In Memoriam: Howard W. Bremer

Howard W. Bremer passed away on Friday, ending a long career at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, where he served as Patent Counsel for 28 years, and continued with emeritus status thereafter. He also was one of the founders of SUPA (Society of University Patent Administrators) which became AUTM in about 1990. He received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering and his Law Degree from UW-Madison, and so was an enthusiastic “double Badger,” like myself.

I knew Howard by reputation both while I was a graduate student in Chemistry, a Post-Doctoral Researcher and a Law Student (WARF supported my Post-Doctoral  Research). I remember speaking to him about a possible position as a patent clerk in the Forest Products Laboratory – WARF didn’t have patent clerkships—I think Howard was about it in IP law. I left Madison in 1981 – there were no jobs for pharma/biotech patent attorneys. In fact, there were very few jobs in biotechnology period.

I really got to know Howard in 1989 when Kathleen Terry, then at the University of Minnesota in the Office of Patents and Licensing, organized a plenary session featuring herself, Howard and I, at the 1989 SUPA Meeting in New Orleans; “Intellectual Property Law: Troubling Trends and What We Can Do About It.” Howard spoke about the “Omnibus Trade And Competitiveness Act” which President Reagan had signed into law in August of 1988. Among other things, it prevented the importation into the U.S. of goods covered by U.S. patents. (Kay Terry spoke about the Berne Convention and I spoke about Harmonization.) It was the last session of the meeting and there were about 50 people in the audience. Hal Wegner was there, taking notes on one of the few laptop computers in the room.

Howard went on to become President of both SUPA and AUTM (although that may have been due to the name change), and will be recognized as one of the Godfathers of the Bayh-Dole Act, which fostered the industry of university tech transfer. I can’t recall an AUTM Annual Meeting that he didn’t attend, and I remember in the last decade or so, always asking him how his “retirement” was going – as he crisscrossed the country if not the world – and remarking that I hoped to spend the next twenty years or so half as active as he was. (We are twenty years apart in age.) Well, I hope I get 20 years half as engaged in life  as Howard was. At least I have one more goal to which to aspire. I’m just sorry that now it has a termination date.

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