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Deputy Secretary Blank Speaks on the Role of Innovation in the U.S. Economy

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Deputy Secretary Blank speaks on innovation at National Press Club

Guest blog post by Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank 

This afternoon, I had the honor of addressing an annual conference on innovation, sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. Today’s event, entitled “Innovation Policy and the Economy,” provided an opportunity to discuss one of the most important contributors to America’s long-term competitiveness: innovation. 

America’s entrepreneurs, businesses, and workers are the primary source of new ideas that drive innovation. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights–the main protections in our intellectual property (IP) system–are critical tools that help commercialize game-changing ideas. By creating a better environment for our private sector to capitalize on those ideas, IP protections help foster the innovation and creativity that lead to a stronger economy and the creation of more, good-paying jobs. Last week, I helped release a report (PDF) co-produced with my colleagues in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the role of IP in the economy. The report shows that nearly 35 percent of our GDP–more than $5 trillion–comes from IP-intensive industries. We also found that IP-intensive industries support a total of about 40 million jobs. These findings demonstrate that IP protections aren’t just important for businesses and entrepreneurs; they are important for working families. Clearly, making sure that we adequately protect intellectual property is vital to maintaining America’s competitive edge and driving our overall prosperity.

But while private citizens and businesses are the primary source of new ideas, the government plays a key role in the effort to support innovation. At the Commerce Department, we work to support innovation and protect intellectual property on many fronts, including through the implementation of the America Invents Act, which is designed to modernize and streamline the U.S. patent process.  

The U.S. government also has a proud tradition of supporting the work of federal and university labs in conducting basic research and development, which is key to generating new ideas that historically have helped shape and change the world as we know it. If you look at some of the most important recent new technologies – from flat-panel displays to semiconductors to wireless ultrasound for rural healthcare–they were deeply reliant, at an early stage, on research funded by wisely-spent tax dollars.  President Obama is working to double government dollars in basic R&D support at several key agencies. 

Innovation is key to economic growth and productivity. Since the 1940s, two-thirds of our economic growth is due to growing productivity that results from innovation. Just yesterday, our Chief Economist, Mark Doms, announced that retail sales had increased 0.8 percent in March following multiple consecutive months of gains. Many of these sales result from consumers’ desire to buy new and innovative products. 

Today, along with the rest of the administration, we are also marking National Equal Pay Day, which marks how far into this year women must work to match what men earned in the previous year. President Obama is committed to securing equal pay for equal work. Working women are at the heart of an America built to last. Equal pay will strengthen our families, grow our economy, and enable the best ideas and boldest innovations to flourish–regardless of the innovator's gender. Only with policies that support innovation can we build the basis for a 21st century economy that allows American businesses to flourish in an increasingly competitive global market.

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