Michael Gollin
January 20, 2013

For the fifty seventh time, in this moment,
we inaugurate our President.
Peaceful transfer of power, by rule of law,
no general, king, pope, nor mullah.
They say our system is the worst
except for all the others.
All it takes is an old constitution
and a quadrennial election
for two hundred twenty-eight years, without interruption,
despite war, oppression, disputes,
sweat, tears, passion, and lawsuits.

No other nation has been so bold.
A miracle? Planning? Luck?
A wonder for the world to behold.


Soul Makossa

Soul Makossa
Michael Gollin
April 2014

Working at my computer, listening to my Fela Kuti station on Pandora, a song stopped me in my tracks. It was Soul Makossa by Lafayette Afro-Rock Band, and the song rang bells loud and clear. The lyric goes “ma ma ko ma ma sa mako makossa” and it has an addictive brass and guitar refrain. So I consulted my Oracles (Google and Wikipedia) and found a fascinating back story on one of the biggest recording hits in history.

Kossa means dance in Cameroon’s Duala language, and makossa (I dance) was a popular style, Soul Makossa was recorded there in 1972 by saxophone player/songwriter Manu Dibango. It was picked up in New York and became the first disco hit, says Wikipedia, with nine or more versions on the Billboard charts at the same time. A decade later Michael Jackson ensured its immortality when he sampled it in Wanna Be Startin Something on “Thriller”. You know – for the last minute or so, the backup singers go “ma ma say ma ma sa ma makossa.”  The two songs are compared here . It’s been sampled endlessly over the years.

I remember people playing the Thriller album all over New York City my 1st summer there in 1983, before my last year of law school – in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where I shared an apartment in May and June; in Greenwich Village where I shared an NYU dorm room for the rest of the summer; downtown; uptown; everywhere. And people danced to that music – the new thing was break dancing on the street with a boom box, and mobs crowded Studio 54 and the other discos. Thriller was the summer’s definitive soundtrack. I bought the (vinyl) album at the brand new flagship Tower Records store around the corner from my NYU dorm.

It didn’t bother me at all that I didn’t understand the makossa lyrics. They sounded good, and they made visceral sense as part of the place and time. And I liked the dancing. (I even learned to do a lame moonwalk – I wasn’t very talented.) I was getting into world music at the same time – I still prize some African music records I bought at Tower, and the skeptical looks of my friends when they saw them, and asked what the lyrics meant (I didn’t much care). And so it seems, by continuing to listen to African music three decades later I solved a mystery and came full circle.

And beyond — my public interest intellectual property concerns made me ask whether Jackson or anyone else paid royalties to Dibango? Did Dibango get rewarded for his creation or was Cameroon a victim of piracy in the US? In 1983 I was working at a patent/trademark/copyright law firm, but we never wondered about these issues until the 1990s when intellectual property became part of global politics.

So, the answer: According to Afropop, Jackson never asked Dibango for permission to use Soul Makossa. Dibango sued Jackson in Paris in 1986, and received 1 million francs (~$150,000) in settlement. In 2009 Dibango sued Rihanna in Paris for Don’t Stop the Music, which has heavy sampling of Jackson’s sampling of Soul Makossa, but reportedly she won, based on having received permission from Jackson. Dibango has nonetheless made a long career from his music since the 1950s, becoming head of the Cameroon Music Corporation, and in 2004 being named a UNESCO Artist for Peace. So I guess it’s ok to freely enjoy whichever makossa version you like best. Just don’t forget to dance.



Michael Gollin
March 2013


I wake with joy each morning
to a beautiful new scene,
and I take strength to face the blues —
Whatever life may bring.

But my Swiss friend sees, he told me,
when he looks up or down,
“a kaleidoscope of shit”
in different shades of brown.

A farmer, he knows well
the many hues of excrement.
Cow manure and chicken poop, sheep dung,
human waste, every stinking scent.

Of course he meant he is depressed,
hopeless, tired, and gray,
no sprig of green, no sunlit beam,
can brighten up his day.

But he called to talk with me,
and we turn bad to better.
Friends and family, though worlds apart,
can keep their shit together.

Aphorisms to Live By

Aphorisms to Live By
Michael Gollin
April 1, 2013

You can quote me:

The purpose of life is to prepare yourself for whatever life may bring your way, and to help others do so, too. If you keep yourself ready to enjoy the good and to cope with the bad, you are leading a purposeful life.

The meaning of life is found by asking, “What is the meaning of life?”

Do more good, less harm. There are no absolutes, but this relativism is enough for living a good life.

The only two things we can control are our relationships with other people and our skills based on experience.

Be patient when things are getting better or can’t be changed, but be impatient when they’re getting worse and they can be changed.

Adapted from other wise people:

Where is it written that life would be easy?

Luck is the intersection of preparedness and opportunity. Luck favors the prepared mind.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

Shared joys are doubled and shared sorrows are halved.

According to the Book of Job, Nature and Fate (God) bring pleasure and pain unpredictably, and the art of living is to accept that we will get one after the other. Who are we to question which we get?
(But we should not accept cruelty or malfeasance by other people.)

Appearances are often different from reality.

Michael Gollin Autobiography

(I wrote my autobiography in under 500 words during two days in March 2014.)

I am a patent attorney at Venable LLP in Washington, DC, striving to help creative people put their ideas to work to benefit society, through private and public effort. Born into a loving academic family in Rochester, NY in 1957, my first job was as a newspaper boy and I initiated an externship program in my high school. Pursuing a curiosity about the wonders of nature cultivated during summers on Cape Cod, I studied biochemistry at Princeton, graduating in 1978, and then received a master’s degree in biology from the University of Zurich in 1981, conducting research on fruit fly muscles and traveling extensively.

Turning toward the integration of science and society, I entered Boston University School of Law and graduated in 1984. There, I co-founded the Public Interest Project to support law students working in public interest summer jobs; 30 years later it remains a vital student program. In my first law firm job in NY, I convinced the Kenyon & Kenyon partnership to establish a pro bono program so I could take a prisoner’s civil rights case. My next firm, Sive, Paget & Riesel, was well known for environmental activism. I settled in Bowie, Maryland in 1990 with my wife, Jill Dickey, and together we have raised three talented children.

I joined Venable in 1998, where I established the Life Sciences practice group and Venable Venture Services. I was able to build a broad practice representing pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies, as well as environmental and space technology companies, and leading research institutions including UCLA and Princeton. In addition to obtaining thousands of patents, I have lobbied on patent reform and participated in proceedings before the US Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. I am proud to have maintained continuous client relationships for over 25 years.

My pro bono work took me to Belize, Fiji, Kenya, and Tanzania, and led me to found PIIPA (Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors) in 2002, to expand such service to a global network of IP professionals. I created a course in intellectual property management at Georgetown’s business school in 2001 and adapted it for the Franklin Pierce law school, now University of New Hampshire. I authored the 2008 book Driving Innovation: Intellectual Property Strategies for a Dynamic World to advance global literacy about intellectual property as an engine of innovation in all creative sectors, and I have published numerous law review and other articles and made countless presentations around the world. I have been fortunate to receive many honors, including recognition for contributions to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Since I was diagnosed with ALS, a motor neuron disease, in 2012, I have been working pro bono with the ALS Association and MDA to accelerate the search for therapies for this incurable disease. I also launched the creative writing blog, For more information, see my Venable bio.