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Business News/ Opinion / Innovation needs protection

Innovation needs protection

India and the US share a mutual interest in encouraging innovation and safeguarding intellectual property rights

A file photo of US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right). Photo: Pradeep Gaur/MintPremium
A file photo of US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right). Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Sunday was World Intellectual Property Day. This year’s theme—Get up, stand up. For music—is a tribute to the pioneering legacy of reggae musicians Bob Marley and the Wailers, whose song Get Up, Stand Up and others called for civic action to address injustice. But although Marley and the Wailers’ music inspired generations, their message built on the well-known principle taught to us by Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and others, that all must act to right great wrongs. But even though this message was well known, Get Up, Stand Up contributed to humanity’s artistic and intellectual growth by speaking to us in a new way. For this reason, the song deserved the full protection of intellectual property rights (IPR).

In the 2007 Bollywood hit Chak De! India (Do it, India.), Shah Rukh Khan coaches a women’s hockey team to a surprising World Cup victory. The movie is a classic tale of a team that overcomes systematic injustices to achieve something great. Perhaps more importantly, Chak De! blasted through some creative barriers by relying on Khan and a largely female ensemble cast to speak about some of India’s most important social issues. Even if it hadn’t been so bold, it was still a unique artistic creation, earning it the full protection of IPR.

So to the slogan of get up, stand up, I would add, kuch kariye! (Do something.)

The US and India continue our longstanding dialogue on IPR issues. Our two countries recognize that we share a mutual interest in strengthening intellectual property protections because this protects the creative and scientific innovation that fuels our growth. From Hollywood and Bollywood to both of our countries’ tech corridors, the artists, songs, software, and other copyright, trademark, and patent-protected materials we love and depend upon are only the products of industries that create and support millions of middle-class jobs in both the US and India. These industries’ growth and the jobs they create are threatened by piracy and infringement that cost billions of dollars in lost revenue. Because our countries both have extremely dynamic entertainment, software and other creative industries, we share an interest in deepening cooperation to identify and dismantle markets for stolen material.

But one of the underlying messages of both Get Up, Stand Up and Chak De! was that societies cannot rely solely on governments to change the status quo. We must also rely on committed citizen action. In an era where stolen versions of creative works can be downloaded online or bought cheaply in market stalls, curbing piracy requires more than strong laws. It requires a personal commitment to respect human creativity. It requires speaking out in favour of creative protections or using mobile phone apps such as Indian Movie Cop to report piracy in real time. There are many options to address this issue, including simply refraining from purchasing, selling, or otherwise dealing in pirated material. And so, to support your favourite artist, I urge you, kuch kariye!

We must also recognize that protecting intellectual property rights also supports India’s growth. Markets that provide strong intellectual property protection for cutting-edge and incremental technologies attract the capital investment necessary to fuel economic growth and development. US companies have shown a keen interest in coming to India and participating in India’s growth story but they need a predictable business environment which respects and rewards innovators. As initiatives such as Make in India expand the economy and drive Indian exports into the marketplace, Indian inventors will also seek and rely on strong international intellectual property regimes to protect their intellectual property. India’s laws must fuel the investment in innovation, not discourage it. And so, when it comes to protecting scientific discovery, innovation and investment in India’s economic future, kuch kariye!

Finally, we must consider the long-term costs of failing to support intellectual property rights. At the consumer level, buying counterfeit or pirated goods might save a little money but, aside from being illegal, it might also cost you in the long run because of poor quality, broken equipment or virus-infected downloads. On the macro-level, the costs of copyright infringement are lower investment, fewer jobs and less creative expression. Even more frightening are the security costs. Terrorism in all its forms needs money to survive, and the illicit market for stolen intellectual property has been shown to be a significant source of that income. To protect not only your DVD player and your computer, but also investment in innovation and protection against larger foes, kuch kariye!

It has been exciting to return as Ambassador to my ancestral home at a time when the US and India are cooperating on everything from space exploration to climate change. Let’s support both our cooperative efforts, as well as areas where we sometimes compete with one another, by encouraging innovation and supporting intellectual property rights. In this way we can all support the uncovering of the next big discovery, whether it is a new form of music that inspires a generation or a vaccine that saves one. The first step belongs to all of us. Get up, stand up and kuch kariye. Chak de! India!

Richard R. Verma is the US ambassador to India.

Comments are welcome at

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Published: 26 Apr 2015, 10:49 PM IST
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