Interest in Biotech Law Surges

April 30, 2007
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KALAMAZOO — As the nation moves toward a more knowledge-based economic model, lawyers are finding more and more work in the fast-growing sectors of biotechnology, life sciences and intellectual property.

Interest in those areas are so high that the American Bar Association decided to establish a Biotech Subcommittee. Michigan Attorney Harold J. Decker, a principal in Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone’s Kalamazoo office, was appointed co-chair of the Biotech Subcommittee upon its formation last year.

Decker said as the biotechnology industry grew, the legal profession was drawn to it because people began demanding more industry-specific legal services. The basic responsibilities of ABA subcommittees are to educate lawyers on issues related to a subject; there are automotive subcommittees, class action subcommittees and chemical subcommittees, for example.

“Our basic goal is to try to raise scholarly issues and issues of day-to-day importance to lawyers, and educate them about those subjects,” Decker said. “We have been able to generate a significant amount of interest on the subject of biotechnology.”

Topics center around cutting-edge issues facing the biotech industry, such as FDA labeling rules, product recalls, risks in the clinical trial setting, multi-company collaboration agreements, patents, product recalls and emerging intellectual property issues.

The subcommittee’s primary effort is putting on the annual seminar and generating the topics and roster of speakers for the event. Decker was among the presenters at last year’s inaugural event in Cambridge, Mass., and will be a presenter again this year at the October 2 seminar in San Francisco. About 100 people attended the seminar last year, and Decker said he expects to see a full house this year, too, so the seminar is being limited to 150 participants.

The ABA tapped Decker to co-chair the Biotech Subcommittee because of his extensive background in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. For more than 20 years, Decker was a divisional vice president for Upjohn Corp. and its successor corporations. He previously served as an independent consultant to Stryker Corp., the Pharmaceutical Education Research Institute and Microsoft Corp. He also held positions with the American National Red Cross in Washington, D.C., including work in the biologics and diagnostics areas and a stint as the organization’s interim CEO and president.

When he joined Miller Canfield, Decker started calling people he knew in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries and asked about their specific legal needs. One of the areas that emerged was the preparation and prosecution of patents, so he started to pursue it. 

“It was my conception that people in the biotech industry would want to speak with lawyers who spoke the same idiom as the inventors,” he recalled.

Decker subsequently led the development of a Miller Canfield practice group that included intellectual property lawyers and lawyers who work in the health sciences field. Four of the lawyers he brought on board have Ph.D.s in scientific subjects, such as physical chemistry, chemistry and biochemistry. Like Decker, many of the other lawyers in the practice group have worked in pharmaceutical and biotechnology areas.

On April 17, Miller Canfield opened an office in Cambridge, Mass., to expand the biotechnology, intellectual property and life sciences practice it already had established there. The office is located at 1 Broadway in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, which is known as the gateway to biotech research and home to numerous biomedical, biopharmaceutical and other high-tech companies. Decker will play a significant role in that office, as well, because of existing client relationships he has in the Cambridge area. 

“We open offices where our clients are and where they demand that we be,” Decker commented. “Certainly, this is an important and developing area, and we intend to build on what we have.” 

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