Gary K. Michelson

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Gary K. Michelson
Gary K. Michelson at the 2016 Michelson Found Animals Gala.jpg
Born (1949-01-14) January 14, 1949 (age 72)
Alma materTemple University
Hahnemann Medical College
  • Orthopedic Surgeon
  • Medical Scientist
  • Philanthropist
Net worthSteadyUS $ 1.7 billion (March 2020)[1]
Spouse(s)Alya Michelson

Gary K. Michelson (born January 14, 1949) is an American orthopedic surgeon, medical inventor, and billionaire philanthropist .[2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Michelson and his three brothers were raised in Philadelphia by his mother and grandmother, whose struggles with syringomyelia inspired his interest in spinal ailments.[4][5][6] After graduating Central High School of Philadelphia in 1966,[7] he attended Temple University and Hahnemann Medical College of Drexel University, until finishing his medical residency in orthopedic surgery at Hahnemann Medical Hospital in 1979. Michelson then completed his fellowship training in spinal surgery at St. Luke’s Medical Center, in a joint program between Baylor University and the University of Texas. He was a practicing spinal surgeon for over 25 years before retiring from private practice to focus on philanthropy.

He is of Jewish heritage.[8]

Medical innovations & related legal battles[edit]

Seeing the low success rates associated with spinal surgery procedures early in his career,[9][10] Michelson developed new implants, instruments and procedures aimed at enabling spinal surgeons to more precisely and effectively treat spinal ailments. These technologies, often recognized in the medical profession as "Michelson Devices", assist in surgical procedures by decreasing blood loss, incision size, and addressing other critical factors, allowing for more reliable, less invasive treatments.[11][12]Michelson is the sole credited inventor on over 950 issued or pending patents worldwide related to the treatment of spinal disorders.[13][14][15]

In 2005, Michelson sold many of his spine-related patents to Medtronic for $1.35 billion,[16] placing him on the Forbes 400 list.[17][18]

A legal battle with Medtronic over the origins of the patents preceded the sale. In 2004, Michelson cross-filed in response to Medtronic's 2001 suit, and was awarded financial damages for both lawsuits by the jury.[19] The legal defense against Medtronic's suit established a major legal precedent in 2004, governing who bears the cost of pre-trial discovery of electronic evidence.[20]


Michelson announced his intent to launch a medical philanthropic venture in a 2005 New York Times article.[21] The Gary Karlin Michelson, M.D. Charitable Foundation, Inc. was founded in 1995 and was later renamed the Michelson Medical Research Foundation in 2005. The nonprofit does not accept donations.[22]

Also in 2005, Michelson launched the Found Animals Foundation,[23] a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation dedicated to animal welfare.[24]

After reading an article in the Los Angeles Times by Sabin Vaccine Institute President Peter Hotez,[25] Michelson became one of the principal supporters of the Institute's fight against neglected tropical diseases, giving birth to the Michelson Neglected Disease Vaccine Initiative.[26] Michelson said he "felt compelled to support efforts to develop a vaccine against the four most devastating parasitic worm infections because more than one billion innocent people, many of them small children, are unnecessarily plagued by these neglected diseases."[27]

In 2011, Michelson created the Twenty Million Minds Foundation,[28] originally a comprehensive library of higher education textbooks in an open education platform and now an education startup incubator.[29]

In 2008, Michelson's Found Animals foundation launched the Michelson Prize and Grants in Reproductive Biology[30] an international competition with a monetary prize aimed at solving the problem of pet overpopulation. Researchers from a wide variety of scientific fields took on the challenge of non-surgical pet sterilization. Recognizing that interested parties might not have access to the funds that the research and testing would require, a companion organization, Michelson Grants in Reproductive Biology,[31] provided limited funding for research. The Michelson Prize seeks to make sterilization accessible and affordable worldwide and aid developing countries.[32][33]

In a program directly acknowledged by the L.A. Mayor’s office, Michelson’s Found Animals Foundation paid for the costs of anyone who would rescue a dog or cat scheduled for euthanasia.[34]

In January 2014 it was announced that Michelson gifted $50 million to the University of Southern California for the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience.[35][36][37] The venue opened its doors on November 1, 2017.[38]

In February 2016, through his organization, the 20MM Michelson Foundation, Michelson released a variety of intellectual property tools including a series of videos that foreshadowed the publication of a proper intellectual property textbook.[39]

