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Friday, Oct 20, 2017
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To protect Florida’s economy, we must protect intellectual property

With more than 1,300 miles of coastline, Florida has some of the most valuable real estate in the country.

But the value of all that coastal property is dwarfed by the value of the state’s intellectual property. Intellectual property fuels Florida’s economy. We must protect it effectively.

IP includes the ideas that underpin everything from medical breakthroughs to advanced electronic gadgets to the popular characters of stage, screen, and print.

Patents, copyrights and trademarks protect that intellectual property from theft or misappropriation. In so doing, they give entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, engineers and other inventors the incentive to create new technologies and ways of thinking.

Innovators make tremendous investments of time, effort, and resources to develop new products, secure in the knowledge that they will have the opportunity to profit from their handiwork.

Floridians in particular depend on IP rights to support their livelihoods. Numerous sectors vital to Florida’s economy — including defense, security, simulation and training — all depend on robust protection of intellectual property rights to ensure a return that substantiates further investment.

Consider one sector not typically associated with intellectual property — tourism.

Disney World is chock full of IP. Every costumed character, ride, show and attraction represents a piece of Disney’s intellectual property. That IP is what draws nearly 17 million to Disney World every year.

The company’s various attractions account for more than $18 billion in economic activity — 2.5 percent of Florida’s entire economy.

Between 2010 and 2014, the number of leisure and hospitality jobs in Florida has shot up 16 percent — nearly twice the rate of job growth overall.

Florida is also a hotbed for the sciences. In 2010, state residents were awarded nearly 3,000 patents for their ideas and inventions. Annual research and development expenditures in Florida amount to $4.17 billion.

All told, the IP industry is responsible for $225 billion of the state’s annual output — more than one-third of the economy — and three-quarters of its exports.

The sector directly and indirectly supports more than 2 million local jobs — including those at our Orlando-based security technology manufacturing firm. That’s just shy of 30 percent of the state’s workforce.

These jobs offer good wages. The average IP-related job in Florida pays $50,000 a year — 22 percent higher than the average wage statewide.

Protecting IP isn’t just important for the economy — it’s crucial to consumer safety, too.

Companies invest billions, not only in their products but in their brands. Consumers rely on those brands to signal that the products behind them are of high quality.

Counterfeiters try to capitalize on that trust by selling knock-off products that may look like the genuine article but are decidedly not. That puts at risk not just the revenues of innovators but also the welfare of consumers.

Today, the counterfeit market accounts for $250 billion in ill-gotten gains. By some estimates, the global trade in fake goods could explode to more than $1.7 trillion within the next two years.

Battling counterfeits requires effective law-enforcement efforts at all levels of government. And it’s reassuring to know that Florida’s leaders, including the attorney general, are working collaboratively with other states and officials in Mexico, for example, to combat intellectual property violations and the distribution of counterfeit goods.

On the federal level, the Department of Justice’s National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center seized more than 2,000 domain names that were being used to traffic fake goods between 2010 and 2014. “Operation In Our Sites,” as the effort was called, has captured at least $1.5 million in counterfeit goods.

Theft is theft, whether it’s a stolen good or a stolen idea. And contrary to popular belief, intellectual property theft doesn’t just take place overseas. Unfortunately, many acts of IP misappropriation and theft take place right here in the United States.

When a thief steals a Floridian’s IP, the loss is felt by the entire state economy. We must recognize the value that intellectual property delivers for our state — and do all we can to protect it.

Todd Flemming is president and CEO of Orlando-based Advantor Systems, a company that delivers advanced intelligent security systems.

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