Arthrex Sr. Vice President John W. Schmieding: Our Mission Drives Everything We Do

Naples, Florida is well-known as a great resort destination, with miles of white sandy beaches, calm waters, fishing, high-end shopping, golf courses, and even dolphin-watching. What’s less well-known is that Naples is a premier global research and training destination for orthopedic surgeons. John W. Schmieding (Moore Class, 1993) is the senior vice president and general counsel for Arthrex, Inc., a world leader in orthopedic surgical device design, research, manufacturing and medical education. Its mission is helping surgeons treat their patients better.

Since 1981, when Arthrex was founded by Schmieding’s brother, Reinhold, Arthrex has experienced tremendous growth and demand for its products. Its global headquarters in Naples is nothing short of impressive. The vibrant atmosphere of rapid product innovation, medical research and surgeon collaboration is noticeable on its sprawling campus. Surgeons come from around the world to learn about new products and techniques through hands-on surgical skills training programs at this premier medical education facility.

For the past 15 years, with his educational experiences and leadership acumen, Schmieding has been a steward of the legal framework which has facilitated Arthrex’s incredible growth and economic success in the Naples community and around the world.

Did you always know you wanted to be a lawyer?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a lawyer. My earliest memory, and one of my favorite stories, is when I was a young boy sitting in the backseat of our car looking out the window and a bus passed. It wasn’t the bus so much, but something else. I remember turning to my mother and cleverly saying, “Mom, the school bus probably had wooden seats back in your day!” She quickly smiled at me and told me, “Absolutely, John. That’s very deductive of you. You should be a lawyer when you grow up!”

That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, not because of the law but because of the analysis. Even today I encourage my own children to be inquisitive about history and to think about how things are developed and where things belong. Inquisitiveness is an invaluable quality.

How was your time at Western Michigan University? What was your undergrad focus?

I was focused at Western to find a degree that would give me a leg up in law school. I entered WMU’s Criminal Justice program, in addition to a Courts minor – which resembled prelaw courses. I finished the requirements within two years and my advisor told me I should pursue another major. I always loved writing, so I chose English and Creative Writing. Learning how to creatively think and express those thoughts in writing has helped me tremendously throughout my career. It is one of the skills that I find lawyers are often lacking – the ability to cogently write creatively to convince. The law has many opportunities for creative insight.

By my junior year, I was ready to apply to law school. It happened that my uncle knew Cooley Law School founder, Justice (Thomas) Brennan. He worked with him and went to University of Detroit Law School with him. He advocated for me to go to Cooley. I loved the idea of a practical legal education. My creative mindset loved the idea. I wasn’t looking for theoretical insight or theoretical application of the law. I wanted to practice law. I wanted to be of service to people. My father always inspired me to be of service. Growing up, I watched him help others and I wanted to do the same. I gravitated to Cooley and enjoyed it from the first moment I got there. 

Tell us about your WMU-Cooley experience.

Once I began law school at Cooley, I could tell it was going to be a drastic change from my undergraduate program. The intensity of real world operations and learning about how the world works was immediate. There are many moments that stick out in my mind. My first memory was standing in front of the class with a microphone, being grilled on our previous night’s assignments. You learned quickly to be prepared for class and never, ever come unprepared. That lesson has helped me throughout my career.

Law school was a tremendous challenge. I admit I was never an A+ student. That didn’t stop me though from embracing classes I wasn’t comfortable with or actually feared – like Tax Law. I remember making the conscious decision to dive into classes that challenged me. Surprisingly, I did well in those classes and even got an A in my Tax classes. It all gave me great confidence.

Receiving the blue book award for Constitutional Law II was the highlight of my law school career. Up to that point, I had never been very close to the top of the class, but I applied myself diligently to that class and wrote a wonderful blue book. I was honored to receive that award and it hangs in my office to this day.

