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Speeches

Remarks for Ambassador Blake’s Address to the European Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka’s IPR CEO Forum

Monday, October 8, 2007 | Cinnamon Grand Oak Room

Minister Mithrapala, Ambassador Wilson, Ladies and Gentlemen –

Thank you for inviting me to address this impressive group.  First let me commend the European Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka for organizing this important seminar, and the Government of Sri Lanka and the Honorable Minister for participating and showing the importance the Government of Sri Lanka attaches to protection of intellectual property rights.  

This seminar marks a valuable opportunity to gather various stakeholders together to discuss IPR issues, and I welcome further such collaboration in the future since this is an issue that affects all of us both in Sri Lanka and abroad.The United States is committed to improving intellectual property rights protection domestically and internationally as a means of promoting innovation, creativity and economic growth.  

Why?  Because innovation is the driver of the US economy.  The Green Revolution, the internal combustion engine, the computer, the internet, and countless other innovations have led to a five-fold increase in output per hour in the US over the last 75 years.  That translates into an average annual increase in productivity of 2%, which is why the US leads the world today in productivity per hour.   

That innovation has come about because of policies that protect intellectual property and safeguards that stimulate innovation by rewarding both creators and the venture capitalists who take the risks to finance innovators. IPR safeguards also help attract new capital, especially in knowledge-based industries.  Safeguards create the environment that allows for advances that can benefit the entire world in the form of technology, medicines and other products and processes that have global applications.

Alas, many forms of IPR piracy are increasing, including counterfeiting, illegal digital copying, and internet piracy.  According to FBI, Interpol, World Customs Organization and International Chamber of Commerce estimates, roughly 7-8% of world trade every year is in counterfeit goods. That is the equivalent of as much as $512 billion in global lost sales. Of that amount, U.S. companies lose between $200 billion and $250 billion. IP theft has a major impact at home, too: according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, overall intellectual property theft costs 750,000 U.S. jobs a year.

The sectors most affected by IP theft are manufacturing, consumer goods, technology, software, and biotechnology, including pharmaceuticals. All of these are important and potentially significant sectors for Sri Lanka’s economy.  To take just one example, Sri Lanka’s fastest growing sector is the IT industry, which has the potential to be one of the most significant revenue generators and employers for your country as you face the 21st century.

Sri Lanka has a lot to offer to the global marketplace:

  • An impressive technical literacy rate that results in high-caliber engineers who can not only adapt to new technological advances but who are creating their own innovations in-house; 
  • Cost-effective manpower that costs between 1/10 and 1/20th of what it costs in the United States, according to the Federation of the Information Technology Industry in Sri Lanka;
  • Improving infrastructure like the Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western 3 fiber-optic communication system and 15 communications satellites over the Indian Ocean;
  • Membership in the World Trade Organization, and your free trade agreements with India and Pakistan.

We both share an interest therefore in ensuring a strong legal and enforcement regime to encourage the innovation that our economies must rely on to compete in the global marketplace. The U.S. has taken numerous steps to enhance the knowledge of Sri Lankans working on IPR issues.

Since 1997 we have brought numerous speakers to Sri Lanka to speak on IPR and IPR-related issues, such as the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. In 2001, USAID sponsored the introduction of an IPR post-graduate diploma at the Sri Lanka Law College and also provided for the automation of Sri Lanka’s National IPR office. Since 2003 we have trained, both in the U.S. and here in Sri Lanka, various judges, attorneys, state counsels, customs officers, government officials and even law students on the complexities of IPR issues.  These trainings ranged from short seminars to intensive, multi-week programs. Earlier this year we sent five government and private sector exporters to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant IPR program at Michigan State University. 

We also work closely with the American Chamber of Commerce, which is conducting various programs, such as its “Get Real” IPR awareness program in print media, radio, and TV.  AmCham also recently held a training course for approximately 25 magistrates.  I am pleased that they plan to conduct seminars and workshops in the future for both member companies and the wider business community in Sri Lanka that will focus on what actions companies can take in the event of IPR violations.   

And I’m pleased to report that our regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officials plan to visit Colombo next month for additional meetings with the government and private sector. Of course, these are just some of our efforts.  We want to see, and hope that we will be able to contribute to, greater education of both the public and private sector.  I encourage the government of Sri Lanka to also work with international organizations, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, to increase capacity. 

And while the government has had some IPR success lately, there is also a much greater need for improved implementation and enforcement.  As I indicated earlier, so many of Sri Lanka’s key sectors – sectors that are vital to Sri Lanka’s current and future prosperity, such as the garment industry and software design – need a strong culture of intellectual property rights protection and enforcement if they are to grow and thrive. 

I hope that on the margins of your discussions here today you will focus on ways in which local businesses can encourage the government to do more to protect IPR. 

I also hope your companies, both individually and together with others, will more frequently to speak up and take action when violations occur.  Protecting knowledge industries is a cornerstone of economic development.  It is a tradition that Sri Lanka needs to adopt as its own. 

I wish you all fruitful conversations today. 

Thank you.