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The Passage of Patent Reform: Is this Really a Win for the Biotech Industry?

Written by on Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Now that President Obama signed the patent reform bill into law on Sept. 16, 2011, it is only fitting to ask whether the passage of this bill was a win for the biotech industry?

According to Roy Zwahlen, manager of intellectual property and technology transfer policy at BIO, the answer is a clear “yes.” He posted a blog posting on the BIO website, in which he articulated a number of reasons why he thought the bill was good for biotech:

1) Greater resources and operational flexibility for the PTO;
2) New and improved proceedings for patent quality review;
3) Will end the abuse of a loophole in false patent marking litigation;
4) Change America’s first to invent system to a first to file system;
5) Make it easier for inventors to file a patent; and
6) Eliminate the “best mode” requirement in patent litigation.

I thought Mr. Zwahlen’s apparent support for the patent reform bill was interesting in light of the industry he represents. Like many of my Bay Area counterparts, I have a completely different take on the issue.

While I am all in favor of making government agencies work better, as someone who regularly works with start-ups, I simply fail to see how changing our prior first to invent system in the U.S. to a first to file system could possibly have been good for the biotech industry. There is no question that the rest of the world has been using a first to file system and that our system was out of sync with the system adopted by the rest of the world. Yet, I would argue that our first to invent system was beneficial to cash-strapped start-ups and small businesses, which often do not have the budget when they first launch their businesses to immediately file patents to protect their inventions. As a lawyer working with start-ups, I frequently get the question “how much time do I have to file?” Particularly in the current times, when start-ups and small businesses are arguably more cash-strapped than they have ever been and investment money is so difficult to come by, patent prosecution costs are a huge concern. It’s hard to see how it can be in the best interests of a start-up to have to race to file a patent on an invention or to risk losing the opportunity to own the rights on the invention altogether.

Moreover, I can’t help but ask the question: in light of the challenges posed by the current economy, why in the world did Congress and the President choose now to impose yet another burden on start-ups and innovators?

Stepping back from this issue a bit, as a small business owner myself, I’ve been very vocal in my criticism over what I think is our country’s recent misguided financial support for so-called too-big-to-fail businesses at the peril of small businesses, which I would argue are the backbone of our country and of our country’s future. The average small business in this country (with a few notable exceptions such as the scandal-ridden and bankrupt Solyndra) has not been able to so much as pay a financial institution to loan it money in this environment. Yet, all kinds of taxpayer money has been handed out to large institutions since the recession started. This is not a criticism of any particular administration, as both the Bush and Obama administrations have taken this approach, as well as the past few Congresses. Moreover, while I’ve listened over and over again to the arguments in support of why these decisions have been made, I continue not to agree with them. My position is that the innovation we are all seeking to give our economy a much-needed boost is just not going to come from a large business, and that starving small businesses of capital and funding instead the largest businesses in this country is just a very misguided policy approach. So, this is the perspective I come from as a small business myself, whose business is largely comprised of working with start-ups. And that is the perspective from which I approach this issue.

The bottom line: I would argue that the decision to move to a first to file system in a bad economy is yet another example of enacting policies that hurt the little guy in tough times. And I think that it ultimately is bad for the biotech start-up out there who is trying to come up with cash to fund a patent program, or for the inventor who is trying to do something productive with his or her invention.

Category: Biotech Industry News, Biotech Legislative Developments  |  Comments Off on The Passage of Patent Reform: Is this Really a Win for the Biotech Industry?

Genetic Engineering & Biotechology News Interviews Kristie Prinz

Written by on Friday, March 27th, 2009

Following up on our recent coverage of the patent reform debate, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News recently interviewed me for their article Patent Reform Battle Pits Biotech against High-Tech. The interview addressed the competing perspectives of the biotech and high tech industries on the issue of patent reform.

Category: Biotech Blog in the News, Biotech Legislative Developments  |  Comments Off on Genetic Engineering & Biotechology News Interviews Kristie Prinz

Patent Reform Debate Revived in Congress

Written by on Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Here we go again. . . .Patent reform is back on the table: two bills have been introduced and are again being debated in Congress.

