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Op-ed: Utah needs protection of intellectual property

Published November 20, 2013 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

World trade leaders from 12 nations are convening in Utah for the latest round of negotiations in the landmark global Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — an agreement with significant consequences for Utah's innovative, promising biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

It's fitting that Salt Lake City is hosting the latest round of these trade talks, as nearly 10,000 jobs are tied directly to the biotech and pharmaceutical industries alone — with another 43,000 jobs supported by the economic sector that is committed to developing new medical cures. Add in other leading Utah industries, such as clean energy, information technology and aerospace, all of which develop and export goods whose value depends on strong intellectual property, and it is easy to see why companies and workers throughout the state place a lot of stock in robust international trade.

In fact, Utah's exports have grown in just two years from nearly $14 billion in 2010 to over $19 billion in 2012 — a 38-percent jump.

However, if the TPP agreement doesn't include strong, enforceable protections for intellectual property — at the crucial core of capturing value from innovation — our brisk growth in exports could come crashing down.

Here's why.

The ideas and science behind the development of new therapeutics are just as much intellectual property as is a book, movie or song. And while most Utahns know of the worldwide concerns about piracy of entertainment content, far fewer are fully aware of the dangers associated with theft of biotech/pharmaceutical intellectual property. A recent report of the bipartisan Commission on the Theft of Intellectual Property (co-chaired by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman) found that the loss of revenue from IP theft to all U.S. companies is comparable to the total value of U.S. exports to Asia! Clearly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership must help protect U.S. companies from this theft so that they can continue to invest, innovate and create jobs.

The road map to success for stronger IP protections is clear. For example, strong protections for biotech and pharmaceutical IP rights are found in current U.S. law — including 12 years of data protections for biologics. These common-sense laws encourage progress, intelligent risk-taking and the drive to deliver new and better treatments that meet patients' needs.

Lack of enforceable incentives for innovation, in contrast, will undermine the common goal of providing best-in-class treatments for medical needs around the world. Strong intellectual property protections are absolute bedrock needs for biotech and pharmaceutical companies, which typically invest more than $1 billion and 10-15 years to bring a new medicine to market through the arduous process that moves from concept through multiple phases of clinical trials and, ultimately, approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (and reimbursement).

Along the way, the vast majority of potential new therapies fail, because they don't work as well as anticipated or as another alternative product, or the negative side effects are too great.

Innovative companies are only able to take these risks because their investments are protected by strong intellectual property laws. Without these protections, what company is going to risk millions or billions of dollars and years of research work if their innovations can be pirated with little or no consequence?

As the TPP talks convene in Salt Lake City, Utah's exporting businesses urge U.S. negotiators to place rock-solid intellectual property protections high on their list of priorities for an effective, robust international agreement. Businesses, workers — and most importantly, patients — are counting on our trade negotiators getting this right.

Kimball A. Thomson is president & CEO of BioUtah, the statewide association representing Utah's medical device, biotech, pharmaceutical medical diagnostics, and health care industries. BioUtah is on the web at www.bioutah.org






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