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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Wednesday, March 21 2018 @ 10:13 PM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Wednesday, March 21 2018 @ 10:13 PM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine

Chemist in her element in biotech patent law

It is said that biotechnology companies are only as strong as their intellectual property, which is another name for the patents that give them ownership of their unique discoveries and methods. Investors won't pump their money into a biotech unless it has iron-clad intellectual property.Kate Murashige has forged biotech's armor.

She was a pioneer in the industry's patent law. And she continues to help myriad companies, each with vastly different and complicated science, stake their legal ground so they can push ahead and try to bring new drugs to market.

For instance, for 20 years she represented the University of California in its quest for a patent on the bovine growth hormone. Eventually UC won a $200 million settlement from chemical giant Monsanto.

Even people in the industry who have never met Murashige know her as the "mother superior" of biotech patent law, having blazed a trail when many law firms did not employ women.

"You can't talk about the development of biotech patent law without her name coming up," said Cathryn Campbell, a biotech patent attorney with Needle & Rosenberg in San Diego. "She's just a superb lawyer: extremely thoughtful, analytical, knowledgeable and was a real pioneer in the field."

Murashige, 72, a senior partner at the San Diego office of Morrison & Foerster, has a reputation that exceeds the boundaries of the United States, said numerous patent lawyers and biotech executives.

Her work has taken her to Europe, Asia and Latin America, where lawyers were equally impressed with her mild-mannered ability to cut to the heart of a legal matter and find resolution. And she has been called to speak before the United Nations and Congress about her field.

Murashige's definition of her task is straightforward: "How can I put together a logical, meaningful kind of protection that gives a company's technology the kind of position it needs to thrive in the business world?"

Some may think the mother superior title suits her on looks alone. The tall, lanky woman wears her blond hair pulled back at the nape of her neck, buttoned-up, long-sleeve blouses, long skirts and sensible shoes.

But looks are deceiving.

Every morning she folds her 5-foot-11-inch frame into her Mazda Miata convertible, a 64th-birthday present from her husband, and zips to the office, often hours before her colleagues.

The conservative clothes may be a nod to her roots, growing up in St. Louis, where her mother relinquished her teaching job when she married. Back then, before World War II, married women just weren't allowed to teach, Murashige recalled recently.

But really, the clothes are a kind of uniform, so this woman with liberal politics, a love of a good martini, the San Francisco opera and travel to exotic locales does not have to spend time fretting about an outfit.

Murashige is a role model, especially to women, without purposely taking on that role.

Laurie Hill, a biotech patent attorney who is an associate at Morrison & Foerster, was trying to decide what professional path to take after earning her doctorate. She identified two women who made her think, "If I could have careers like them, I'd be happy," Hill said.

One of them was Murashige.

After earning her doctorate in organic chemistry at the University of California Los Angeles, Murashige knew a career in the laboratory was not for her.

"I was not a good scientist," Murashige said. "I'm not creative. I'm very analytical. I move from Point A to Point B. People who are successful in science think a different way. They don't follow a particularly logical path and the goal is much too far away for me.

"I like a more immediate sense of accomplishment: complete a task, and move on."

For several years, she taught at the College of San Mateo, where she was chair of the physical sciences department. Among her students was J. Craig Venter, winner of the 2007 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest.

Eventually, she tired of teaching introductory courses. She began attending the Santa Clara School of Law at night while also raising a son.

She said she found plenty of time during the day, between teaching courses, to study her law books.

"That's just Kate. She's one of those people who just can't do nothing," said her second husband, Chris Zones, a geologist. He met Murashige while both were teaching. They were married during her last year of law school in 1977.

After law school, Murashige began writing letters to prominent firms and networked to try to land job interviews. Without an Ivy League law degree, it was tough. Morrison & Foerster was one of the firms that would not talk to her.

"I wasn't really thinking about what kind of law I wanted to practice," she said. "I just followed my nose."

She worked first with an attorney in Palo Alto, handling divorces and landlord/tenant disputes. In 1980, she was recruited to Syntax, the company that made the first birth control pill. It was willing to hire lawyers without any patent experience and train them.

Two years later, she became the first female lawyer at Lyon and Lyon in Los Angeles, which required her to commute to Los Angeles from her home in the Bay Area. She stayed there about nine months. Then she took an in-house patent job at Genentech.

After a year, she and fellow pioneer in biotech patent law, Thomas Ciotti, decided to start a firm that focused on the life science industry. It was one of the first law practices devoted solely to patenting in the then-emerging field of biotechnology.

"Kate is really focused and fabulously productive. She does things and moves on," Ciotti said. "If she has one fault, it's that she doesn't go back and think about a lot of things. She gets away with it because she's right 99 percent of the time."

The firm's clients included the University of California Stanford and other universities and academic institutes such as Scripps, as well as some of the biggest names in the dawn of the biotech era.

Campbell said the firm was an inspiration to lawyers like her, who started their own practices. And by 1991, Ciotti and Murashige had the kind of clout that made big firms such as Morrison & Foerster come calling.

Morrison & Foerster offered to make Ciotti and Murashige the life sciences arm of their patent practice. It's been a good marriage, Murashige said.

"Morrison & Foerster doesn't expect us to be a front for the litigation department or a loss leader," Murashige said.

Now that she can afford it, and because the job requires it, Murashige and her husband travel. She loves it because it fuels her desire to continually learn.

Her passport has been stamped in New Zealand, Fiji, Burma and Cambodia, among other locales.

And whether at home in San Diego, or on vacation in the Arctic or Botswana, Murashige is obsessive about jogging four miles a day.

"You can see a lot more of a place when you're jogging," she said. "I'm not that fast. I do a 10-minute mile."

She's fallen and hurt herself during some runs. And a pack of dogs went after and caught her in her own neighborhood. But she won't be dissuaded.

During the trip to the Arctic, her tour guide was livid when he heard Murashige had been out jogging and yelled at her: Didn't she know there were polar bears roaming around?

In Botswana, her husband stood watch for lions when she insisted on running a quarter-mile track for 40 minutes.

"Not that I would have done any good had there been any lions," he said, laughing.

There is no cultural or career divide when dealing with Murashige, colleagues said. She addresses all employees of the firm, no matter what their rank and responsibility, as if they are a favorite neighbor. And she is always happy to offer guidance or a fresh perspective.

Hill recalled seeking Murashige's help with a particularly vexing problem.

After Hill spent five minutes explaining the complicated problem to Murashige, she recalled a case that dealt with the same situation, and gave Hill the names of the parties involved so that she could find it in the law books.

"She has a tremendous bank of knowledge in her head like no one I've ever seen," Hill said. "You can take her any problem and within a few minutes, she focuses on the central issue that needs to be answered."

She also has an uncanny ability to defuse what many people may anticipate will be a contentious issue when dealing with a client's legal problems, said Lawrence Mayer, founder and president of Celator Pharmaceuticals, one of her clients.

"No one feels threatened by her because she exudes a sense of knowledge and fairness and countenance and good judgment that makes people listen to her," Mayer said.

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