The first of the two bills, the Leahy-Hatch bill, S. 515, was introduced on March 3, 2009.  According to a summary by the Congressional Research Service, the key points of this patent bill, also known as The Patent Reform Act of 2009, are as follows:

Defines “effective filing date of a claimed invention” as the filing date of the patent or the application for patent containing the claim to the invention (thus establishing a first-to-file system).
Declares that, to the extent consistent with U.S. obligations under international agreements, patent examination and search duties are sovereign functions. Requires that those functions be performed within the United States by U.S. citizens who are federal employees.
Revises various other rights and requirements related to patents, including regarding: (1) damages; (2) post-grant procedures; (3) citation of prior art; and (4) inter partes reexaminations; (5) preissuance submissions by third parties; (6) venue and jurisdiction; and (7) the regulatory authority of the Patent and Trademark Office.
Replaces the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.
Revises provisions concerning the residency of federal circuit judges and the facilities and administrative support which must be provided to them.
The second of the two bills, S. 610, was introduced by Senator Kyl on March 17, 2009.  The most noteworthy distinction between the Kyl bill and the Leahy-Hatch Bill involves how the calculation of damages would be treated by each of the bills.  The Progress & Freedom Foundation explained this distinction as follows:

The most contentious issue for patent reform (lately, at least) regards calculation of damages.  Damages consumed much if not most of the time during the Senate hearing on the Leahy-Hatch bill a few weeks ago.  At the risk of over-simplification, the Leahy-Hatch bill tried to ensure a couple of things regarding reasonable royalties for damages:

(1)  If a patent covers a discrete component of an infringing system (e.g., the modem in a computer), damages should ordinarily be based on the value of the modem and not the entire market value of the computer.  This is the “entire-market-value rule” question and is currently up for decision in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  (Disclaimer:  Several years ago, I worked on that case at the trial level.)

(2)  Damages should be assessed with reference to the “claimed invention’s specific contribution over the prior art.”  (quoting from page 27 of the Leahy-Hatch bill).  An extensive critique of such methodology appears here.  Such critics argue that the “specific contribution” formulations are unreasonably vague and sell short the value of patented inventions.

The Kyl bill backs off of both of these reforms.

Patently O provides an excellent summary of the controversial Leahy-Hatch damages provisions,  summarizing his points as follows:

Jury verdicts are quite unpredictable, and because the royalty rules are so loose, damages appeals are rarely successful.

The new legislation appears to take on these problems in a way to (1) reduce the average damage award; (2) make damage awards more rational and predictable; and (3) make damages judgment more subject to appellate review.

The practical approach of the legislation is to create a “standard for calculating reasonable royalty” which require a determination of the “specific contribution over the prior art” to determine damages. Some courts already follow the rules set out in the proposed legislation. Thus, legislation advocates may refer to the damages reforms as simply a clarification that limits the actions of rogue courts.

So, is this the year that one of these two patent bills will be enacted?

I have long held the opinion that some type of patent reform is inevitable.  I represent clients in the on both sides of the issue, and there is no question that high tech has been hammered by lawsuits and that this is a major problem for the industry.  So, there is certainly a lot of support on the high tech side for some sort of reform.

As for whether or not it will happen this year, that is a tougher question.  While on one hand it seems incredible to think that in the midst of such economic turmoil a patent reform bill could be voted into law, on the other hand, the truth of the matter is that the economic turmoil could provide just the right climate for patent reform to actually be enacted.   If you question that premise, just take a look around at the other legislation on the table right now–regardless of your political persuasion, I think many Americans would agree that legislation is on the table right now and is getting voted through Congress that would never in normal times get through so easily.

Moreover, I think most commentators would agree that the reason we have been at standstill on patent reform is in large part due to the vigorous lobbying efforts by both the tech and life sciences industries.  I think there is some question given the economy that either industry will have the same level of funds to spend on patent reform lobbying efforts right now.  Biotech companies are running out of money and in some cases filing for bankruptcy.  Tech companies are doing mass layoffs in an attempt to try to stay solvent.  And pharma companies are out looking for bargain basement deals to fund.  Which of these parties will be able to really invest in patent reform lobbying this year?  Your guess is as good as mine.

