I am pleased to be here today on behalf of the U.S. Embassy to welcome you to the beginnings of a conversation on the importance of intellectual property rights (IPR) for the development of Guyana’s economy and the protection of its cultural patrimony.
Before we begin, I want to thank Minister of Public Telecommunications Catherine Hughes for kindly agreeing to give opening remarks today. I know for sure that, for Minister Hughes, as a member of the business and creative communities in Guyana, improving IPR protections is very important. Her remarks today are a reminder that this conversation needs to involve many voices. Her commitment also admirably supports the work undertaken by her colleagues in the Government of Guyana. To our panelists, thank you for your support and advocacy. I look forward to hearing your presentations.
In preparing these remarks, I spent some time thinking about how I could best summarize the meaning and importance of IPR. At first, I thought about the three main components often discussed in policy conversations, mainly patents, trademarks, and copyrights. However, the more I considered those three themes, the more I thought about how those terms are really only descriptions of tools that we use to protect IPR. These three tools, along with respect for contract sanctity, allows us to prosecute those who would take our ideas, products, and designs and treat them as their own. These tools are incredibly important for fostering an environment in which one feels comfortable creating and producing original work. While important, though, they do not capture, on their own, the importance of IPR. For the purpose of my remarks, then, I want to talk about IPR as progress, patrimony, specifically national patrimony, and, most importantly, people.
Perhaps progress is the best one to address first. Progress touches on what most of us already think about when we hear the words intellectual property: the products, designs, and content protected by patents, trademarks, and copyrights, much of which we enjoy everyday. However, when I refer to progress, it’s more than that. It is about efforts to support, not just protect, innovation and creativity. The actual process of creating change and progress is not always highly visible or public. For example, inventors often work in private, without anyone seeing their process or even their product until the very end. Yet, the international standard— patents, trademarks, and copyrights—recognizes that the creative process is multi-layered and never-ending, starting from the beginning of an idea. When we think about intellectual property this way, we stop thinking that IPR is only for the scientist or the artist and begin to see that we too develop content every day, some of which we may—in the future—choose to share publicly. When we see ourselves as content creators, we begin to identify IPR as important to us as individuals. It makes it personal and important.
Nevertheless, IPR is important beyond us. That leads me to patrimony. Guyana is a country rich in resources, perhaps the most notable of which being a culture and people that thrive on diversity, creativity, and resourcefulness. To speak of IPR in these terms, then, is to recognize that Guyana exists not only in its flora and fauna, vast rivers, and natural landmasses, but also in the ideas, content, and products created by the people of Guyana. From musicians to mobile application coders, Guyana’s content creators are shaping society and building Guyana’s domestic and international brand with their work. Just think of the music of Eddie Grant or the novels of Jan Carew, both being Guyana-born artists that, with their talent, spotlighted Guyana’s name around the world. Protecting their intellectual property, then, is not just about defending one person’s ownership to a song or a website, but supporting Guyana’s position as a country that adds value in every sector through the talents of its people. It is about defending Guyana’s legacy, which includes everyone.
On April 26, we will celebrate World Intellectual Property Day. The worldwide theme this year is: “Powering Change: Women in Innovation and Creativity.” It is a day when we will collectively recognize the contributions of women—through their hard work and originality—in shaping innovation around the world. This theme brings us back to what is so important about IPR: people. People are the originators of the ideas, products, and inventions that enrich our lives. From books and movies to medicine and computers, people make the products and designs that make our lives healthier and happier. Their efforts merit our thanks. The best way to thank them is to show them that we respect their work enough to protect it from theft and to pay them for their efforts. Ultimately, that is what IPR is about – supporting progress, championing national and cultural patrimony, and respecting people.
Today, we respect the ownership of others’ intellectual property so that, tomorrow, someone will respect our own. This set of norms builds an environment of trust that makes open trade, collaboration, and investment possible. It is the type of trust developed only from knowledge that there is (1) an equal playing field that respects contracts, (2) supports content originators, and (3) defends the rights of everyone involved in the creative process—through legislation and the courts. This is how countries build a cycle of innovation. Thus, when we understand that IPR is more than just patents, trademarks, and copyrights, and what those tools are really trying to protect, we see that IPR is also prosperity.
I hope that on April 26, some of you will consider making a similar statement of support on behalf of IPR. I encourage you to help someone else understand why IPR matters—to you and to the many people building prosperity in Guyana. Thank you.