Ever thought about the reasons why copyright protégés have been able to extend the duration of the copyright law in many countries now to 70 years after the death of the author while patents are lagging behind? Why can’t get patent owners more than a scanty 20 year legal protection after the date of filing while their copyright counterpart enjoy the law’s protection for more than three times longer? It crossed my mind re-reading the European Court’s September 2007 judgment in Merck Genericos vs. Merck. The case was about a provision in the Portuguese patent law maximizing patent protection to 15 years rather than 20 years, as is provided for in art. 33 of the TRIPs Agreement. The issue then was whether this article has “direct effect” in national (in casu Portuguese) law and can be applied directly by a national court. The Court held that as patent law in Europe, although in many ways uniformed, is still not “community law”, national courts can choose whether or not to give direct effect to that provision.
So a patchwork on terms for duration of intellectual property rights exist, not only between IPRs (copyright vs. patent protection) but also within IPRs (patent laws in different countries). Intellectual property right being an economic property right there are no doubt economic reasons to justify the difference. Take copyright law: an extended term of protection may generate twenty more years of commercial revenue for many economically viable works. Driven by US lawmakers and lobbyists, its not hard to see why. Much of US revenue may come from foreign countries where many novels, motion pictures, and other U.S. works find a market. The economic argument translates not only into greater revenues for U.S. copyright holders, but also into the subsequent tax revenues, employment prospects, and shareholder profits that accompany expanded business. First Monday, a “peer-reviewed journal on the internet”, cites Prof. Crews in that if those revenues are derived from foreign markets, the strengthened protection and longer term of protection for copyrights may also help shift the balance of international trade in favor of the US.
Why then is the copyright term so much longer than for patents? How “limited” should the duration be to effectuate the appropriate balance between reward to authors and inventors and the public domain? Traditionally benefits for longer copyright protection have been defended by arguing that this would enhance incentives for authors and artists to create. But why would that be different with technological innovations? I would rather argue the opposite. Many innovations would deserve a much longer duration of protection than some literary works. Why would the inventor of a now widely used technology, the first practical visible-spectrum LED (Light Emitting Diode, the bright screen in many electronics products) Nick Holonyak, Jr of General Electric, see his invention of 1962 long run out of patent protection, while had he copyright, would have still enjoyed his legal privilege?
 K.D. CREWS, Harmonization and the Goals of Copyright: Property Rights or Cultural Progress? in 6 Ind. J. of Global Legal Studies, 1998, 117 ff.