Honoring our Founders by Recognizing Property Rights

By Mary Bono Mack

On President’s Day, we pause to remember and celebrate all those who have led our great nation through the years. But originally, the day was simply called “George Washington’s Birthday,” and honored our first president and Founding Father.  On this occasion, it is worthwhile for Americans to pause to reflect on Washington and our other Founders.

George Washington concluded his two terms as our Nation’s first president on March 4th, 1797. It is safe to say that when they fought for independence, established a fledgling democracy, and wrote our founding documents, neither Washington nor the other Founders could imagine what their great struggle would achieve and what America would become. In the years since, America has become the world’s leader, offering hope to millions, becoming an engine of innovation, and achieving milestones of human progress – electricity, the automobile, flight, the exploration of space – that our Founders could never have dreamed of. America – and the world – looks very different today than those that the Founders knew.

But America’s founding principles endure.

Though our founders did not agree on everything, one of the fundamental principles that guided their design of the Constitution was their belief in private property rights. To the founders, liberty meant that neither the government nor anyone else could take an individual’s property, and that property rights are the cornerstone of our economic freedom.

Like private property rights, intellectual property preserves an individual’s right to the fruits of their intellectual labor. Our founding fathers considered intellectual property to be a fundamental component of property rights – so much so that they specifically protected intellectual property in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, empowering Congress “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Intellectual property rights incentivize and drive innovation, and America must protect its intellectual property if it is to remain the world’s engine of innovation as it has been in the past. In a knowledge-based global economy, America’s ability to remain a world leader in innovation depends upon our ability to protect our intellectual property. And in an increasingly digital and global world, these rights must be protected online but also in our new pending trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that expand export opportunities for American goods.

For over 15 years, I served as the only Republican woman in Congress from California – by any measure, one of the most innovative and creative areas in the world. I also served as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, which oversees legislating relating to trade and intellectual property, among other issues. In these roles, I have seen first- hand the harm intellectual property theft and infringement has done to America’s innovators, artists, businesses, and consumers.

So on this President’s Day, I ask you to recall the bedrock principles that have made America great. While much has changed from the time of our first president in whose honor this holiday originated, the principles he and our other founders fought for are as important today as ever, and one of them is under attack. It is incumbent upon all patriotic Americans – and especially our leaders on Washington – to ensure that our founding principles are protected so America may remain the greatest and most innovative country on earth.

Mary Bono Mack is a former U.S. congresswoman from California.

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