Last week, technology entrepreneurs in Utah had the opportunity to meet with local and national experts as part of a seminar led by the Innovators Network, a resource for technology startups that is based in Washington, D.C. We shared success stories and discussed some of the key challenges facing local small technology companies. The message that came through loud and clear was we need to get serious about creating a culture of valuing intellectual property and its creators.

Fundamentally, our businesses are based on developing innovative ideas — not just the conversion of raw materials into finished products or the provision of services. And because ideas and software code have no physical presence, we can move our products anywhere easily. The organization that I help to run, UtahInventor.org, was founded to assist Utah inventors, but our reach is national and global.

But as we help companies move their ideas into the marketplace, we need to protect and assist them. These companies invested great amounts of time and money in creating idea-based products and need to assert and retain ownership of their inventions, innovations and other forms of intellectual property in order to translate them into revenue that will fuel the next generation of advancements for society. This is where patents come in.

For the technology industry, patents are a fundamental driver of innovation. The global market is a market of patents and the products that embody them.

Thirty years ago, one company, say, IBM or NEC, provided a customer with computer hardware, an operating system, a database solution, applications and so on. With all the parts coming from one vendor, trade secrets were enough to protect the value of inventions.

But today, the technology industry serves its customers in an entirely different way. A complex corporate technology system might rely on technology from hundreds of companies. For comparison, think of a house. It is just one building with a single address, but it is made up of thousands of parts.

Utah has a very rich history of innovative companies. Our current economic stability and strength is because Utah is a state of innovators, and some of those who attended the seminar with me are very much global players. These companies have the potential to grow rapidly, to create local jobs and wealth, and to contribute to the local tax base.

To prevent their unique products from being duplicated, many of these companies have filed for patents. With their inventions securely protected, they are in a better position to cut deals with established technology manufacturing companies and to attract further investments.

I can tell you that the protection of intellectual property is a key component to the success of technology companies like the ones I help here in Utah. To be sure, the Salt Lake City-area business community needs to focus locally on education, economic development and jobs programs. However, it is also important that local business and policy leaders actively promote and consider the ever-increasing need for the real and enforceable protection of intellectual property in an increasingly competitive global market.

The issues are critical to the success of businesses both large and small in the high-wage, fast-growing technology sector.


Contributing: Jake Van der meide is the executive director of UtahInventor.org