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As the White House gets set to name a new head of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, a coalition of advocacy and nonprofit groups see an opportunity to overhaul the approach to issuing patents that may sometimes prevent Americans from accessing needed medicines.

For the past several years, patent protection has become a flashpoint in the wider debate over the rising cost of prescription medicines in the U.S. The issue reflects concerns that drug makers have increasingly been granted patents that arguably add little to medical innovation, but extend monopolies that not only forestall lower-cost competition but also permit ongoing price hikes.

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