One experience during law school is forever etched on my mind. I was hurrying to take an exam. I was walking too fast down those large marble stairs in the Temple Building. Justice Brennan was walking up just as I was hurrying down. I literally fell down the stairs in front of Justice Brennan! I’ll never forget that. I was so embarrassed. Yet, Judge Brennan helped me up and was very gracious. I’m sure he remembered what it was like to be a student taking exams. I appreciated him and respected him highly. Oddly, this was one of my fondest memories of my time at Cooley.

How did WMU-Cooley prepare you for a legal career?

My law school experience enriched me with confidence and the practical skills necessary in the professional world. The skills I gained in my research and writing classes were immediately applicable in my work after graduation. I worked for a small accounting firm in downtown Detroit before I started my legal career. I did a lot of research regarding bond fund accounting and arbitrage and really enjoyed it. I applied things I learned in law school directly to that job.

Then I hung out my own shingle, and then worked for a small firm, then a large firm, and now I am in-house at a large multinational corporation.

When I first practiced for myself, I was doing minor litigation matters. Yet within weeks, I had my first small district court trial. The opposing counsel walked into the courtroom and I handed him his trial book, tabulated and organized, just as I had learned in law school. He looked at me dismayed and said, “You are way too organized.” I ended up winning that matter, which was pretty gratifying. It was a thrill to actually apply all I had learned so quickly, and I didn’t even have a mentor at the time. I knew I would succeed as an attorney.

In early practice, I did a lot of civil procedure cases, and leaned on all I learned during Civ Pro. I represented a client who had a real estate matter go south. They hired me to try to iron out the deal. It ended up in litigation where we had to file suit against the sellers of the property. The sellers hired a very famous, well-respected, University of Detroit Civil Procedure professor. Here I am, out of law school only a couple years, and I am going up against someone known to be an expert in this area of law. Well, I ended up winning. The claims were based on a failure-to-disclose matter where the seller failed to inform the purchasers of some water damage to the residence. We ended up going through motion practice, and I survived all the complex procedural attacks seeking dismissal on procedural grounds from this professor. I won every motion, and before trial, the judge tacitly recommended both counsels to settle. The sellers ended up paying us for the undisclosed damage. What a great challenge and confidence builder!

Tell us about your path to Arthrex?

As my career progressed, I started working for larger firms, including a regional firm based out of Pittsburgh called Doepken, Keevican and Weiss. We did everything from commercial litigation to mergers and acquisitions. I was exposed to a wide variety of topics, but Cooley prepared me for that, too. By now I had a wealth of experience and could apply the depth and breadth of my experience anywhere, including as general counsel for Arthrex.

Since the 1990’s Arthrex was growing at a tremendous pace and the foundational legal frameworks needed to be established. Fifteen years ago, my brother asked me to join the team as his legal counsel. We had nearly 100 employees at the time. We now have over 4,800 worldwide, 2,800 in Southwest Florida. When I joined, it was a legal blank slate. It was an honor to have the opportunity to help foster and prepare this company for growth and to help with the great medical vision my brother created. We are a very unique organization. We make medical devices for orthopedics and are the largest sports medicine manufacturer of medical devices in the world. We are committed to doing things in a way that public companies simply don’t. We are on a medical mission, not a shareholder value mission, in everything we do.

It was a rewarding challenge to build ethical and legal frameworks responsive to the needs of our mission. I had to apply an entire range of legal thought and experience to make sure our business foundation was legally sound. I worked to assist in patent prosecution, handle product liability matters, oversee insurance issues, advise on FDA regulations, advise on compliance regulations, and handle all corporate governance, contracts and a variety of other things. I now have 10 attorneys who work for me globally.

The open canvas of the position has been a continual painting. Every day I assist in the growth of our worldwide expansion. What a tremendous experience and privilege it has been! I get to work with some of the best lawyers in the world, and it’s very humbling. What’s important for any attorney is to be open to learning new methods and creative ways of doing things, no matter how long we have practiced. I am excited to see what the future holds.

