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Innovators need strong defenses

Protections against theft of intellectual property are crucial to Washington firms

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By Robert Hagarty
  • Thinkstock

Choosing where to build your business can be a difficult decision -- unless you have the opportunity to start it in Washington. In the latest survey of America's best-performing metropolitan economies, two of Washington's major cities cracked the top 50.
This success is largely a function of the many breakthrough ideas, technologies, and products that our state generates. And if Washington is to maintain its mantle of economic leadership, we must continue to churn out the intellectual property (IP) that is currency in today's international, knowledge-driven marketplace.
America's strong tradition of respecting IP rights -- the legal protections for everything from cutting-edge technology to music and pharmaceuticals -- allows individuals and businesses in Washington and across the country to develop and patent technology, stimulate growth, and create jobs.
Across Washington, original ideas are driving innovative firms. For instance, at my firm, RANDL Industries, Inc., we have invested our time and resources in creating a faster and more efficient method for installing telecommunications and fire-alarm systems.
We never would have been able to afford to develop those methods -- and the cutting-edge electrical infrastructure that supports them -- without the protection from infringement or theft that patents and strong IP rights provide.
Our IP will power our expansion into international markets -- and help us create jobs in the process.
And we are not alone. Recent history demonstrates that intellectual property rights are at the heart of our state's economic success. Microsoft's computer code revolutionized the personal computer. Bellevue-based Expedia empowered every American to serve as his own travel agent. The list goes on and on -- from household names like Amazon to small companies like RANDL.
Washington innovators and the strong business ecosystem behind them recently helped our state attain the ranking of ninth-best in the country for business, according to Forbes.
The facts speak for themselves. From 2010 to 2012, venture capitalists poured $2 billion into innovative companies across Washington -- the sixth-most of any state in the country. Today, IP businesses generate $148 billion statewide and account for nearly three-quarters of Washington's exports -- or more than $47 billion.
Such IP-driven economic success translates into jobs. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that these industries support 40 million jobs -- more than 1 million of which are right here in Washington. Workers in the IP sector earn an average annual salary above $50,000 -- 30 percent more than wages in other industries.
Of course, there's ample room to improve protections for innovation. Far too many people and firms steal the intellectual property of others -- and get away with it. That could put us out of business overnight.
Nearly a quarter of Internet traffic advances IP violations. Government can't effectively fight all that illegal activity alone. Business owners have a role to play, too -- especially those active in the digital marketplace, where IP theft is particularly problematic. Through education and vigilance, we must pitch in to help stop the illegal appropriation of our IP that threatens our livelihoods.
Given Washington's dependence on IP, the state's residents have more to lose at the hands of these criminals. Without strong intellectual property protections, RANDL and other innovative companies wouldn't be here -- and neither would the billions of dollars and millions of jobs they've helped create.
Innovation is the lifeblood of Washington's economy. Inventive Evergreen State companies are creating quality jobs and keep our vibrant economy growing. Strong intellectual property rights are necessary to ensure our success -- and the state's.
Robert Hagarty is the President of Spokane Valley, Wash.-based RANDL Industries, Inc.

Story tags » Economy, Business & FinanceSmall business

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