WSGR’s Norviel has this IP advice for synthetic biology startups

Originally published on March 5th, 2019 for Synbiobeta.

“Biology is messy,” Vern Norviel, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati says. “And that drives everything in the biotech world.”

I recently had the chance to talk to Norviel, who has been a patent and intellectual property (IP) lawyer for over 30 years, and this is his main takeaway from working in the industry. But both the biotech industry and the patent industry barely existed when he first started his career.

“It was a different world when I graduated. Nothing had been invented yet in the life sciences,” he told me.

Patent law was a way to merge his engineering undergraduate degree and career as a lawyer. In 1984, patent and IP law was considered geeky, even embarrassing. Stanford didn’t teach classes on IP law. Of course, that changed when tech became Silicon Valley’s main export. Now it’s cool to be a tech lawyer.

Norviel has watched and participated in the growth of the biotech and synthetic biology industry for the past three decades. Early in his career he helped found Affymetrix, a company that manufactures DNA microarrays used in research laboratories across the country. After leaving the company, he worked on patents for genetically engineered bacteria to clean up oil spills, a nitrogen fixating synthetic fertilizer for Pivot Bio, and many other fascinating biological inventions.

Read the rest at Synbiobeta.

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