Bringing an idea to market? The business climate matters.

The sum of a country’s intellectual property is measured not only by the output of inventions, books, movies, recordings and electronic devices, but also by brand-name logos on clothes, machines and much more.

Intellectual property rights protect anyone’s ability to make money from his or her own creations. By ensuring that inventors, creators and entrepreneurs retain the right to profit from their own innovations, a country spurs new ideas and economic activity.

Intellectual property rights, or IPR, are protected through four main mechanisms: patents (for inventions), copyrights (for literary and artistic works), trademarks (for logos and brand items) and trade secrets.

But not every country has the same approach to protecting IPR. The United States and China, for example, have very different systems governing the rights of innovators.

Those two countries’ business climates, with specific attention to IPR protections, are compared in the International Property Rights Index.

In addition to measuring countries’ attention to protecting patents, trademarks and copyrights, the index gauges the legal and political frameworks. Without rule of law, an inventor cannot seek redress for IP theft. And corruption — bribery, extortion, influence peddling or graft — reduces the chance that legitimate businesses and artistic enterprises can thrive.

Graphic comparing U.S. and Chinese business environments (State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
(State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)

Another country index published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center ranks the U.S. in first place for its intellectual property rights system and ranks China in 25th place.

Safeguards from the start

U.S. founders guarded IPR from the start, by giving Congress the power to protect it in the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Congress established standards for granting patents in 1790, and President George Washington signed the first U.S. patent that same year.

Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office grants patents and registers trademarks. The office advises inventors and businesses on how to protect their inventions and identifiers at home and abroad. And the Copyright Office registers copyrights for creative works.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has about 1,000 active investigations into Chinese IP thefts and copyright violations. In a 2019 interview, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said the U.S.-China trade relationship is an important one. But, he added, Washington will always “push back” against IP theft and other abuses.