Diary: Reporting Live from the 2010 BIO International Convention

Exhibit Hall at BIO International Convention; showing about 5% of the square footage.

On Sunday, May 2, 2010, I left home for Dulles International Airport, abbreviation IAD.  It has always seemed strange to me that the abbreviation wasn’t DIA, but maybe that is too close to DOA, and I doubt any airport would want that association.  In any event, I was on my way to Chicago for my first trip to the BIO International Convention.  I was excited and a bit apprehensive, having booked my hotel room through Hotwire.  I keep telling myself that I won’t do that any more, but the low prices keep luring me in I suppose.  After all, I am a patent attorney, and that means by nature I am quite conservative and frugal in most things, although not when it comes to the NFL Sunday Ticket via Direct TV, but that is another matter entirely.

My trip was uneventful on the way out, and on the way back for that matter, which is just the way to characterize successful business travel.  If there is ever a story to tell about the trip it never seems to be a good thing, like the time I went to… well… never mind that.  I made it into position in a relatively nice hotel not far from McCormick Place, which is where the Convention was held.  I got a good night of sleep and awoke early to get the Convention bright and early, check in and get ready for my interview with Francis Gurry, the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  Things were proceeding according to plan, which is always nice.

As I tried to find a taxi Monday morning to get to McCormick Place I thought perhaps my choice of hotel wasn’t the best.  I did find a taxi after waiting about 10 minutes, which I thought was unusual, but then again whenever I travel to Chicago I almost universally stay inside the Loop where there are taxis all over the place.  As the week progressed the taxi drivers clued in that there were fares to be had at this nice but somewhat remote hotel, which is no doubt why it was on Hotwire, but I digress.  When I told the taxi driver I needed to go to McCormick Place he asked: “North, East, South or West?”  That should have been my first clue about just how big McCormick Place is.  I had no idea, so we went for South, which was closest, and that was indeed the primary entrance for the BIO Convention, with registration close at hand.


On Day 1 I didn’t manage to realize just how big McCormick Place was or how many people were really attending the Convention.  Over the ensuing few days it became clear that McCormick Place is as big as an airport, or more accurately it is probably best to say that it is bigger than most airports.  The place was enormous.  So big and spacious that it was hard at any one time to realize there were 15,000+ people attending the Convention.

I checked in and got my press credentials and headed for the Press Room, where BIO had about 40 or 50 laptops rented and available for the media.  I have always been impressed with the BIO operation, but having attended this Convention I have a new found admiration.  It seemed that virtually everything was thought through to make it as easy as possible for attendees, speakers, exhibitors and members of the media..

At approximately 11 am I had my interview with Francis Gurry, which went very well.  Then I had some unrelated business to attend to, yes I do still manage to have a patent practice.  Then to make arrangements for the sending and transcription of the Gurry interview, then off to grab a quick bite at McDonald’s before attending the Super Session with USPTO Director David Kappos and WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.  I chatted briefly with Director Kappos as he arrived and waited to be called onto the stage, and then managed to get some good pictures of Kappos, Gurry and co-presenter Bob Armitage, Senior Vice-President and General Counsel of Lily.  Press credentials comes with some perks indeed!  For more on the Kappos/Gurry Super Session see Kappos Talks Patent Reform and Gene Patents at BIO Convention.

After the IP Super Session I was off to meet and greet some folks, and then dinner with long-time friend Professor Llewellyn Gibbons of the University of Toledo, who was presenting the next day at the Convention about the 30th Anniversary of Bayh-Dole.  Gibbons’ presentation was great, and it came as no surprise I agreed with virtually all of his points.  I will be writing about Tech Transfer much of next week, so stay tuned.  Incidentally, next week I will be in New York City to and speaking to the Manhattan inventor group on Monday evening, then teaching the PLI Patent Bar Review Course thereafter, which is our first of two live courses in May, the other being May 24-28 at Santa Clara University.  It is always great to have material to bring with me to write about in advance of teaching a PLI Course because I don’t always have Internet access during the day, but do have time to write.  Suffice it to say for now that I have a new understanding of why some Universities succeed at licensing out technology and why others, perhaps many, fail.

The session Gibbons spoke at on Tuesday occurred right after the energized gene patenting session at 8am with Judge Rader (CAFC), John Whelan (former USPTO Deputy General Counsel), Robert Cook-Deegan (Duke University) and others.  I will be writing about this session in some depth next week as well, and in the weeks to come leading up to the appeal and ultimate reversal of the ACLU-Myriad decision.  For the moment suffice it to say that I got quite a bit frustrated with what Cook-Deegan was saying and pressed him in a back and forth Q & A, me being in the audience and he on the stage.  At the time I didn’t realize it was Cook-Deegan (I came in a bit tardy and sat on the side), but then after the presentation was over I saw his name tag it all became crystal clear.  Why are we talking about there being allegedly massive infringements in every lab when the topic is patentable subject matter?  Shouldn’t we want fundamentally important innovations to be those that are patented?  Oh… it got heated.

Later in the day on Tuesday, after having lunch with some of the Patent Docs, specifically Co-Chief Doc Donald Zuhn, and Patent Doc contributor Sheri Oslick, I attended the Tech Transfer Symposium, held in the Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency, which connects to McCormick Place.  I had previously arranged an interview with Linda Katehi, Chancellor of the University of California (Davis).  Katehi gave an introductory presentation on technology transfer the lead into a panel discussion.  As an Electrical Engineer, Professor and now Chancellor in the UC system, Katehi has a lot of experience with technology transfer.  Her presentation and the time I spent thereafter with her continued to facilitate my understanding of why some Universities succeed and others fail.  More to come next week.  The transcript is ready to go, but I didn’t want to bury the publication on a weekend, so look for it Monday morning.

