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It was tough to tell which group boasted the more overwhelming presence at the Bio 2004 conference Tuesday — the police or the lawyers. San Francisco’s finest were out in force, a raw display of power meant to deter any troublemakers among the protesters who gathered outside Moscone Center. Inside, the event was a magnet for the legal industry, with law firms visible in a way rarely evidenced at other industry trade shows. At least 27 law firms had booths set up on the showroom floor, and the special discussion panels that run throughout the four-day conference were peppered with legal topics and speakers. “You can’t swing a dead cat in here without hitting a lawyer,” joked one associate manning a law firm booth. The presence of law firms was apparent simply by glancing at the people roaming the exhibition halls. The Morgan Lewis name was prominently stitched on the canvas shoulder bag given to every attendee upon arrival — a privilege that, according to the brochure for next year’s Bio event, runs $100,000. Fish & Richardson elected to have its firm name emblazoned on the back of the small nametag attached to the Morgan Lewis bag. The goal for law firms was to trumpet their brand to an industry permeated by legal issues and driven by intellectual property. Fish & Richardson also hosted and moderated a discussion panel featuring three federal judges, entitled “Juries Gone Wild: Should patent validity be decided by juries?” Thorny legal questions will always be part of the biotech industry, said Colin Sandercock, a Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe IP litigator who traveled out to the show from the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. But this year’s event has a decidedly corporate focus, he said. “Biotech law in general is a lot more stable than it was 15 years ago,” said Sandercock. “So this Bio meeting is really about the business side; money is flowing back in.” Heller partners moderated a trio of business-oriented discussion panels entitled “Mechanics of Investing,” “The Do’s and Don’ts of Starting an Emerging Biotech Company,” and “IPO Ultimate Survival Guide.” Nearly 17,000 people are registered to attend the BIO 2004 Annual International Convention, which runs through today. The show brings together emerging companies and established pharmaceutical giants from all over the world. In recent years, concerns over everything from bio-engineered crops to stem-cell research have made the biotech industry a lightning rod for a broad range of criticism. Outside the convention center, a small group of protesters held up signs with slogans such as “No Patent on Life,” and “Freedom Is Food Sovereignty.” Platoons of cops roamed the premises with riot helmets in hand and reams of plastic handcuffs attached to their belts. For many lawyers at the conference, the event was an occasion to do a marathon run of business development. Morrison & Foerster, like many law firms, had both a booth on the showroom floor and a private conference room in another section of the convention center. The firm organized meetings with various clients in the conference room and used the sit-down to introduce the clients to attorneys in other practice areas or from its other offices. In addition to patent prosecution, patent litigation and licensing, MoFo was promoting its capital markets transactions and venture financings practice to the biotech companies at the show. Attorneys at the booth of Burns, Doane, Swecker & Mathis, an IP boutique with five U.S. offices, said they were approached by several foreign law firms looking to find U.S. counsel for IP matters. IP powerhouses weren’t the only law firms at the show. Bennett Savitz, the founder of Boston’s Savitz Law Offices, was at the show for the fourth year in a row to hawk his immigration practice. “Biotech and tech are the top two industries I deal with,” said Savitz, who said he picks up new clients at the Bio show all the time. Not all attendees saw the law firm presence as particularly useful. Jeffrey Hessekiel, a senior corporate counsel for Gilead Sciences Inc., said law firms weren’t on his radar at all. Hessekiel said he was mainly at the show to see developments in the industry. Chatting with other lawyers was definitely not at the top of his to-do list. “I may see people I know, but I’m not out looking for new counsel,” said Hessekiel.

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