The California Biotech Law Blog will continue to keep you posted on any patent reform developments as this bill moves through Congress.  This should be interesting. . . .

Biotech Industry Begins to Assess Likely Impact of New Administration

Written by on Monday, November 10th, 2008

The biotech industry is beginning to assess what the impact of the new Obama administration is likely to mean for individual biotech companies.

A key concern for the industry is the likely financial implications of the Obama presidency on biotech companies, according to an article by SFGate

What financial concerns are at issue?

While biotech companies are definitely concerned about the bad economy and the credit crisis, they are also  concerned about an anticipated push for cheaper drug prices, which could potentially have a very detrimental impact on biotech companies, since any such increase could negatively affect the profits that biotech companies could potentially achieve on their drugs and would perhaps impact companies’ valuations as well.

Another concern for the industry is what will happen to the Food and Drug Administration under an Obama presidency, accoding to the SFGateDuring the Bush Administration, Congress criticized the Administration for how the Food and Rug Administration was run–in particular, they viewed it to be "underfunded" and "ineffective." As Adam Feuerstein of the reported: "The agency is in turmoil. Morale is low, resources are scarce and too many drug approvals have been delayed at best, or worst, have become politicized."  President-Elect Obama will presumably sink some money into the organization and try to take it in a new direction, which he may begin by choosing new leadership.  According to SFGate and  Feuerstein, a few of the names being considered include: Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist for the Cleveland Clinic;  Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who worked directly under Mark McClellan when he was FDA commissioner; and Janet Woodcock, a veteran agency official who is the favored choice of drug manufacturers.

One highly anticipated change by the new administration is the likely adoption of a new view on stem cell research, reported Yahoo News, which reported that  Obama’s Transition Chief John Podesta indicated this weekend that Obama is currently reviewing President Bush’s executive order on stem cell research and may reverse that order fairly quickly.

As for other changes that might be in the works which would affect the industry, the Patent Baristas have provided an extended list of potential changes that we may see under the new administration, including but not limited to doubling federal funding for basic research over the next ten years, making the research and development tax credit permanent, and reforming the Patent and Trademark Office.

All in all, it seems clear that the new administration will bring "change" to the biotech industry; however, the jury is still out as to whether any such "change" will be for the better or for the worse.   The industry is hoping–like the majority of Americans that voted for Obama on election day–that the "change" Obama will bring will be for the better.

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Life Sciences Companies Spent Record Amount on Lobbying Efforts in 2007

Written by on Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

The Baltimore Business Journal is reporting that life sciences companies spent a record amount on lobbying efforts in 2007–some 32 percent more in 2007 than in 2006.

The Baltimore Business Journal reported:

The industry unleashed a $168 million lobbying effort last year, the largest among all sectors and 90 percent of which was dominated by three biotech and pharmaceutical trade groups and 40 global companies. . . . Among top company spenders were British-based AstraZeneca PLC, which owns Gaithersburg-based MedImmune and tallied $4.1 million in lobbying efforts, and Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals, which owns Rockville-based CoGenesys and tallied $2.3 million. Amgen Inc., based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., topped the company list with a $16.3 million total contribution last year.

As the California Biotech Law Blog previously reported, BIO spent $6.6 million in lobbying efforts in 2007.

According to The Baltimore Business Journal, the industry’s investment seems to “have paid off.”

Was the investment really dollars well spent?  Well, clearly the industry has had some success with respect to delaying the passage of patent reform legislation, which was largely viewed as being more favorable to high tech companies than biotech companies.  Likewise, the lobbying efforts seem to have had some success in the SBIR area, as we previously reported in a recent blog posting.  So, the industry has definitely seen some success in Washington this past year, although that success has not been felt uniformly across the board.

There is no doubt that having a voice in Washington is taking on increasing importance for the life sciences industry, particularly in light of the lobbying efforts of the technology world.  It seems likely that the industry’s investment in lobbying will continue to grow in the near future, as the topic of health care reform continues to be a key political issue and the interests of technology and life sciences companies continue to diverge.  As I’ve suggested before, however, it is rather stunning to consider how much money that has to be invested these days in order to maintain a presence in Washington politics: $168 million is certainly not pocket change.

