National Law Journal Review of My Book

Former Venable Life Sciences Head Publishes Memoir

Katelyn Polantz, The National Law Journal
April 26, 2016

Michael Gollin, a founder of Venable’s life science practice, has for four years struggled as his mobility declined. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS, has set in. Yet he’s been as active as ever in thinking about his life’s work.

One of his theses, written as verses to a song late last year: “I learned the most important thing / With my disease onset / No one lives forever / But I’m not dead yet. / Yes! We’re not dead yet.”

Gollin has collected much of his recent writing on a blog, Now those pieces are available as an ebook, which his sister, Kathryn Marshak, who formerly worked in publishing, helped distribute this year. It is available on The book includes new essays as well as writings from Gollin’s blog dating back to August 2012.

Gollin, 58, writes on his smart phone, and he has a language synthesizer that uses his own voice, recorded years ago, to speak.

“When I was diagnosed with ALS, I was dragged into a terrifying new situation, but I realized how lucky I’ve been in life, and I quickly resolved to make the best of the situation,” Gollin wrote recently. “It has been surprisingly liberating to explore this uncharted territory.”

Below are a few poems and essays from Gollin’s newest work.

Cherry Blossom
Crossing the Delaware
Never Give Up
At Sea
BIO Conference

BIO Convention 2015. Michael Gollin remarks on innovation

I was invited to speak about patents at the Biotechnology Industry Organization Convention in Philadelphia. I couldn’t go. Instead they showed questions 1 and 7 from my MDA video interview here, and the following remarks were read by ten colleagues/clients/friends. Very touching.


I wish I could be there at BIO with you in person. It’s always an honor to speak there. Unfortunately illness is stealing my abilities one by one. Anyway I’m glad to have this opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings about innovation, thanks to the power of written text.

I have a confession to make. I love my job. I’ve been a patent attorney for over 30 years and for more than half that time, I’ve been a partner at Venable in DC. It’s a wonderful firm of excellent lawyers focused on great client service performed with good cheer and collegiality. My firm has a strong community spirit and everyone has a sense of humor or at least puts up with it. We also have the best bocce players in the profession and we challenge any of you to a match on our rooftop bocce court.

My job, simply stated, is to help people put their ideas to work, to heal, feed, and fuel the world and make life more enjoyable and productive. Bringing new ideas forward is difficult and uncertain but it is an honest living.

I’ve done all kinds of patent work for all kinds of clients, collaborating with many colleagues, and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.

•  I’ve prosecuted patents on recombinant DNA, synthetic genomes, vaccines, pharmaceutical compounds, immunoassays,    gene therapy, insect-based protein production, medical devices, and grain crops. The Inventors come from all over the world and whether they are humble or arrogant, they share a passion to use their wits to improve the world. Success with a new biotechnology is arduous, improbable, and expensive, and globalization complicates things even further. Individuals and organizations would not dare to try to bring their inventions forward without patents. I’ve seen investors back out of promising technology because of failed efforts at patent protection. 

Licensing and transactions taught me how valuable patents can be. Although most inventions go nowhere, the few that get commercialized can make their owners very wealthy. I’ve always felt that these biotech park people deserve success more than wall street.

• In litigation I learned that accused infringers are just as passionate about their right to use the patented technology as patent owners are about excluding them. Patents have limited scope and duration and it should be no wonder that these disputes are fought so fiercely, in the US and around the world.

My appellate work, including amicus briefs for BIO, confirmed the subtlety of patent law and the far reaching effects of changing doctrine. In my view, the past few years have brought an unfortunate confusion to patent law, particularly the supreme Court’s holdings on patentable subject matter.

 Internationally, I’ve represented research institutions all over the world and have been heavily involved with biodiversity.   People everywhere want to put their ideas to work but most lack the expertise. So i started  PIIPA, public interest intellectual property advisors, to leverage the volunteer pro bono skills of IP attorneys to help developing country clients. We have a network of thousands of volunteers. Unfortunately most donors have trouble seeing the connection between IP and economic development. 

I’ve used my experience and insights to create a course in business and law school on IP strategy. Surprisingly, students who begin as IP illiterates can provide competent analysis after one semester. The key is to focus on each aspect of IP, in each sector, as part of a dynamic balance between exclusivity and open access. An example is the transition from branded drugs to generics when patents expire.

My book and other writings explore these topics in depth.

All this has taught me the simple lesson that patents are not simple. Yes, the patent system is complex and changing. We should not accept efforts to oversimplify it. I may even be guilty of simplification in these brief remarks. My hope, anyway, is to convince you to help reduce IP illiteracy by teaching what you know and challenging people who oversimplify.

A final note. I have had ALS for about three years. It’s no picnic to deal with an incurable progressive terminal disease. You can bet I’m eager to accelerate the search for a cure and from what I’ve seen we are entering a golden age of research into curing neurological disorders. Weakening the patent system won’t help me or future victims of this disease. Every one who cares about cures should be prepared for a constant struggle, decades and even centuries long, to keep patents working to drive innovation.

As I said, I love my job, and sharing these thoughts is an important part of my responsibilities. Thank you for your attention.


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.