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One of the priorities of the new Biden administration is to tackle the cost of prescription medicines, an elusive goal for many federal and state lawmakers over the past several years. However, Christopher Morten has a suggestion. As the deputy director at the New York University Technology Law and Policy Clinic, he studies patents and access to medicines. In collaboration with PrEP4All, an AIDS activist group, and three of his students, Morten has just published a “user’s guide’” to a federal law that he believes could help lower drug costs. The focus is on Section 1498, which would allow the U.S. government to use patents and compensate the owners. Unlike march-in rights, the idea has gotten little attention, but he argues its time may have come. This is an edited version of our conversation. 

So what is Section 1498?


It’s a federal law. To be precise, it refers to a provision of the U.S. Code, which is the main body of federal statute. This law specifically formalizes U.S. government authority to use privately owned patents in the public interest. The U.S. government can make or sell or distribute or operate any patented invention covered by an active U.S. patent. The law is, actually, a bit broader than that. The U.S. government itself can use a patent, but can also authorize contractors to do the same thing, so long as they operate under the instructions of the U.S. government and serve the public interest in some way.

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