Category: Biotech Industry News, Biotech Legislative Developments  |  Comments Off on Life Sciences Companies Spent Record Amount on Lobbying Efforts in 2007

Patent Reform Bill Stalled in Senate

Written by on Friday, April 18th, 2008

Members of the biotech industry can now breathe a sigh of relief: the patent reform bill has been stalled in the Senate. 

According to Biotech Transfer Week, the Senate reached the current impasse over a section of the bill dealing with the assessment of damages in patent infringement cases.  The concerns were raised by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).  Biotech Transfer Week reported Senator Specter’s remarks as follows:

“The Chairman and I differ on a number of aspects of the proposed patent reform legislation. .. . The principal sticking point is the issue of how to assess damages in patent infringement lawsuits. We thought we had reached an agreement on this matter, but the language continued to shift, so we do not yet have a deal on the package. . . .  I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement, but more work has to be done to get it right."
The impasse may mean that the legislation is derailed until after the election.  However, Biotech Transfer Week reports that some members of the biotech community, who have opposed the bill, remain concerned that it still may be voted on during this legislative session. 
Biotech Transfer Week reported on the reaction from the Biotechnology Industry Organization ("BIO") as follows:
“Our view is that [we disagree with] those who are saying this is dead, or there is no time to do it now and that they missed that window,” Tom DiLenge, vice president and general counsel for BIO, told BTW this week. “There has always been time to do a consensus patent reform bill – but does the other side want to stick to its guns and get 100 percent of everything they wanted? In that case, I think it could be dead. . . .Or, are they willing to compromise and get a bill that has about 98 percent of what they wanted, and is acceptable to the rest of the patent-holding community. . . .”
"The idea that Senator Specter, or BIO, or anyone would accept really harmful damages language just because some other part of the bill is the way that they want it, is just not accurate,” DiLenge said. “The other side in this debate needs to recognize that they’re not going to be able to get the kind of harmful damages language that they were seeking. Once they recognize that and admit it, we can come to the table and get this bill done fairly quickly.”
Thus, while the patent reform debate may not be dead, it is definitely going to be tabled for a while, which will give the biotech industry an additional opportunity to lobby against various provisions of the bill.  Will the delay be enough to ultimately get a bill in place that will be supported by both the technology and the biotech industries?  Only time will tell.  We will keep you posted on the developments.

Category: Biotech Legislative Developments  |  Comments Off on Patent Reform Bill Stalled in Senate

Patent Office to Consider Appeal of Ruling which Voided Patent Rule Changes

Written by on Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

The Patent Office is considering whether or not to appeal a recent ruling by a U.S. District Court in Virginia, which voided the new rules limiting how many times companies could submit patent applications, according to a report by the San Francisco Business Journal.

The ruling was viewed as a victory for the biotech industry, since the industry had opposed the new rule changes. 

The San Francisco Business Journal explained the industry’s position as follows:

The problem is that, for competitive reasons, the biotech industry often has to submit patent applications before it has completed clinical trials. New drug technology only gets patent approval if it has been proven to help cure disease, but as clinical trials take years, companies might loose out if they wait to file until the benefits have been demonstrated in humans. Instead, applications are usually based on lab data that show a drug is likely to impact the molecular processes involved in disease. Sometimes patent reviewers find this data to be insufficient, especially if a new, little-understood class of therapies are featured in the application.

This is why the biotech industry disliked the changes. They only allowed companies two chances to resubmit if the patent reviewer rejected an initial application. The patent applications would also have to be more narrowly focused, forcing companies to limit the scope of their drug therapies early on.

In contrast, the opposing view by patent rule change supporters was that the "changes would help prevent abuses of the system," and that the biotech industry had been guilty of those abuses.  The San Francisco Business Journal reported on the position of supporters as follows:

[Many biotech companies submit patent] applications before new drug candidates have been thoroughly investigated. In these cases the patent application is used to curtail competitors while the research process continues. This goes against the fundamental nature of the patent process, which has never allowed a patent application to serve as a "hunting license."

