200 Year Terms?
Have you ever heard of the Methuselah Mouse Prize (Mprize)? This is a multi-million dollar contest designed to reward significant developments in scientifically reproducible life extension. Co-founded by the controversial Cambridge biologist Aubrey de Gray, the goal of prize is to encourage research on the aging process and create a “tipping point” in anti-aging science. It is conceivable, whatever the likelihood, that such research could lead in the near-term to a doubling of the average human lifespan, or more.
Sure, a great leap for humankind and all that, and one full of ethical, theological, sociological, political, and economic issues . . . but what effect would this have on patent law? In particular, what about patent terms?
Patent terms have changed considerably over time. The original patent term under the 1790 Patent Act was a term "not exceeding fourteen years.” In 1836, this was changed to the fourteen year term plus a seven year extension under certain circumstances. Then, from 1861 to 1994, the term was changed to a term seventeen years (17) from the date of issue. Presently, the law states that a patent term is twenty years (20) from the earliest filing date, subject to terminal disclaimers and patent term extensions for PTO delays or premarket regulatory review, and further subject to the regular payment of maintenance fees.
If the lifespan of an inventor were to be lengthened considerably, would the value of a 20 year term be lessened? If inventors were to start living to 969 years of age (or as old as Methusaleh), shouldn't patent terms be extended accordingly, say 200 years from date of filing? If terms wouldn't be extended, would the sciences and useful arts be promoted to the same extent? On the other hand, would there be little to no effect on patent law , since present assignees of patent interests may be corporate or other legal entities with a theoretically infinite lifespan?
We could only be so lucky as to one day have to address these problems, right?