Dr. Gary Michelson
21st Century Renaissance Man
By Cama McNamara • Inventor’s Digest
on the Lumbar Spondylophyte Impaction
Set, which is routinely u.sed in spinal surgeries today.
“Many of the things I invented for spinal
surgery have to do with causing less
disruption and achieving better results.
They use minimal incisions and are less
invasive, which makes surgery easier on
the patient,” he explains. Michelson’s inventions.
known collectively as the Michelson
Devices, have improved the lives of millions
of people with spinal ailments.
Michelson carried his passion for improving
the lives of his patients into overseeing
his philanthropic endeavors: three foun dations-
the Gary Michelson Medical
Research Foundation, the Found Animals
Foundation, and the most recent,
the Twenty Million Minds Foundation.
He also provides funding for other institutions,
including the Michelson Fund for
NTDs Global Awareness and the Michelson
Neglected Disease Vaccine Initiative,
which are programs of the Sabin Vaccine
Michelson’s involvement in medicine led
to the creation of the Michelson Medical
Research Foundation, which encourages
medical researchers and practitioners to
break new ground and improve existing
treatments. Michelson has donated more
than $100 million to fund this forward-
thinking medical research.
“The National Institutes of Health,
historically, has not funded cutting-edge
research,” says Michelson. The MMRF
bridges that gap, funding what Michelson
refers to as the “next frontier” in medicine.
Part of that initiative includes the Michelson
Fund for NTDs Global Awareness
and the Michelson Neglected Disease Vaccine
Initiative, both of which are dedicated
to promoting awareness of and eradicating
neglected tropical diseases, which afflict
1.7 billion people worldwide. “These
are the poorest people on Earth,” says Michelson,
“living on the razor’s edge of starvation.
Most are women and children.
These diseases are the leading cause of
retardation in children who are born with
normal brains; they are also one of the
leading causes of maternal death at childbirth.
To their credit, large drug companies
have agreed to donate two billion
doses of oral medicine, which costs 50
cents per dose, per year. Yet, the issue is
that the developed world has not seen
fit to mobilize the resources to deal with
For the Love of Animals
Michelson’s love of cats and dogs (he has
three dogs: Germ, Honey and Gracie, plus
Stella the hamster) led to the development
of the Found Animals Foundation, which
aims “to reduce the number of euthanized
animals by supporting adoption, microchip
identification and making sterilization
Michelson created Adopt & Shop
through the Found Animals Foundation.
Dogs are picked up from a municipal
animal shelter and taken to a “shop,”
where they are groomed and trained, if
necessary. Potential owners can come in
and find a pet that suits their needs. The
$25-million Michelson Prize was created
in conjunction with the FAF to encourage
scientists to develop a nonsurgical
procedure to sterilize cats and dogs. The
prize is backed by $50 million in grants
to fund the research, which is ongoing.
To date, more than 20 different research
projects have been funded.
When Michelson found out that the cost of
textbooks in California community colleges
exceeded the cost of tuition, he launched
Twenty Million Minds. “Students could get
grants for classes, which were paid directly
to the college. but not for books,” Michelson
says, “so many didn’t graduate. The
book fees were too high.”
While the goal of 20MM is to increase
educational access and foster academic
success, Michelson didn’t stop there. The
foundation was instrumental in creating
interactive textbooks that can be downloaded
or accessed on a mobile device,
iPad or compuler, at no charge.
“The material in subjects such as French,
calculus and chemistry has been the same
for many years,” Michelson notes. “We
hired the same companies that produce
most college textbooks to help us create
these interactive versions. Students
can read, answer questions and be tested.
If they fail, students are directed 10 en·
riched content.” It might be in the form
of a YouTube video, original demonstration
“The goal is for every student to be able
to master the material. It’s geared for
success, not failure,” Michelson says. The
current library of 25 books covers approximately
50 percent of the course material
presented in the first two years of
The ironic outcome of the project was
that the community colleges the books
were designed for weren’t interested,
because the material infringed on the
“intellectual freedom” of the professors,
who wanted to choose their own teaching
material, regardless of how it affected
students. 20MM currently works in conjunction
with community colleges in New
York, California and Texas.
Michelson’s latest endeavor, a textbook
titled Intellectual Property, has the intense
interest of some of the top schools in the
nation: Wharton School of Business, Stanford,
MIT and Berkeley, to name a few. Michelson
calls it a “course in a box,” because
the virtual book includes text, test and
“If you look at start-ups over the past 30
years or so, the Facebooks, Googles and
Apples of the world, you recognize that
most were started by people in college
or within that demographic,” Michelson
says. “These companies have been created
around inventions and writing, which
is copyright protected, but the company
owners know little or nothing about intellectual
property. IP isn’t taught in high
school, nor is it taught at the undergraduate
level at any university in the country.”
This book and course will change that.
lbe virtual textbook was co-edited by
Dave Kappos, former director of the U.S.
Patent and Trademark Office, and former
Chief Judge of the United States Court of
Appeals for the Federal Circuit Paul Michel,
who often presided over IP cases.
“In what has become a rapidly changing
view of the law, the text and course
will never be out of date. The content can
be changed instantaneously,” says Michelson,
depending on what is going on in
Congress or within the Supreme Court
concerning IP. We can also incorporate
controversial material and analyze how
issues are resolved.”
In addition to involvement with his
foundations, Michelson is a member of
the Intellectual Property Owners Education
Foundation Board of Directors. As
an independent inventor and businessman,
who spent years in court defending
his patents, Michelson has a unique
perspective on the U.S. patent system. He
not only dealt with the U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office in securing his patents,
Michelson came face-to-face with
the Federal Court and the U.S. Court of
Appeals on the Federal Circuit during litigation
with Medtronic, which he refers
to as the ‘David and Goliath’ of patent litigation
cases. He also has vast business
experience, having created immensely
successful start-ups, as well as having licensed
patent agreements to the largest
companies in the medical device field.
“I think that patent law has been relatively
stable for a long period of time; he relates,
“but I think the world is changing at
an ever-increasing rate. That has required
patent law to become much more dynamic.
I think it began with the America Invents
Act, and to Congress’ credit, it had
both Republican and Democratic support.
I think that was the first tectonic change.
“Take a look at devices like iPhones,
which might contain 100 inventions. It becomes
almost impossible for one company
to own all the intellectual property that
goes into such a complex device.
“So, you have companies buying vast
portfolios of patents, paying billions of
dollars for them, and they don’t even know
what they’re acquiring. They’re just hoping
they have something they can trade or
use to stand off an assault by someone who
owns one of the patents.
“I think the law seems to be changing,
particularly in regard to injunctive relief
(the ability of someone to stop an infringer
from making use of an infringed invention).
If the infringed invention constitutes
one percent of the value of a device,” he
says, “it seems unreasonable to enjoin the
entire device. Going forward, perhaps the
most reasonable remedy will be a reason·
Michelson also believes that a compulsory
license and reasonable royalties
should be taken into consideration when
the owner of a patent isn’t using it. “While
the original language in the Constitution
says ‘right to exclude all others,’ I believe
that patent law in this country will evolve
so that if the inventor doesn’t make use of
his invention, others can.
“I don’t believe that if the government
gives you an exclusive license that you
should be able to deprive society of your
invention until the patent expires. That is
not a proper social bargain.”