What is it about your career that makes it the perfect fit for you?

I believe my practice reflects my personality. I have had a wide variety of experiences and have never allowed myself to be type-cast into one role. I love that I am able to sit with a design team of engineers and help develop solutions to medical problems. I am actually an inventor on several patents. The diversity in my work allows me to explore new areas and challenge myself and others. A lawyer’s mind is essential in any problem solving group. Never underestimate your ability to enter a business discussion, a mechanical discussion, a failure or risk mode discussion, because it informs the conversation in a different way due to our legal training and experience. We are able to solve problems, critically look at things and apply knowledge in ways others cannot.

My personal life is also varied. While I spend most of my time with my four beautiful children and my wife, I am also involved with Leadership Florida where I am in “Class 35.” It is a wonderful program where we learn about issues the state is facing in order to help serve our local community better. I also sit on the board of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, and am active in leveraging Arthrex’s needs for the betterment of our community. My current focus is on workforce training and housing.

My family is important to me and I spend a lot of time with my son in the outdoors and enjoying Florida’s natural beauty with my daughters. We also spend time in northern Michigan enjoying the beauty of the Great Lakes. Both states have so much to offer. I am also an avid reader and love intellectual pursuits.

Do you have advice for others?

Let me tell you a story about how I applied my education. I was at a charity event many years ago when I was just beginning my practice. There was a well-known attorney at the table who had been very successful in the Detroit area and I wondered about his story, so I asked, “I am just starting out, any words of advice for me?”

His advice for me was to find a corporation and obtain an equity interest in the company.

I sat back and thought that is not what I want to do. My goals have nothing to do with finance. My belief is that your passion should drive your pursuits, and my passion was our profession; serving as a pillar of democracy.

This is why the Arthrex mission is such a great fit. Focusing on passion drives innovation and creativity, not on a financial outcome of the matter. It turned out to be a wonderful business model for Arthrex, and we are extremely successful because we are focused on our goal of helping surgeons treat their patients better. But the success came after the mission. In that commitment, unlike many of our competitors, we are committed to building and manufacturing our products in the United States. Ninety five percent of our products are made here in the United States – 70 percent of those are made right here in Southwest Florida.

This is a purposeful commitment. Our mission drives everything we do.

Arthrex also continues to reinvest in expansion. We just built another 200,000-square-foot manufacturing facility here in Southwest Florida and we are building a 300,000-square-foot facility on the main campus in Naples, which will employ another 1,000 people over the next five years. We are building for growth, and we are committed to keeping that manufacturing here in the United States.

Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates our business model and success. Some competitors have lost in the market to our innovation and creativity, and rather than working to better their business they have attempted to challenge us in court.

Patent law was not something I was very involved with in my private practice. I was only slightly involved in certain patent reviews and due diligence on patents. Yet when I arrived here, I was immediately aware of how industries in our field utilized patents to gain an advantage – an advantage not intended by the system.

Having the ability to overcome difficult situations is a necessary life skill. It is something I first learned in law school during Professor Roger Needham’s Civil Procedure class. There was no question in anyone’s mind that he was an extremely intelligent man, but he was extremely demanding and his classroom demeanor was nothing short of scary. It was a challenge to live up to his expectations. While I found it frightful, it was such a wonderful experience.

After a very tough term in Civ Pro, where half the students failed, I ended up with the second highest grade in his class – an accomplishment I never expected. Ultimately, what Professor Needham did for me, and for all of us, is teach us a world lesson – how to deal with difficult people. It was a wake-up call for many students. That classroom lesson has been practically applied throughout my career.

If you are looking for one last piece of advice, I suggest you strive to understand how to communicate and collaborate with others, and use your passion to understand your client’s mission and join them as a partner, not as simply a service provider. If you do, you will find great success in your career, and in life.

