Balancing Innovation: Managing Current Needs with Future Success in Developing Countries


No one disputes the benefits of innovative technology. It has resulted in IT, medical, and energy advancements that have revolutionized the way we live our lives. What often goes unappreciated, however, is the time and resources invested that ultimately yields this progress. As I discussed on Friday as part of a panel at the Global Intellectual Property Center’s IP Summit, failing to acknowledge and respect intellectual property puts future innovation in jeopardy, and it is critically important that we educate developing countries on the benefits of protecting IP before it has lasting effects on not just the global innovation economy, but their own individual innovation economies

At a time when developing countries are not only trying to recover from the Great Recession, but also working toward building more prosperous economies, access to innovation is increasingly important. Unfortunately, all too often developing countries believe that to achieve their economic and social goals, they must focus on getting access to technologies (including pharmaceutical products, sometimes through issuing compulsory licenses) in the near-term, instead of setting up an environment of strong IP protection where innovation can flourish over the long-term. These actions are not only bad for global innovation they are also bad for the developing nations’ economic growth prospects.

Studies show that protecting intellectual property actually strengthens a country’s economy and drives innovation. For example, a one percent increase in copyright protections results in a 6.8 percent increase in foreign direct investment (FDI), while a one percent increase in trademark and patent protection yield 3.8 and 2.8 percent increases in FDI, respectively. . In addition, a one percent increase in patent protection results in a 0.7 percent increase in R&D. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true, countries that fail to protect IP see slower growth, reduced development of innovation infrastructure and declining global competitiveness.

Rome was not built in a day. It takes time and patience to create a foundation for strong, long-term economic growth, and trying to expedite the process will only hurt future innovation. As developing nations work toward establishing themselves in this global marketplace, it is incredibly important to promote the long-term benefits of protecting intellectual property. Congressman George Holding of North Carolina mentioned his upcoming trip to India during his remarks on Friday, and how he wants to help educate Indian policy makers on the importance of IP to future growth and innovation.  We all need to seize opportunities like this to showcase exactly how it is in a country’s best interest to promote protection and respect for intellectual property.

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About the author

Dr. Robert D. Atkinson is one of the country’s foremost thinkers on innovation economics. With has an extensive background in technology policy, he has conducted ground-breaking research projects on technology and innovation, is a valued adviser to state and national policy makers, and a popular speaker on innovation policy nationally and internationally. He is the author of "Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage" (Yale, forthcoming) and "The Past and Future of America’s Economy: Long Waves of Innovation That Power Cycles of Growth" (Edward Elgar, 2005). Before coming to ITIF, Atkinson was Vice President of the Progressive Policy Institute and Director of PPI’s Technology & New Economy Project. Ars Technica listed Atkinson as one of 2009’s Tech Policy People to Watch. He has testified before a number of committees in Congress and has appeared in various media outlets including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, and NBC Nightly News. He received his Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1989.