Forget crypto: Welcome to 'techno,' the idea standard

While the world's abuzz about crypto-currencies and block chain that are challenging the pre-eminence of international currencies, we are missing out on an incredible opportunity to recapture the top spot for FDI (Foreign Direct Investment).  The dollar aside (which can be subject to the vagaries of our domestic economy, exports, and balance of payments deficit), why are we still navel-gazing, looking at our national financial position as the one true measurement of our wealth when knowledge is worth infinitely more?  What's keeping us from being bold and working to establish a "parallel standard" of value and then turn that value into an easily transferable technology/intellectual property–based currency?

We need a modern-day system of actual valuation that takes into account the "intangibles" of intellectual property and technology.  Together, the World Bank, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and perhaps other organizations should conduct a thorough inventory of the world's patents and intellectual property to determine countries' real wealth.  They should be looking at

1. Total merchandise produced and sold that owe its existence to countries' patents.

2. Infrastructure that exists as a result of the patents (like factories, R&D institutes, etc.).

3. The downstream value of the patents as they apply to the other industries (crossover technology and multiple applications that are the result of those patents and are used to produce products/technologies that are directly dependent upon the patents).

4. What each country's economy would look like if those patents were rescinded, lapsed, or were restricted for use solely in the country of origin.

Using an agreed upon scoring and ranking method, each country would be assigned a specific value for its intellectual property/technology (the U.S. would naturally support an initial evaluation in U.S. dollars).  Such scoring would form the basis of a country's "Idea Standard."  That standard (value) would "float" — increase with world market demand or decrease if patents or technologies are retired or replaced.  The standard could also be used as an additional measurement of a nation's industrial or commercial strength and could provide an investment opportunity for domestic or international investors through the sale of long-term "technology bonds."

While similar valuations already exist to calculate an individual company's worth here in the U.S., the idea has never been used to assess the core value of our country's (or other countries', for that matter) industrial or technological wealth or potential for wealth generation.  Economists will probably say it's too difficult to produce a true measurement that takes into account the variables like a country's indigenous raw materials, workforces, manufacturing capacities, governmental attitudes, etc.  Despite that, I still believe that it's time to develop some new 21st-century standards if we are to move toward assessing the true worth of idea-based economies and, more importantly, to provide alternatives to emerging pseudo currencies that have little in the way of actual value.

The growth of patents

According to WIPO's World Intellectual Property Indicators Report, patent and industrial designs filing activity rebounded in 2020 — "illustrating the resilience of human innovation even amid the dire global health situation."  Trademark filing rose by 13.7% and patents by 1.6%.  As many would expect, China is leading the pack when it comes to new patent applications with about half of all countries' applications.  We in the U.S. come in number two with 18% (Japan follows us with about 9%).  The total number of applications filed across the world was 3,276,700.

The bottom line on patents: While China still holds a commanding lead, patenting activity in emerging countries has increased and is bound to continue as those countries develop.  Globalists would argue that this trend is worth supporting, that in order to bring the developing world along, we need to stimulate their technological growth.  While that may be a compassionate view of world commerce, we live in a supercharged, highly competitive world environment.  America needs its technology and its ideas, now more than ever.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired career U.S. diplomat who lived and worked in 30 countries for 25 years during the Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, and G.W. Bush administrations.  He is the author of twelve books, six of which are on American politics, and has written over 1,300 articles on politics, economics, and social trends.  He operates a political news story aggregator website,  He can be reached at

Image: The Opte Project / Barrett Lyon.

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