In the case of Kelo vs. New London, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the government could confiscate private property pretty much as it saw fit, in this case seizing homes so they could be developed into more expensive homes, along with office buildings, a marina and offices. The Supreme Court agreed with the argument that this constituted "public use" although others would argue that term should be restricted to things like bridges or highways. Such confiscation is called "eminent domain."
In general there has been a broad-based movement to fight back against abuses of eminent domain:
In a rare display of unanimity that cuts across partisan and geographic lines, lawmakers in virtually every statehouse across the country are advancing bills and constitutional amendments to limit use of the government's power of eminent domain to seize private property for economic development purposesUnfortunately some people think eminent domain should be expanded. In an article recently published in JAMA (alas, no free full text), 2 Harvard professors argue for the government's right to abrogate pharmaceutical companies patent protection:
In the face of growing concern over excesses in pharmaceutical patent protection, another legal instrument exists that can protect the public health: eminent domain. The controversial Supreme Court decision of June 2005 in the case of Kelo v New London confirmed the government’s broad authority to assume control of private property in the name of a higher good. The court ruled that a municipality could take over individuals’ homes to facilitate construction of office space and more upscale residences because the proposed development would be a “public good.” Viewed in this light, eminent domain may be a tool to help address situations in which manipulation of biomedical patents threatens the public good even more directly.And they don't just think that this should only be used as a last resort, say to increase supply of olsetamivir (Tamiflu) in the event of an avian flu pandemic. The authors also cite
the fact that
elevated drug prices reduce adherence to medication regimens, especially for low-income patients, and mounting drug costs have forced states to cut back covered services, increase co-pay requirements from indigent patients, or limit eligibility criteria.suggesting that almost any inconvenience is a reason for the government to confiscate pharma companies property.
Of course in the long run, we'll all suffer as pharma will stop investing in the research that underlies development of new medicines.
UPDATE: added link to JAMA article which I inadvertantly admitted.