This story is also published in the Summer 2017 Benchmark. CLICK HERE to see the story and to read about other interesting WMU-Cooley Law School graduates. 

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Living in Tampa, Florida: Unique study spots for students

So, you’ve decided to continue your education in beautiful Tampa Bay, Florida. Smart choice! If you’re new to the area, finding places to study may seem like a scavenger hunt. There are several quiet nooks and hidden hideouts in this lively coastal region, but here are five student favorites to jump-start the process.

Living in Tampa, Florida

The Oxford Exchange

Located in West Tampa, this European-inspired space is a restaurant, bookstore, coffeehouse,[MS2]  and décor shop rolled into one. In its four years of existence, the Oxford Exchange has become a popular spot for business meetings, study groups, and relaxing. It’s important to note that the OE doesn’t offer WiFi, so it’s a great spot if you’re just looking to hit the books or write term papers. If you do need WiFi, check out the Commerce Club. A membership is required, but it includes access to the Shaw Library which features individual desks, multiple conference rooms, private phone booths, group tables, and couches for comfortable seating. The OE is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Kaleisia Tea Lounge

Voted best teahouse by Yelp in 2014, Kaleisia Tea Lounge has become a staple for students living in Tampa. Located 15 minutes northwest of WMU-Cooley’s Tampa Bay [MS3] campus, Kaleisia features a sanctuary specifically for people looking for a quiet space to work, study, or reflect. The lounge is closed on Tuesdays but open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesday, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 12 to 6 p.m. on Sundays, giving students ample time to pack in a study session.

Ginger Beard Coffee

This local favorite specializes in crafting nitrogen-infused cold brewed coffee. Operating out of the Pour House[MS4]  in Grand Central, WMU-Cooley Faculty Secretary Cody Babb says it’s the best cold-brewed she’s ever had. They also offer three varieties of doughnuts from Datz Dough daily — maple bacon, Fruity Pebbles and Crème Brule. Bonus: they offer discounts to students! Take your books into Ginger Beard Coffee on #TextbookTuesday for 10 percent off. This coffee shop is best for early morning studiers, as it’s open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday – Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The Sail

If you’re looking to soak up some Vitamin D while reviewing your notes, or prepping for your next big exam, The Sail near the Tampa Convention Center is just the spot. Nestled in the heart of downtown Tampa, The Sail is a 360-degree pavilion that provides visitors with spectacular views, delicious food, and a variety of unique drink options. When’s the last time you watched the sun set while studying?  The sail opens at 11 a.m. every morning and closes at 2 a.m.

Brandon Regional and Riverview

If you’re looking for a traditional study space, be aware that there is a plethora of libraries to choose from in the area. Brandon Regional Library and Riverview Branch Library are known to be two of the best for students. Both offer free WiFi, two and a half hours of free computer use, printing, and copying. Riverview’s library is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and are closed on Sunday, and closest to the Tampa Bay campus. If you do want to hit the library on a Sunday, the good news is Brandon Regional Library is open. The two-story space located in the Sandy Rodriguez Center, is just five miles from WMU-Cooley’s Tampa Bay campus. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 12:30 p.m.–5 p.m. on Sunday.

If you’re like most students, you’ll need a change of scenery throughout the year. So use this as a bucket list and try them all. You’ll likely find your own favorites as you settle in. Already have one? Tell us what you would add to this list in the comments section below!

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Ross Berlin: Passion, Core Values and Principles Set the Standard

Ross Berlin, WMU-Cooley (Kavanagh Class, 1981), is the cover feature story in the Summer 2017 issue of Benchmark Alumni Magazine. Berlin was a gifted athlete, playing football, basketball, and baseball in college. After obtaining his juris doctor from WMU-Cooley Law School, he began a remarkable career encompassing wide-ranging experiences, beginning as an associate at a Los Angeles sports and entertainment law firm, advancing to general counsel of a public works/environmental systems enterprise; then to Senior Vice President of Venues, 1994 World Cup USA; followed by work as a consultant for the 1997 Ryder Cup in Valderrama, Spain.

