure, such as smart highways and bridges. In addition, the event sought to identify effective policies that might have a reasonable chance of bipartisan support.

One issue that repeatedly came up was how it can be possible, given the major infrastructure challenges facing America, that there is not more support for infrastructure funding. Some argued it is time to make infrastructure “sexy.” Others said we need to make it

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Assessing the Costs of a More “Closed” Internet

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at a very interesting and informative OECD workshop this week in Washington, DC, on how to better measure the benefits of the open Internet and the costs of restricting access to it. This is a critical question, because a growing number of governments around the world are blocking Internet flows or prohibiting access to certain content. There needs to be a stronger case for how, why, and to what extent these policies stunt economic growth and inhibit social progress. Yet marshaling such an argument requires not only better data and analysis but also the right conceptual framework.

People often use the terms “open” and “closed” Internet without defining them. Here, fully “open” means everyone is free to share and access any information they wish, and more “closed” means governments or other third parties are blocking or prohibiting vast troves of information. A draft background document that the OECD distributed to panel participants was helpful in that it rightly acknowledged that the Internet is not fully “open,” nor should it be. As ITIF has argued, the Internet is not fully open anywhere,

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