Posted by: Christopher Smith, Economics Officer
It is impossible to spend time in Ukraine without being struck by the ingenuity of the Ukrainian people. During my past year in Ukraine, I have met some incredibly inventive, creative people. Among them, scientists, artists, musicians, and programmers with world class talents and the potential to be engines of growth for this nation. Just today, I read about Ilya Kovalevskyi, a Ukrainian 8th grade student who became one of 20 winners worldwide of the annual Google “Code-In” programming contest. He is a brilliant example of Ukraine’s budding talent.
We live in a world where the keys to economic growth lie at the crossroads of information, technology, and innovation. Then why isn’t Ukraine doing better? With the kind of talent clearly here, why is Ukraine’s standard of living stagnating? If Ukraine wants to be the type of nation in which a rising tide of innovation lifts everyone, it must be a nation which protects the intellectual labor of its citizens. This is the central goal of IPR protection.
Why does the United States care about IPR protection in Ukraine? Certainly our large software, music, and film companies lose money to piracy in Ukraine. But there is an even more fundamental reason why we care – we want Ukraine to succeed. Ukraine’s growth into an economically strong and confident player in Europe is in the national interests of the United States. And we believe that Ukraine will never be able to fully tap into its own innovation and creative potential if IPR is not protected. We want to see Ukraine’s great minds create their masterworks here, for the benefit of the Ukrainian people. But we know that as long as Ukraine’s IPR protection system remains weak, these great minds will seek out opportunities in nations which will protect their works and allow them to be fairly compensated.
Last week, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) requested that the United States Government designate Ukraine as a “Priority Foreign Country” under the “Special 301” statute. The United States has not yet made a decision on Ukraine’s designation, and will not do so lightly, as Ukraine would be the only country in the world designated as a “Priority Foreign Country.”
I think many Ukrainians remember the photographs of protests outside of the offices of the Interior Ministry in February 2012, following a government action against popular file-sharing and piracy website EX.UA. Looking at the faces of the protesters, I can understand their anger at being denied a resource to which they had become accustomed. But looking a bit deeper, I wonder – would those protesters want their own intellectual labor protected? If they created a mobile phone app, a song, or a film, would they want to be fairly compensated for their time and energy? And once this process of compensating people for the fruits of their intellectual labor takes root, innovations become commercialized, and living standards begin to rise in Ukraine, wouldn’t they rather live in a place where prices for content no longer seem so high in comparison to local wages? While the slogans used in this angry protest fought for “freedom of information,” I hope that we could all find common ground in seeking the freedom to make a living from creative works and innovations produced for the benefit of others.
We all want to see Ukraine succeed and prosper. When Ukraine decides to adequately protect IPR, it will be a vote of confidence in the ingenuity of its own people, and a sign that Ukraine sees value in the works created by its 45 million people and believes that they are the key to its success. I hope that this day comes soon.