A couple months ago, I quoted Article 27.1 of the TRIPS Agreement, and then asked:
Why shouldn't countries discriminate in relation to patents based on the field of technology? Aren't some patents more valuable to society than others? Aren't patents for pharmaceuticals more valuable than patents for, say, pumpkin carving tools? Why not give longer patent terms for life-saving drugs than for less important things?
After some good comments to the post, I noted that I had abandoned the idea as impractical.
But after coming across some intellectual support for differentiated patent terms, I think maybe I should revive the idea. Economist Alex Tabarrok has talked about the "Tabarrok Curve," under which "beyond a certain point, greater protection for intellectual property causes less innovation." A WSJ article summarizing his research notes:
Patents are supposed to prevent imitation, but in practice, imitation is often more costly than innovation. Most patent disputes are not about firms copying each other's inventions but about two companies discovering simultaneously the next step in an innovative process. Yet patent law can't easily handle that type of situation.
The glaring exception is pharmaceuticals, where testing for safety and efficacy makes innovation extremely costly, but where imitation can be cheap. In these circumstances, patents are not only necessary but might be strengthened. Elsewhere they should be weakened and shortened.
I think maybe I see a bandwagon for differential patent terms. I'm going to jump on it.