New Connect Lobbyist for Technology Innovation Discusses His Role and Priorities

4/27/10Follow @bvbigelow

Connect CEO Duane Roth made hiring a full-time lobbyist in Washington D.C. a key part of last summer’s initiative to boost San Diego’s innovation economy. Last week, the nonprofit group named Timothy Tardibono, a lawyer and policy analyst, as its government affairs director and chief counsel—and Tardibono says he’s already got some issues on his radar.

“I’ve been here for four or five days, and there’s already two bills that could really hurt San Diego’s innovation community,” says Tardibono, who served most recently as legal counsel to Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Tardibono, who is a full-time employee of Connect, spoke to me by phone from his new office in Washington.

Tardibono says one issue stems from a provision of the financial reform act introduced by Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd. The provision raises the requirements for a wealthy individual to qualify as an “accredited investor,” which would make it harder to make angel investments in startups. A pending amendment will fix that provision, enabling innovative startups to still raise needed capital from angel investors. But Tardibono says, “It’s a great example of why Connect needs eyes on the ground here in Washington.”

The other issue is a broader and more complex effort to reform both patent law and to overhaul the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “Patent reform only comes to the Hill every two or three decades,” Tardibono says. While the debate has been cast as “a clash of the titans—with big high-tech versus big pharma,” Tardibono says the legislation also is stirring a variety of concerns among small investors about the ability of large technology companies to race to the patent office to claim patent protections.

Tardibono intends to discuss the technology community’s need for immigration reform, saying, “There is a great need to retain engineers and scientists from other countries to help startups develop technologies and big companies to develop new products.” He also wants to win more federal grants and other types of funding for technology startups.

Tardibono says his prime directive, though, is to voice the concerns of entrepreneurs and technology innovators because the process of technology innovation “is really not well-understood here on Capitol Hill,” a sentiment echoed in San Diego by Connect’s Roth.

“First of all, we call him an advocate, not a lobbyist,” Roth says. “Our constituency is broad and his mission really is education. His job is to educate legislators, because if the regulatory process is unclear, investors don’t invest, and if [insurance] reimbursement for a medical device is unclear, investors don’t invest.”

Roth says he originally proposed the idea of hiring a lobbyist for San Diego’s tech community about a year ago—a time when rumors also were circulating of a possible consolidation involving Connect and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. The merger talk evaporated, and Roth says the proposed lobbyist became a subject of disagreement among some groups in San Diego.

“There wasn’t really disagreement about the importance of doing it,” Roth says. “But there was disagreement over how it should be done.” Some argued that San Diego’s technology community “should do this in fly-in mode,” or that it could be done on a part-time basis. “Our board felt it’s important to have a real full-time person who worked for us. Connect, with its 25-year history of supporting technology innovation, would be more credible.”

Roth also says that Connect and Tardibono “don’t intend to take the lead on biotech issues—” that’s Biocom’s turf in San Diego—and that city and county issues also lie beyond the purview of Connect’s new lobbyist.

Julie Meier Wright, the longtime president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., did not respond to queries e-mailed yesterday.

But Joe Panetta, who heads the life sciences industry group Biocom, says: “BIOCOM has a comprehensive DC program, and we have both member company reps from many industry companies whom we work with and unique, specific trade association relationships in DC with pharma, device, and biotech sister DC trade associations, as well as my monthly trips to DC with CEOs to go to Capitol Hill. Our Board does not see a need for a Washington lobbyist. Duane has a very different organization of small companies outside of biotech that have no DC representation and I applaud his unique and different perspective on CONNECT’s need for this.”


Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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