Personally ive never had an issue with pirates.
Sure they can sometimes come with huge numbers but if they do I tend to just focus on colonising everything else around the target planet and just rebuild it all once they leave. Sure its not ideal but then they are there for that reason, to hinder and generally cause problems.
I do however agree that they are a bit bland in the sense that its an 'ebay' like auction at the end of the timer for everyone. I also agree with the comment about not using the panel for anything other than that.
In fact if ill be honest I NEVER use the panel. When it gets to the ebay bid war I just spam the button at the top to ensure its not me.
This for me states that pirates need to be fleshed out a little more. They are serving their purpose nicely at the moment but more function would nice. A reason to actually go onto that panel and take note of whats going on. Perhaps there could be more pirate 'factions'? For example currently we have just TEC pirates (or at least TEC ships). Why not use some of the other racial variants? Especially now the faction wars have broken out amongst the factions it makes it more feasable for other smaller factions to splinter out of it.
Also I think a good idea regarding the pirate attacks would be to scale the type of attack with how much money someone has pumped into them. For example if I have given 200 credits then I should expect an attack of say 5-10 ships. But if I have pumped 1000 credits then that number would increase and potentially have more powerful ships among it.
Of course to combat strong oponents taking advantage on this there should be a money cap to which how much 1 single player can invest into the raids. This basically means that dominant players can still try and send a pirate attack like before but if smaller, weaker players banded together they could achieve a winning bid. Of course there would still be the argument that the strong player can only invest say 5000 credits while the other 3 each invest 5000 to make 15000 and if that scaled the power then there would be one serious force to reckon with. Perhaps if that was an issue then an overall limit to what all players overall can put in.
Perhaps other options could be requesting specific types of ships the pirates use. Or perhaps you could even ask them to help defend a planet. Perhaps you could even give them a wad of cash in return for a couple of their ships. Of course being pirates they would want over normal asking price for those ships but it could still be a handy tool if you have a large enemy coming for you and not enough time to build ships...
Just 2 cents!