I attended a reception of BIO IP Counsel on Tuesday evening, taking some time to get to know some BIO staff, talking shop again with the Patent Docs – Zuhn and the other Co-Chief Doc Kevin Noonan, and enjoying some red wine and hors devours.  I went back to my hotel room fully intending to freshen up and then head to the MBHB party at a local Irish establishment, but was drawn into litigation matters that needed to be attended to and kept me occupied until about 1:30 am.  Thus is the life of a patent attorney journalist.  Fun stuff… and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

On Wednesday, I confess to not getting up at the crack of dawn.  All I had on my calendar was to walk through the BIO Exhibit Hall to take it in and meet as many folks as I could.  I had already decided to blow off the Al Gore “media availability.”  I am not sure exactly what media availability is, but as near as I can tell it meant I would get to listen to the first 5 minutes of Al Gore’s keynote address.  I’m not a big fan of Vice President Gore, and there were so many cool innovations to learn about in the Exhibit Hall.  Those who know me know I love to talk shop and nothing quite captures me like innovation, innovators and those who speak the language of business.  So… sorry Mr. Vice President, this nerd decided to join the other nerds in the Exhibit Hall that make the global economy spin ’round.  The decision to skip the Gore media availability was sealed when I learned of an tech transfer iPhone app that needed some investigation (keep reading).  Hey, I can’t help it, I’m an electrical and computer engineer at a BIO Convention?  I needed some computer angle somewhere!

I chatted with folks from IDA Ireland, which is their Industrial Development Agency for Ireland, about the regulatory climate, favorable tax laws and their efforts to reinvigorate Ireland, which up until this economic crisis that has affected everyone seemed to be going enormously well.  Of course, with a name like Quinn I couldn’t pass up a chance to chat with the Irish, so I spent more time there than elsewhere, but it will lead to some great articles in the coming months no doubt.

Solazyme shows off truck powered by algae

I also talked with Solazyme, which is a company that turns algae into biofuel (yeah!  another power/EE angle at BIO), and will be following up for a more in depth look at the company when they come to DC at the end of June for the BIO World Congress Industrial Biotechnology & Bioprocessing.  Right behind the algae powered truck (see photo right) was an odd display for a professional convention and seemingly more appropriate for a Fair.  Right there in the Exhibit Hall were farm animals, but not just any farm animals; there was a pig on display that was genetically modified to grow body parts for human transplantation, and a cow genetically altered to be resistant to Mad-Cow disease.  Now that is cool stuff!

Through my travels around the Exhibit Hall I also spoke at some length with the folks from Johns Hopkins about their Technology Transfer department and learned about a cool, new, first of its kind iPhone app.  The app is simply titled “Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer” and contains contact information, information about available technologies (one exciting one is a brain stimulating device that enhances learning) and faculty profiles.  Of course, I also stopped by and talked to all the IP firms representing in the Exhibit Hall, and I also chatted with folks from the Mayo Clinic.  I snuck in a quick lunch about 1pm, then back to walking around and learning, before I had to head to the airport at 3pm to catch my flight home.

It was a tremendous experience, and I look forward to next year and other BIO events.  I learned a lot, gained tremendous perspective on a variety of things, have a greater understanding about such patent issues as work-sharing, international harmonization and why biotech and Universities really need deferred examination.  There is so much to write about.  I can’t wait to get started.


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Join the Discussion

5 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Leah Hardesty]
    Leah Hardesty
    May 11, 2010 06:30 pm

    Hi Gene,

    We would enjoy connecting with you at BIO Wold Congress. Send me an email so we can coordinate. Thanks! Leah

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    May 11, 2010 01:50 pm


    It was great to meet you as well.

    Allow me to echo what you say. The animals I referred to and were on display were NOT a part of the Solazyme display, booth or company offerings. They were merely in close proximity to their booth at the back of the Exhibit Hall and adjacent to the BIO booth. So there is no affiliation between Solazyme and the animals. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

    I look forward to learning more about Solazyme and hopefully sitting down with you at the BIO World Congress at the end of June.


  • [Avatar for Leah Hardesty]
    Leah Hardesty
    May 11, 2010 12:57 pm

    Hi Gene,

    Thanks for the shout-out to Solazyme and our algae-derived diesel fuel. It was great to meet you at the convention. The truck photo looks great! I just want to make a quick clarification for anyone that reads your post and assumes the genetically modified animals were related to Solazyme. Another blogger already made this assumption, unfortunately. The animals that Gene is talking about were in the same BIO Pavilion as Solazyme’s exhibit, however they were not in any way related or connected to Solazyme. They just happened to be near us at the convention. Solazyme is NOT in the business of genetic modification to livestock. We make fuel, foods and cosmetics from algae. Check out our website: http://www.solazyme.com to learn more. Looking forward to seeing you at BIO World Congress Gene!

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    May 8, 2010 07:23 pm


    I do think the BIO Convention is something that a non-techie would appreciate. There were a lot of sessions on policy matters, on the role of Universities in doing basic research and getting it out into industry and there were some excellent keynote speakers. Unfortunately, members of the press were not allowed into the keynote speeches given by President Clinton, President Bush and Vice President Gore. The grapevine was that this was not a BIO imposed requirement, but part of the deal for getting them to speak. Those guys command big fees for giving speeches and I suspect they largely give the same talk over and over again.

    Are you going to IACC or INTA?


  • [Avatar for Nils Montan]
    Nils Montan
    May 8, 2010 12:53 pm

    Cool Gene. I love it when people blog from conventions that many of us can’t get to (IACC and INTA are coming up next week and you can’t go to everything).

    Is the Bio Convention an event that non-technical (ie, not patent attorneys) might enjoy?