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Intellectual Property Protections: Backing Idaho Ingenuity

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

U.S. Forest Ranger Edward Pulaski helped save the lives of fellow wildland firefighters in Idaho’s 1910 Big Burn.  He is credited with using his experience to refine what is known as the Pulaski tool that is still widely used to assist with wildland firefighting.  Ed Pulaski’s innovation is on display at the Wallace District Mining Museum & Visitor Center.  This Idaho hero and innovator is a fitting representation of the grit and ingenuity that defines Idaho.  Idahoans have been at the cutting edge of inventions and developments that have helped people here at home, across the U.S. and around the world.  Supporting this ingenuity requires providing practical protections for intellectual property (IP) that are vital to the health of our economy and the future of our country.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, on which I serve, held a hearing to consider the role of Intellectual Property in “Making Our Lives Healthier, Safer, and More Productive.”  IP protections include patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.  Matthew C. Allen, Acting Assistant Director for the Intellectual Property Rights Center of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that leads the multi-partner effort to respond to intellectual property crime, summarized the importance of intellectual property protection in his testimony:  “Investment in ideas requires confidence that industrial, scientific, literary, and artistic innovations will be protected from theft; that consumers can trust that the products they buy are genuine; and that those who seek to profit by stealing the genius of others will be held responsible.”  He reported that, “the annual cost to the U.S. economy of counterfeit goods, pirated software, and theft of trade secrets exceeds $225 billion, and could be as high as $600 billion.”    

The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that IP-intensive industries support at least 45 million American jobs, and provide more than $6 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).  Economic drivers of significant importance to Idaho rely on IP protections.  For example, the agricultural industry relies on intellectual property for plant development and data collection technologies used to improve crop yields.  Additionally, substantial research and development investments in the high-tech industry are compromised when trade secrets are stolen and given to competitors.    

But, beyond the impacts to our economy and innovation, Americans face serious dangers when products, such as life-saving medicines, auto safety parts, electrical parts and more are counterfeited and sold to unsuspecting Americans.  Acting Assistant Director Allen reported that, “counterfeit safety components like brake pads, air bags, wheels, and suspension parts are becoming increasingly common.” 

In the last Congress, I supported enactment of the Defend Trades Secrets Act (DTSA), introduced by Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).  The DTSA created a strong national framework for protecting trade secrets and is a useful tool for U.S.-based innovators to protect their inventions in this country.  The DTSA also serves as a foundation for encouraging other countries to strengthen trade secret policies.  U.S.-based companies are often able to protect their intellectual property here at home but have trouble obtaining equal protection abroad because other countries do not prioritize intellectual property protections—like trade secrets—the same way we do. 

The United States has led by example, demonstrating to the rest of the world the importance that we place on protecting trade secrets.  Work continues to reinforce protections here in the U.S. while encouraging the strengthening of intellectual property protections to protect Americans abroad.  These and other efforts can help ensure that American visionaries have effective tools in place to create the innovative products that fuel our economy and affect lives. 

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