U.S. Auto Industry Is Innovator in Many Areas; Protect Intellectual Property Rights to Keep It That Way

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark T. Esper, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

This week's Washington Auto Show (Wednesday-Sunday) will give automakers an important opportunity to showcase their green credentials to policymakers in our nation's capital. This audience, after all, may hold the keys to the Big Three's future as new government assistance and tougher environmental regulations are considered.

While President Obama and Congress weigh options to help put automakers on the road to success, one policy area that also deserves their attention is protecting intellectual property. Automakers and parts manufacturers need support against criminal counterfeiting networks that endanger consumers and cost the domestic auto industry $3 billion and thousands of jobs annually. The fake parts they produce create major safety issues and undermine the trust and reputations that legitimate companies have strived to earn.

Government action is also needed to head off a newer threat to automotive innovation - the growing number of foreign governments and NGOs determined to weaken intellectual property rights in areas like energy efficiency and environmental technology, citing the current patent system as a barrier to technology transfer.

With its focus on developing more appealing and cleaner cars, Detroit relies on this very intellectual property system that incentivizes new investments in research and development. Even as the United States has evolved from a manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy, the auto industry still relies on both. The high-tech ideas, designs and inventions generated by automotive engineers support millions of jobs throughout the auto manufacturing chain, from suppliers to showrooms.

As a long-term recovery plan is developed, a common demand has been for these companies to produce more energy-efficient vehicles. While automakers admit there is more to be done, they have made important investments in these areas over the years.

Intellectual property expert James E. Malackowski points out, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are collectively one of the world's primary sources for the research and development of green and fuel-efficient technologies. In fact, GM has newer green technology and patents than the other 14 automakers combined. Ford and GM together hold approximately a third of all green technology patents and the related value. Ford owns 30 percent of all patents with a similar related value measure in emission control innovation.

The future of these companies depends on them leading a new era of green innovation in the auto industry. They are in a race against time as ambitious competitors from China and India also develop new cars with hybrid technologies, high-performance batteries and other green innovations while improving safety, reliability and appeal. …