Nineteenth-century American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

But in our globally connected environment where competition is fierce and the opportunities for others to steal innovation are rife, how can we empower the next generation to explore new frontiers in cyber, health, energy, and other sciences? How can we provide assurance to innovators that they will be justly rewarded for their work, instead of someone else stealing the reward for themselves?

To foster self-reliance and merit-based advancement, teaching intellectual property principles is essential to the success of our children and the advancement of our civilization.

A recent Harvard study found that increasing invention rates among women, minorities, and children from low-income families could quadruple the rate of U.S. innovation. Research also shows that teams comprised of people from diverse backgrounds drive more innovation and market growth.

Not only is there a direct correlation to national economic growth when technology-intensive industries grow, but individuals fare better financially, as well. Yet, even in the face of the clear benefits, many students are ill-informed about intellectual property principles and processes.

If our mission in the U.S. is to make a better future for ourselves and our progeny, today’s students must be empowered with the tools to solve the challenges of our times. They must be educated on the principles that foster and protect innovation and be equipped with a solid understanding of how to actualize their innovative solutions.

Not only must each student be inspired to think bigger and in a ‘beyond the box’ way to solve problems, they also must be equipped to assetize their innovations through intellectual property laws, so they can protect and commercialize those innovations effectively.

School leaders have a significant role to play in helping students understand how to bring innovative ideas to fruition by teaching and stressing the importance of intellectual property rights. Teaching what patents, copyright, and trademarks are and how they can help protect innovation should be a hallmark of strong a STEM education curriculum.

Currently, such education is sporadic, at best. Programs such as Camp Invention for elementary school-aged children and the Conrad Challenge for high school-aged children that include an express module to teach intellectual property principles are far and few between.

Rooted in our Constitution, our intellectual property system rests on the principle that if a person invests her or his creativity and hard work to create something, she or he deserves to reap the rewards of that work.

The U.S. intellectual property system incentivizes innovation by providing a “greenhouse” of protection for new innovations by granting exclusivity for a limited time to innovators. It is critical to the survival of innovators that their innovations be allowed to take root and grow in a more protected environment so that they can become strong enough to compete on their own later on and so that the innovators can reap the rewards of their hard work and creativity.

The intellectual property system incentivizes inventors, entrepreneurs, and corporations to engage in research and development and to spend the time, energy, and capital resources necessary to create useful inventions—all to the benefit of American society with the introduction of new products into our economy.

Weaving these principles into STEM education for young people is essential to the growth and leadership of the United States in the world technology race and in our future economic growth.

Education should aim to do more than just prepare young people for the world of work. The mission of STEM educators should be to help young people develop the skills and mindset to be inventors with an entrepreneurial lens.

In order to bring more diversity of thought into innovation and to empower young people to join the innovation economy, they need to understand how to wield the intellectual property tools available to protect their innovations.

It is the protection of inventors, provided by the U.S. patent system, that provides every citizen with the opportunity to participate in the American dream—by becoming inventors themselves and directly reaping the rewards, by enjoying the benefits of the use of those new innovations, by engaging in an industry job that is created to commercialize those innovations, or by being part of the rising tide of economic growth buoyed directly and indirectly by those innovations.

Innovation education for our young people that includes the fundamental principles of intellectual property assetization is more important than ever before. Schools should include intellectual property principles as a part of STEM education to foster innovation and bolster this pillar of American free enterprise.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation. 

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