He then became PGA TOUR Vice President for Sales and Marketing for the World Golf Championships and then a William Morris sports agent for LPGA phenom Michelle Wie. Ultimately he returned to the PGA TOUR as Senior Vice President, Player Relations.

CLICK HERE to read Ross Berlin’s cover feature story in its entirety. It published in the Summer 2017 Benchmark alumni magazine, along with other interesting WMU-Cooley Law School graduate stories.

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WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project’s Efforts Free Detroit Man After 42 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

LeDura (Ledora) Watkins was released today after serving 42 years for a robbery and murder he did not commit. Based on the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project’s motion for new trial, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office agreed to vacate the judgment of conviction and dismiss all charges in the 1975 murder of a Detroit woman.

Watkins was sentenced to life without parole on April 15, 1976. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project filed a motion for new trial on January 19, 2017. The prosecutor’s office agreed that hair comparison evidence used against Watkins does not meet today’s scientific and legal standards. Watkins was sentenced to life without parole on April 15, 1976. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project filed a motion for new trial on January 19, 2017. The prosecutor’s office agreed that hair comparison evidence used against Watkins does not meet today’s scientific and legal standards.

LeDura Watkins was released after serving 42 years for a murder he did not commit.

LeDura Watkins was released after serving 42 years for a murder he did not commit.

In 2013, the FBI disavowed testimony by FBI-trained analysts, finding they often overstated their conclusions. The Detroit lab analysts, trained by the FBI, tied Watkins to the crime scene based on a single hair.

Innocence Project team members

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project team following the release of LeDura Watkins who served 42 years for a robbery and murder he did not commit.

“Hair comparison is not based on science; it is simply a lab analyst’s subjective opinion and has no place in our criminal justice system,” said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, director of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project. “This is why a state-wide review of hair comparison cases is critical.”

Mitchell-Cichon commended Prosecutor Kym Worthy and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office for working with her office to resolve the case. The prosecutor’s office agreed that the new scientific standards are “newly discovered” evidence.

Mitchell-Cichon also noted that over the years, Watkins never stopped fighting for his freedom. He never gave up on the belief that the truth would come out. His family also got their wish; he will attend the annual family reunion in August.

 According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Watkins will be the longest-serving wrongly convicted person in Michigan.

About WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project: WMU-Cooley’s project is part of the Innocence Network, which has been credited with the release of over 350 wrongfully accused prisoners through the use of DNA testing. The WMU-Cooley project has screened over 5500 cases since 2001 and is responsible for the exoneration of Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), and Donya Davis (2014). The Project is staffed by WMU-Cooley Law School students and Western Michigan University undergraduates, who work under the supervision of WMU-Cooley Project attorneys. Staff Attorney Eric Schroeder and Legal Intern Wisam Mikho served as lead counsel in this case. Those interested in donating and supporting the work of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project can email innocence@cooley.edu

About Western Michigan University Cooley Law School: WMU-Cooley Law School resulted from the 2014 affiliation that combined WMU’s status as a nationally-ranked, public, comprehensive research university with the commitment to practical legal education of an independent, non-profit, national law school. WMU-Cooley is accredited by both the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Since the law school’s founding in 1972, WMU-Cooley has provided nearly 20,000 graduates with the practical skills necessary for a seamless transition from academia to the real world, and enrolls classes in January, May, and September at its Lansing, Auburn Hills, and Grand Rapids, Michigan campuses, and its Tampa Bay, Florida campus. WMU and WMU-Cooley Law School operate as independent institutions with their own governance structure and separate fiduciary responsibilities.

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WMU-Cooley Law School Student Bar Association Awarded $500 Grant from the Oakland County Bar Foundation

The Student Bar Association (SBA) at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus recently received $500 in grant funding from the Oakland County Bar Foundation to support the organization’s Barrister’s Ball.

