On April 26, we recognize World IP Day, an annual celebration of innovators and creators, and the benefits that intellectual property (IP) rights bring to our economies, our societies, and our daily lives. This year’s theme is Intellectual property and small businesses: Taking big ideas to market, and comes at a time when small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are being relied upon in China, in the United States, and around the world to assist with the pandemic as well as the economic recovery. These SMEs in turn rely upon IP rights and local IP systems to build customer loyalty and protect their innovations.
Prior to the pandemic, SMEs made up over 90% of all enterprises globally, and were responsible for approximately two-thirds of all employment. As such, these small businesses play an outsized role in the global economy – and are thus critical to economic recovery in the months and years ahead. IP rights are of vital importance to many small businesses, whether they use trademarks to distinguish their brands from competitors, or patents to protect ground-breaking innovations often deemed too cutting-edge or risky for larger corporations, or copyrights to secure value for their creative expressions in markets flooded by digital copycats. Governments around the world recognize both the value of SMEs as well as the importance of the IP system to these companies, and have tailored IP laws or policies to support smaller players.
Both China and the United States have implemented policies to help SMEs register and exercise their IP rights. For example, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) reduces certain fees for obtaining patents for “small” and “micro” entities by 50% and 75%, respectively. USPTO also regularly provides training and targeted outreach to small businesses, and launched an online portal with resources for inventors and entrepreneurs to learn about the IP rights available to them, as well as how to protect and license IP. China, too, has enacted policies to support smaller Chinese enterprises in this highly competitive and challenging market, including reduced fees for smaller entities, as well as programs that support SMEs to license and commercialize IP.
We can and should do more. Ultimately, greater transparency and predictability in global IP systems would help SMEs leverage their IP more efficiently. SME-specific support mechanisms should be both transparent and market-based to ensure fair competition. It is critical that the IP protection and enforcement mechanisms of both China and the United States provide SMEs with the transparency, impartiality, and predictability critical to their success. Given the critical role these small firms will play in driving the world’s recovery from the pandemic, we must begin today – there’s not a moment to waste.