The new rules were scheduled to go into effect on November 1, 2007, according to The Recorder.  However, Triantafyllos Tafas, founder of Ikonisys, and GlaxoSmithKline filed suit against the Patent and Trademark Office and its director Jon Dudas, to block this from happening.  Eastern Virginia U.S. District Judge James Cacheris granted a preliminary injunction on Oct. 31, 2007 and GlaxoSmithKline and Tafas filed for summary judgment on Dec. 20, 2007.

According to The Recorder, Cacheris granted summary judgment to the plantiffs earlier this month, ruling that the patent office can’t make "substantive" changes to the rules, only "procedural" ones. 

Ultimately, the Patent and Trademark Office’s decision on whether or not to appeal this ruling could be irrelevant.  The San Francisco Business Journal reported:

If a patent reform act passes over the next few years, the debate may become a mute point. A patent reform bill was proposed in early 2007 that would grant the USPTO more rule making autonomy.

Of course, patent reform legislation has not to date been passed, and so life sciences companies, including biotech companies, are likely to continue their challenge of this exercise of Patent and Trademark Office rulemaking.


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BIO Spent $6.6 Million on Lobbying Efforts in 2007

Written by on Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

The Biotech Industry Organization ("BIO") spent $6.6 Million on lobbying efforts in 2007, reported the Associated Press.

BIO’s lobbying efforts last year addressed a range of issues from patent reform to generics to FDA-related issues.  The Associated Press reported as follows:

[BIO’s] lobbying efforts went toward cloning issues ahead of the Food and Drug Administration’s ruling that cloned meat and milk is safe for consumers. Several members of Congress tried to compel the agency to do more studies before issuing a ruling, but FDA cleared the products for consumption in January. 

The biotech industry also lobbied on legislation to allow the Food and Drug Administration to approve generic copies of biotech drugs. Generic drug companies already market cheaper versions of regular, chemical drugs, but the FDA does not have the authority to approve copies of biotech drugs, which are more complicated.  Biotech makers opposed a bill that would have made generic biotechs medically interchangeable with the originals. The industry also argued generic biotechs should be classified as similar, but not interchangeable.

They also want biotech medicines to be guaranteed at least 12 years on the market before having to compete with generic copies. Generic drug makers say any protection beyond five years is unreasonable. Senate lawmakers attempted to pass a compromise bill last year, but negotiations broke down over the length of exclusivity.

This report raises some interesting questions about how much various industries spend today on their Washington lobbying efforts.  One of the issues that has repeatedly come up in the patent reform debate is how minimal the biotech industry’s lobbying efforts are in contrast with the high tech industry.  The argument has been that the proposed patent reform legislation favors the high tech industry, which has traditionally had more of a voice and presence in Washington.  However, as this report makes clear, the biotech industry’s expenditures on lobbying–at least BIO’s expenditures on behalf of the industry–are not inconsequential.  So, this report begs the question: if biotech’s lobbying efforts pale in comparison to high tech’s lobbying efforts on Washington, just how much is the high technology industry spending on Washington lobbying?  What kind of lobbying money is considered adequate to have a voice in Washington?

Patent Reform Bill Passed in House

Written by on Sunday, September 9th, 2007

The House passed its Patent Reform Bill on Friday with a 220-175 vote, reported the San Jose Mercury News.

According to the Mercury News, the passage of the Bill was in part due to a push by Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Sixty Republicans also supported the Bill, including Republicans in districts with large concentrations of high tech companies such as California, Virginia, and Texas.  The Senate plans to take up a similar bill this fall.

The passage of this Bill in the House is viewed as a victory for the high technology industry, but that victory comes at the expense of the biotech industry, which has not supported patent reform.

Ephraim Schwartz of InfoWorld reported on the differing views of the two industries last week:

One of the significant changes in the [Patent Reform] Act addresses the apportionment of damages clause. . . .

Because the high tech industry is built on thousands of small patents while the pharmaceutical industry typically would have one or two patents that covers years of research, pharmaceutical companies would like to see awards kept high to discourage patent infringement while high tech companies hope that by limiting damages it will also limit the huge number of so-called nuisance suits these large companies receive year in and year out.

