From the 2006 News Archive
School of Law IP Clinic featured in Daily Record story
October 28, 2005
From THE DAILY RECORD
Growing a practice in the BioPark
Miles & Stockbridge, UM Law program go where the biotech firms will be
By DANIEL OSTROVSKY
Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
Walking along Baltimore Street in West Baltimore, from Saint Paul Street to Martin Luther King Boulevard, there's a 7-Eleven, a check-cashing place and a business called Millennium Cutz.
Across the boulevard, townhouses that have seen better days come into view, hard by a vacant lot and the Silver Moon diner, a favorite police hangout.
It's not the kind of place where you would expect to find the offices of a high-powered, statewide business law firm. And you wouldn't until next month.
Starting in November, Miles & Stockbridge will open a satellite office in this neighborhood that stands in stark juxtaposition to the firm's central base, a scant mile but seemingly a world away at 10 Light Street.
So, what's a nice downtown firm doing in a place like this?
"The BioPark was the principal reason that we decided to move west," said firm chairman John B. Frisch.
%91In the trenches'
The new office, located at 800 W. Baltimore Street, is inside the first of 10 buildings that, when complete, will compose the University of Maryland BioPark. Some major biotechnology players also have also announced plans to move. For example, Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories will open a clinical research facility at the BioPark, costing the company $20 million.
"This affords our lawyers a unique opportunity to really understand the business, and the science behind the business, in ways that you don't necessarily get to do if you are representing clients from your own office," he said. "Here, we are going to be in the trenches, so to speak, with the clients as the business develops."
Furthermore, Miles & Stockbridge is looking to contribute to Baltimore's biotechnology movement.
"A real key goal that I think the University of Maryland has and, in fact, the Baltimore region has is to really grow and support a vibrant life-sciences community," Frisch commented. "And so the more of our lawyers that can be there on the ground interacting day-to-day with people in that industry, we can help that sense of community develop."
Admittedly, the law firm is starting out small. According to Miles & Stockbridge principal Christopher R. Johnson, who will manage the new office, 10 to 15 members of the life-science team will work on a rotating basis, leaving one lawyer at the BioPark at all times.
Miles & Stockbridge offices in places like Rockville and Towson, Frisch said, have between 10 and 15 full-time lawyers. However, Johnson explained that it is unfair to compare those offshoots with the firm's BioPark location.
The new opening, he said, is more analogous to assigning a lawyer to work directly out of a client's office.
Yet, the firm is still taking a risk by going to 800 W. Baltimore at least a financial one.
Frisch estimated that it will cost Miles & Stockbridge between $100,000 and $150,000 to keep the new office open for the first year.
Nor will it be the only legal resource around: the University of Maryland's own Intellectual Property Legal Resource Center will also have a space in the BioPark.
The center gives law students, under the supervision of faculty, a chance to provide free legal assistance to businesses in the technology sector.
IP and more
While the IP Legal Resource Center began in Montgomery County, students are now working with companies that are part of the Emerging Technology Centers incubators at the former American Can Company complex in Canton and the old Eastern High School Building, located minutes from the Johns Hopkins University.
Sponsored by the Baltimore Development Corp., the incubators provide space, equipment and assistance to technology-related companies in their early stages of development.
"In many cases they are only two or three people just starting out to try to create a business," explained Neil R. Davis, the Emerging Technology Centers' director of operations. "And as such, they don't have assets like plants and machinery and trucks and things like that. Their assets in most cases are limited to their intellectual property."
Davis pointed to one company, which he said has few physical assets, but holds close to 110 patents. In the future, he predicted, legal assistance will become even more critical for technology-sector businesses.
"The discoveries and the technologies that they are working on seem to be increasingly complex and because of that complexity, the intellectual property side of it becomes more complex as well and it becomes an even more important aspect of their growth," Davis said.
The students, he added, are not limiting themselves to intellectual property cases.
"I know they can also be of assistance in other areas of legal matters; for example, looking at and helping them develop a partnership agreement or a non-disclosure agreement, some of the basic bread-and-butter stuff that most businesses have to have in place."
Miles & Stockbridge, Johnson said, expects intellectual property to comprise a large chunk of its BioPark business as well. But he also said the firm will likely assist with general corporate work, employment law, financing, drafting contracts as well as making and drafting licensing arrangements.
Nonetheless, University of Maryland law professor and Legal Resource Center Director Frederick A. Provorny underscored that his students are working in conjunction with not competing against seasoned Miles & Stockbridge lawyers. This, he said, will not change when they move into 800 W. Baltimore, since they will continue to attract a different clientele from the firm.
"We have a very close relationship, almost a symbiotic relationship with Miles & Stockbridge and with a number of firms here in Baltimore," he commented.
As Provorny explained, the Legal Resource Center does not get involved in litigation or interface with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
And some companies that are just starting out, Davis noted, in all likelihood do not have the cash to absorb the fees charged by major law firms.
"As the companies grow and they mature and their legal needs continue and they probably get more complex, at that point in time they can afford, and probably have to bring on, a larger more broadly capable firm like a Miles & Stockbridge," he said.
In fact, Davis even espouses a vision of a conveyor belt, with incubators and bioparks coexisting in perfect harmony.
"We work with them for a year or two or three; they then move into the BioPark, which makes a lot of sense for Baltimore," he said. "And then maybe in five or 10 years, or whatever the time period would be, they move out into their own set of labs and offices in the city."
Lawyers at Miles & Stockbridge are certainly hoping that things will work out the way Davis and the numerous supporters of the University of Maryland BioPark envision.
Ideally, Johnson said, several lawyers will end up working exclusively out of the BioPark office within five years serving clients located there.
"The footprint is great, the support from the neighborhood is terrific, you've got a university with a fantastic vision for the space and for the community," he said. "So we are very optimistic it will happen very quickly."
If the Legal Resource Center's experience with the incubators is any indication, the firm's bet may well pay off.
Provorny said that only two students signed up for his program when it started in Shady Grove in July of last year.
Following a move to Baltimore, the program is oversubscribed, with 11 students this semester, 15 the next and more on a waiting list.
"The companies tell us it's a tremendous resource," Davis said. "Not only the companies that are in the incubator right now, but it's been a fabulous recruiting tool for us, because as we describe all the services we have to offer here, this intellectual property law clinic is a really nice selling point."
Copyright 2005, The Daily Record. Reprinted with permission.