Susan Aaronson has a short piece proposing some rethinking of intellectual property rights. She starts out with this:
Rules governing intellectual property rights set the terms of access for users of knowledge, but the current system (which includes rigorous application of patent and copyright laws) can limit the supply of innovation by restricting access to information. Individuals around the world are increasingly critical of that system as inflexible, out of date, and inequitable.
She also notes:
Some analysts believe the system is inappropriate for software and other rapidly changing technologies, may lead to information oligopolies, and could facilitate rent seeking at the national level. ... The system of protecting copyrights has not caught up to the reality of human behavior online. People want to share information, news, music, movies, and more, but under current international (and many national laws) such sharing is often considered piracy. Around the world, individuals and companies are coordinating education and strategies to alter laws that disallow limited online sharing.
In terms of concrete reform proposals, she says:
With the late law professor John H. Barton, [economist Keith] Maskus has called for a global agreement on science and technology to facilitate open reciprocal access to scientific findings. This basic agreement on science and technology would be housed in the World Trade Organization, and would allow governments to leave out (reserve) sensitive areas of technology (such as cybersecurity) and to designate different levels of commitment to open access. In so doing, policymakers could commit the bulk of publicly funded basic research to the public domain, thus encouraging knowledge transfers and innovation.
Most people would agree that some intellectual property protection is important, to provide an incentive for innovation. But there has been surprisingly little public debate as to how much protection there should be. Should patents be for 1 year? 10 years? 20 years? Forever? These kinds of policy decisions seem to be based more on lobbying than on a rigorous policy discussion.
Within the U.S., I'm hearing a lot of calls for IP reform these days, from both sides of the political spectrum. They are up against powerful forces, so I don't know how much success they will have, but I don't think it would be too shocking if IP protections were pulled back in some areas.
Taking this all back to trade policy, Aaronson argues that something along these lines could be good for trade negotiations:
One way the United States (the world’s largest economy, source of much of the world’s innovation, and adamant defender of the current approach [to IP]) could thwart further trade protectionism is to offer a grand bargain. If they agree to maintain their WTO commitments and continue the Doha Round slog, the United States will work with other governments to reform the global system of protecting intellectual property rights.