Jim Greenwood, the President and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organzation (“BIO”), issued a press release on behalf of the organization expressing disappointment with the House vote.  The text of that press release stated as follows:

BIO appreciates the continued efforts by the House to improve the Patent Reform Act, but unfortunately cannot support the legislation passed today as it threatens continued biotechnological innovation.  We welcome improvements to the U.S. patent system, particularly those that increase patent quality, increase public participation, and provide additional resources to the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).  However, the legislation that passed the House today and the legislation currently pending in the Senate do far more harm than good to our nation’s patent system.

While we are disappointed that the legislation passed the House, we were heartened that it did so narrowly and that there was strong bipartisan opposition to the bill.  This opposition demonstrates the serious concern of varied stakeholders — across many industries, research institutions and other interests — with the bill and the need for a more consensus-oriented approach to patent law reform.We look forward to working with the Senate to improve upon this legislation, particularly with respect to provisions relating to damages, inequitable conduct reform, post-grant review proceedings and PTO rulemaking authority.”

There is no word yet as to the official reactions to the House vote by our California biotech industry organizations, BIOCOM and Bay Bio, but their reactions are likely to be very similar to those of their national counterpart.

What will happen with patent reform when the Senate takes up its bill this fall?  We are likely heading for some heated debate.   The California Biotech Law Blog will keep you posted on the developments.

Category: Biotech Legislative Developments  |  Comments Off on Patent Reform Bill Passed in House

Strategy Examined on How Patent Holders are Delaying Market Entrance by Generics

Written by on Saturday, July 7th, 2007

The National Law Journal ran an article yesterday, which examined the strategy that patent holders are using to delay the entrance of generics on the market.

The article focuses on the controversial use of  “citizen petitions” brought before the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) to temporarily delay the approval of a generic drug as a patent is about to expire while the FDA investigates safety challenges raised in the petitions.

The National Law Journal reports:

“For a relatively small amount of money, a company can inflict substantial harm on a competitor,” said David Balto, a Washington attorney and former assistant director in the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition.

“It becomes attractive to keep rivals off the market and there is no better example than the citizen-petition process,” Balto said. . . .

It is clear the objective of many petitions is delay for financial advantage. The petitions arrive for FDA review as the brand-company drug expires, and they are based on information available much earlier, according to Balto.

While the new legislation proposed last week specifically addresses the issue of curbing these delaying tactics, The National Law Journal suggests that this will not necessarily provide a real solution to the issue, and may in fact just generate litigation, which could have the effect of generating even more delays than what are currently being caused by the petitions.

The National Law Journal explains as follows:

The U.S. Senate last week inserted petition reforms in a major FDA overhaul bill. The measure would not allow a petition to delay FDA approval of a generic unless delay is necessary to protect public health. As a check on competitors, petitioners must verify who is making the challenge and whether they expect to be paid for filing the petition. Congress must get annual reports on delays to generics based on the petitions.

[Scott Lassman, senior assistant general counsel for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (“PhRMA”)] said  PhRMA opposes the citizen-petition reforms and predicted that, if the measure becomes law, it may produce even more litigation. “These new requirements are so onerous, companies may decide to go to court to seek whatever they are seeking currently in petitions,” he said.

As I have indicated in prior blogposts, there are no easy answers to the tug of war between generics and brand-name drugs.  While there certainly is a push by the insurance industry and certain members of the left to make generics more available faster, there is very real tension on the part of biotech and pharmaceutical companies to prevent this from happening, so that they have an opportunity to fully realize the value in their investment.   The National Law Journal article highlights one specific aspect of this generics-brand name controversy, particularly with respect to how both sides are using  legal maneuvering to promote their cause.

However, what I think we should take away from this article, is the idea that the new legislation, which purports to end the legal maneuvering may actually result in only creating more problems for both sides of the dispute.   Is that really what is intended?  It is ironic to think that at a time when Congress is busy debating patent reform, which is in part intended to curb patent litigation, the same legislative body is simultaneously considering legislation that could have the effect of generating even more patent-related litigation.  What is wrong with this picture?

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