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Headquarters: Alameda, Calif. Founded: 2001 Patents: Doesn’t own any patents. Its parent corporation, Applera, has 44 U.S. patents. Business: Uses computer applications to help discover and commercialize drug therapies and diagnostic products. Growing up in Hong Kong, Victor Lee had this image of a lawyer: an eloquent, bewigged barrister. So after he moved to Spokane, Wash., for his senior year of high school, Lee didn’t consider a legal career because English was his second language. “I didn’t think I was particularly good at language,” he says. Today as the senior patent attorney and licensing director at Celera Diagnostics, the 44-year-old lawyer speaks the language of science and law with great skill. At Celera, Lee files at least one patent application a week. He’s also responsible for analyzing the IP elements in Celera’s many strategic alliances. The company has drug development deals with Abbott Laboratories and Quest Diagnostics, among others. Lee received a B.S. in biology from Eastern Washington University and a Ph.D. in experimental pathology from the University of Washington. It was during his postdoctoral fellowship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that he started to have doubts. He found that “doing science with my hands didn’t thrill me. I loved to think about science, read papers, and I always enjoyed writing as a scientist.” Lee heard that IP law firms were beginning to hire scientists, so he sent letters to several firms listed in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. Pennie & Edmonds answered, brought him to New York for an interview, and “made an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was a new career for more money, and they’d pay for law school,” Lee says. The Pennie job gave him his first chance to see New York, but Lee hardly had time. “You work full-time, go to law school from six to nine p.m. four days a week, and spend Friday nights in the office,” he recalls. “I lived in New York City for five years, and only went to one play and one museum.” Lee graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1995, and moved to Pennie & Edmonds’ Palo Alto, Calif., office the next year. He stayed until 1998, fending off calls from headhunters feeding the biotech boom. Lee was open to a move, but not to a startup. “I wanted to go to a large company with products in the real world.” When the diagnostic-test maker then called Roche Molecular Systems made him an offer, he jumped. He was at Roche for two years, supervising patent prosecution. His aversion to startups abated, Lee moved to Celera Diagnostics in 2001, the year of its founding, along with many of the Roche scientists and senior management team. “I was given the opportunity to run the intellectual property department here, reporting to the president. The decision was pretty much a no-brainer,” says Lee. Celera Diagnostics uses information from the human genome to discover genetic disease markers and then creates diagnostic tests for those diseases. The company is a joint venture of the Applied Biosystems Group and the Celera Genomics Group, both owned by the Applera Corp. Celera Genomics, the sister company, finished sequencing the human genome in 1999. That sequencing was based on genetic material provided by five individuals. Lee says that the genomics company has since completed a resequencing of the genome, this time using material from 39 people. The resequencing turned up a large number of genetic variations, which Celera Diagnostics built an industrial-scale lab to study. The supercomputing machines that do this are located in Alameda, Calif., and operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When the computers find a genetic variation associated with a disease, “the IP just jumps right out at you,” says Lee. In other words, the computer finds a statistical link between a gene and a disease, scientists analyze the data, and Lee writes patent applications based on the links they confirm. None of these patents has been issued yet. Lee does not use outside counsel for prosecution, turning instead to one patent lawyer who works for him and in-house lawyers at his sister companies. For opinion work and due diligence, he uses his former co-workers at Pennie & Edmonds and D.C.’s Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner. Celera Genomics has been criticized in the past for applying for patents on gene sequences, but Lee doesn’t expect to have any problems with his company’s patent applications. “They all have a real-world utility,” he says.

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