SBA officers in Auburn Hills

Pictured: WMU-Cooley Auburn Hills campus Student Bar Association officers (left-right) Qasem Belbeisi, Ashli Bynum, Arturo Alfaro, and Shilpa Bodalia.

SBA organizes the Barrister’s Ball annually to celebrate the future of the legal profession and recognize the accomplishments of the law school’s students and nationally recognized organizations. The event also provides students, faculty and staff an opportunity to network with other legal professionals in the community while raising funds to support a local charity.

“We are so thankful to the Oakland County Bar Foundation for this opportunity,” said Ashli Bynum, WMU-Cooley SBA president. “This grant helps increase our capacity to support nontraditional law students by making professional networking opportunities, such as the Barrister’s Ball, more accessible to all.”

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Grand Rapids High School Students Debate at WMU-Cooley Law School on Issues of Search and Seizure

Students from Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) recently participated in a debate on Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids campus on issues of search and seizure. The debate was a part of a capstone event for the 3R’s program, a year-long collaboration between the Grand Rapids Bar Association, GRPS and WMU-Cooley Law School. During the event, students were coached by area leaders in the legal community including Kent County District Judge Jennifer Faber.

Attorney and school superintendent speak to high school students

Attorney Steve Drew (left) and GRPS Assistant Superintendent and Executive Director of Public Safety and Security Larry Johnson speak to GRPS high school students about how to handle themselves if they are stopped by police, during a debate on WMU-Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids campus on issues of search and seizure. The debate was a part of a capstone event for the 3R’s program, a year-long collaboration between the Grand Rapids Bar Association, GRPS and the law school.

The 3R’s program aims to help high school students in social studies classes better understand and respect the rule of law and the Constitution, as well as increase students’ interest in civic and government issues. Students also received career counseling as a part of the collaboration in an effort to improve the pipeline of persons of color into legal careers.

“We’re always eager to help surrounding youth learn about civics and the rule of law,” said Chris Hastings, WMU-Cooley Law School professor. “It’s been special to see the students grow in their understanding of civic and government issues over the course of this year’s 3R’s program. This debate was an exciting way to end the program and let the students apply their knowledge in a hands-on learning experience.”

Judge talks to students

Kent County District Judge Jennifer Faber helps coach high school students from Grand Rapids Public Schools during a debate on issues of search and seizure on WMU-Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids campus.

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WMU-Cooley Holds Inaugural Initiation Ceremony for Newest Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity International

On May 26, an official chartering and inaugural initiation ceremony was held for Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity International’s newest chapter, the Janet Reno Chapter of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus. Phi Alpha Delta Law is a professional law fraternity aimed at advancing integrity, compassion and courage through service to the student, the school, the profession and the community.

Phi Alpha Delta’s District XXXII Justice Jason Harber swore in the officers of the new chapter: Sheila Lake, justice; Kimberly Pinder, vice justice; Christine Simon, clerk; Stuart Bowes, treasurer; Brian Rubright, marshal; Lashawn McQueen, parliamentarian; and Amanda Martinez, constable.

Janet Reno Chapter Justice Lake initiated all other new members in attendance, which included  Robert Johnson, Danny Torres, Jenanah Amatullah-Muqsit, Dremma Sweetwine, Carla Walters, Devan Hardaway, Ayana Clark and Iris Weller. Those who were unable to attend the ceremony will be initiated later this term with the rest of the newest members of the fraternity. Those individuals include Sabrina Franco, Ebony Smith, Amir Behreini, Lauren Pack, Rebecca McCall and Katherine Semone.

More than 15 initiates were sworn into the new Janet Reno Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity during the official chartering and inaugural initiation ceremony on Friday, May 26 at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus.

On May 26, WMU-Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus held an official chartering and inaugural initiation ceremony for Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity International’s newest chapter, the Janet Reno Chapter.

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