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Intent on getting a foothold in the area’s burgeoning biotechnology and technology business cluster, Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe opened an office in Madison, Wis., last month. Heller Ehrman chairman Barry Levin said the office was opened chiefly as a way to lure three litigators away from Foley & Lardner’s Madison office. But he also hopes Heller can serve a community hungry for life sciences lawyers — the area has added 150 biotech and technology companies in the last 12 years. The three lawyers are former Foley appellate group chair Charles Curtis Jr. and patent litigators John Skilton and David Harth. They are joined in the Madison office — which has room for eight lawyers — by associates Christopher Hanewicz and David Jones, both also from Foley. Curtis is a well-known specialist in Native American law, while Skilton’s and Harth’s clients include Gene Logic Inc., the German company Morphosis and Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Corp. “There are not a lot of people nationwide who have a lot of trial experience in biotech litigation,” Levin said. “I think there’ll be some good local work to do as well, but most of what our people will be doing there will be national work.” All three lawyers will divide their time between the Madison outpost and the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. But Skilton said the long-term plan is to exploit the Madison market, which is growing at a rate of about 15 new biotech and technology companies per year. The genesis for much of the growth is the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which boasts one of the world’s leading centers for biological research. Sixty percent of the companies are biotechnology companies, and the majority of the companies are spin-offs from the university’s research centers. Major companies in the area include Third Wave Technologies Inc. and Promega Corp. “There is a limited number of patent lawyers here in Madison — even in Milwaukee,” said Carl Gulbrandsen, director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. “We use them to the max, but they get overloaded.” WARF, the freestanding foundation that manages patents for technology spinning off of the university, processes between 120 and 150 patent applications annually, Gulbrandsen said. In addition to a handful of small, Madison-based firms, Gulbrandsen said the local biotechnology community leans heavily on the Milwaukee firms of Foley & Lardner, Quarles & Brady and Michael Best & Friedrich, and that he hopes to work with the attorneys who have joined Heller’s Madison office. “Heller seems to be focusing pretty tightly on the life sciences,” said Robert Jones, chairman of Cooley Godward’s Palo Alto, Calif.-based life sciences group. “For us it’s more a matter of the West Coast, the mid-Atlantic and now Reston, Va., but Madison hadn’t yet made it onto my radar screen.” Philip Sobocinski, associate director for technology, development and commercialization in the university’s Industrial Relations Office, said the area has just begun to take off. Sobocinski said the state recently sank $114 million into the university’s research centers, and that it is among the nation’s five highest-funded research institutions. It has an annual research budget of more than $500 million, 60 percent of which is spent in the biological sciences. “And now we’re starting to attract venture firms,” said Sobocinski, who said the state director of technology recently headed up coalitions to Silicon Valley and to Boston to drum up venture capital financing. “This is the home of Vitamin D,” he noted, explaining that the “tech transfer” concept was born in Madison in 1925 with the discovery and licensing of Vitamin D irradiation methods. “We’ve been around in this area longer than Stanford and MIT.”

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