World IPR Day – Why it Matters to You

April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day, and I would like to take the opportunity to talk about why intellectual property rights (IPR) are so important and why violations of these rights hurt our governments, our pocketbooks, economic development and even our health.  IPR piracy is a global problem that can take many forms, including sales of pirated movies, music, and software, counterfeit name-brand clothing and accessories, as well as unauthorized downloads of copyrighted material via the Internet.  The United States has invested almost $4 million in Bosnia and Herzegovina in programs that seek to strengthen Bosnia and Herzegovina’s legal framework, improve enforcement and build the capacity of the BiH Government’s IPR Institute.  Within the past six months, the agencies which ensure that private businesses are in compliance with local laws – the Market Inspectorates of the Federation and the Republika Srpska – have made commendable progress in fighting IPR violations, through the launch of timely and effective campaigns.  I am happy to see that the U.S. can count on the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an increasingly effective partner in protecting IPR.

But why should IPR enforcement be important to you?  Why should you care?  Consider the following:

IPR violations are a threat to public health.  The World Health Organization estimates that as much as 30% of pharmaceuticals sold in developing nations and 50% of those sold over the Internet are counterfeit.  Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the potential to exploit the pharmaceutical market represents a growing area of concern.  Counterfeit medicine may have no effect, meaning that an illness can become worse due to lack of treatment, or worse, it can have a detrimental effect on the health of those who consume it.  Either way, the production and sale of counterfeit medicine leads to a frightening scenario for public health that could be avoided through greater respect of intellectual property rights.

IPR violations are a threat to the economy.  In today’s struggling economy, we can’t afford to lose jobs to those that flout the law by running markets for pirated goods, including movies, music and software.  Buying pirated goods not only impacts artists, entertainers and creators, but also local businesses which are trying to make an honest living.  By respecting IPR we nurture BiH’s creative entrepreneurs, the engines of domestic economic growth.  Protecting IPR also attracts new capital and is crucial for new investments in knowledge-based industries.  According to the World Economic Forum, protecting IPR also correlates to national competitiveness – the countries perceived as having the most robust intellectual property protection are among the most competitive in attracting investors to grow their economies.  IPR encourages the development of more efficient methods of production and distribution.  It invites the introduction of new products, quality brands, technology and services, and stimulates new domestic markets by improving existing products and technology.  In short, by protecting IPR, we can all become more prosperous. 

IPR violations are a threat to development.  Finally, since taxes are not collected on illegal sales, IPR violations negatively impact government programs and investments.  Lower tax revenue means less money for schools, less money for health care and less money for new highways and bridges.  In a challenging budget environment, where every mark counts, Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot afford to lose tax revenues to criminal gangs and others that sell pirated merchandise and undermine the rule of law.  

On IPR day and every day, I challenge those who would like to see a more prosperous BiH to say “no” to the purchase and use of pirated and counterfeit items.  I would also like to commend and encourage the work of the Market Inspectorates of the Federation, Republika Srpska and the Brcko District for their efforts in stamping out software piracy in their respective jurisdictions.  Your work is serving the best interests of all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.