Of One Mind, and One of a Kind

Dr. Gary Michelson’s refusal to accept the status quo in spinal surgery fueled his impact on innovation and IP access

By Justin Chapman, Inventors Digest Magazine/Michelson Philanthropies/Michelson 20MM Foundation/Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property/GaryK.Michelson.org, 11/10/2022

The intellectual property world knows of Dr. Gary K. Michelson, an acclaimed spinal surgeon and inventor. Spurred by the impact syringomyelia had on his grandmother, Dr. Michelson attended medical school and became one of the most prolific inventors of medical devices.

Few, however, know the “single-mindedness” that was required to drive the success of the 950 patents he holds, his deep understanding of the U.S. patent system, and how that fuels him to pay it forward by making IP education more accessible to all students.

“As a spinal surgeon, you can lift someone out of a wheelchair and help them return to their life; that’s a gift as a physician and something I wouldn’t give up,” Dr. Michelson said. “Inventing something that helps thousands of people is a level of impact you cannot achieve as a physician.”

As reported in the October Inventors Digest, on December 7 the Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation (IPOEF) will recognize Dr. Michelson as its 2022 IP Champion. The award is given to leaders who advocate for the value of IP to stimulate the progress of innovation.

Always single-minded

Dr. Michelson joins Dr. Lisa Cook, professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University; Andrei Iancu, former director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office; and Joe Kiani, founder, chair, and CEO of Masimo, as IP Champions. The four are united by a belief in the value of IP, perseverance in their fields of work, and commitment to making IP more accessible.

Dr. Michelson understands the challenges inventors face and seeks to mitigate them for future generations. As a nonprofit organization, IPOEF is devoted to educational and charitable activities designed to teach about the value of IP rights and encourage innovation.

When Michelson was 17, he worked to put himself through medical school—determined to help people such as his grandmother. Post-graduation, one would not find a television set in Dr. Michelson’s home. The reason? “Single-mindedness,” in the words of the inventor himself. An inventor must be single-minded, he says. “Balance would not have worked for me.”

Ever determined to refute the status quo and reform the future of spinal surgery, he authored the draft of his first patent, rather than outsourcing it to a patent attorney. The desire to know a system so well that he could navigate it as an expert became a driving force in his life.

When a medical student asked him to describe an inventor, Dr. Michelson said: “To be a purposeful serial inventor, you need to give yourself permission to deconstruct things. You have to break stuff and say, ‘I’m not gonna accept the status quo. No, I will color outside the lines, I will think outside the box, I’ll think sideways, I’ll think backwards.’ “But one cannot simply think outside of the box; one must deconstruct the box without the knowledge of being able to put it back together.”

“One cannot simply think outside of the box; one must deconstruct the box without the knowledge of being able to put it back together.”


A legacy of IP assistance Dr. Michelson has long championed a strong patent system and the value of IP protections. He established the Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property (Michelson IP) at his education nonprofit the Michelson 20MM Foundation in 2016, providing free IP educational resources for inventors, entrepreneurs, and educators with a strong focus on underrepresented communities.

His work with Michelson IP will be honored during the 2022 IPOEF Awards as part of Dr. Michelson’s commitment to IP advocacy. Michelson IP produces free, high-quality IP resources, including an interactive digital text and introductory college textbook, that make patents, copyright, and trademarks understandable for students and non-lawyers.

Michelson IP also developed an animated video series that breaks down the content into short, digestible videos, and a comprehensive online course available globally on the Udemy platform. More than 20,000 students worldwide have taken the course and nearly 400 institutions have embedded Michelson IP’s resources into their curricula.

Under Dr. Michelson’s leadership, Michelson IP partnered with seven Historically Black Colleges and Universities in 2021 to launch the HBCU IP Futures Collaborative, providing the schools with IP curricula, resources and grants. This year, one HBCU student who received IP education through the collaborative went on to invent a fast food automation machine and file for a patent with the USPTO.

Ripple effects

Dr. Michelson’s philanthropy has continued to spark invention in the fields of animal welfare, higher education and medical research.

“If you give up, you failed,” Dr. Michelson said. “If you don’t give up, it is an iterative process.”

The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property provides no cost IP educational resources to empower budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson IP is an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, which focuses on a range of issues, including digital equity, smart justice, and open educational resources. It operates with support from Alya and Dr. Gary K. Michelson, members of The Giving Pledge. To access more resources, please visit MichelsonIP.com.

This article was originally published by Inventors Digest Magazine.