Michelson was a contributing author of the free comprehensive textbook The Intangible Advantage: Understanding Intellectual Property in the New Economy. Released on May 22, 2016, the textbook is devoted to intellectual property topics and was written specifically for non-lawyers and undergraduate students. It includes a working explanation of patents, copyrights and trademarks.[40] In 2019, he presented as a guest speaker at The Future of Intellectual Property: Examining IP in a Changing World.[41] In 2020, he presented as the keynote speaker at the third Intellectual Property Awareness Summit at UC Berkeley.[42]

In a companion project, Michelson created a complete undergraduate college course, "The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Intellectual Property", which has been taught at the USC Marshall School of Business via its Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and Santa Monica College since August 2017.[43][44][45][46]

On October 30, 2017, at Leveraging Intellectual Property In Today's Knowledge Economy, a kick-off event which took place at the University of Southern California, the new Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property was announced. The new institute oversees the earlier Intangible Advantage IP course and provides resources for both educators and students of the program. It also offers the option of becoming an ambassador for the institute.[47]

In 2017, Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson, through the MMRF and the Human Vaccines Project,[48] launched Michelson Prizes, which dispense $150,000 awards to specifically support out-of-the-box, high risk, high return, medically relevant research by scientists under the age of 36. Dr. Michelson partnered with the Human Vaccine Project to judge the Researcher Competition. The 2020 Michelson Prizes were awarded to Dr. Danika Hill, research fellow at Australia's Monash University, and Dr. Michael Birnbaum, assistant professor at MIT.[49]

On October 24, 2018, the seminar, Hacking IP: Considerations for Startups and Entrepreneurs, the first event in a year-long multi-city program, took place in Downtown Los Angeles and featured such ambassadors as Nathan Khalil, Benjamin Kuo, Carmen Palafox and Thomas Peistrup.[50]

On January 18, 2019, the California Spay and Neuter License Plate Fund, a non-profit organization founded in 2010 by Judie Mancuso, Dr. Gary K. Michelson, actor Pierce Brosnan and his wife Keely Shaye Smith, announced an initial round of grants benefiting low income families in need of spay or neuter for their pet.[51][52]


Since 2017, Dr. Michelson has funded and successfully advanced legislation for various pet-related laws, in partnership with Social Compassion in Legislation. Those laws have included:

  • A bill ending the practice of pet shops sourcing animals from out of state farms, and AB 485, a companion bill requiring all pet shops in California to source their animals from local shelters and rescue groups.[53][54]
  • The California Cruelty-Free Cosmetic Act, banning the sale of cosmetics tested on animals.[55][56][57]
  • The Circus Cruelty Prevention Act, banning the use of animals in California circus shows.[58][59]
  • California Law AB 1260, which ends the practice of commercial fur trapping, and bans the sale of all products made from the hides of exotic animals. The bill was designed to thwart an attempt by others to allow the sale of alligator and crocodile products in the state.[60][61]

Personal life[edit]

Michelson lives in Los Angeles with his wife Alya, and their three children.[62]

In the August 2016 special issue of the Los Angeles Business Journal, Michelson was listed among the 500 most influential people in Los Angeles.[63]

In the December 2015 issue of Forbes magazine, Michelson was featured alongside Warren Buffett, William A. Ackman, Michael Milken and Michael J. Fox as one of "10 People with Big Ideas to Change the World".[64]

In December 2018, Michelson appeared on the cover of CSQ C-Suite Quarterly Magazine and was awarded the Visionary of the Year Award in Philanthropy. The award ceremony took place in New York City on February 5, 2019.[6][65]

Michelson was also interviewed on the Positive Phil Podcast about his personal, professional and philanthropical contributions.[66]

Michelson was also featured on the Adam Mendler podcast.[67]


Awards and honors[edit]

  • [2018] Recipient of the 2018 Visionary of the Year Award in Philanthropy from CSQ / C-Suite Quarterly Magazine.[68]
  • [2017] Recipient of the 2017 Innovation Award for Technology from the Los Angeles County Medical Association.[69]
  • [2017] Recipient of the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Southern California.[70][71]
  • [2017] L.A. County Letter of Appreciation to USC Michelson namesakes: Gary & Alya Michelson.[72][73]
  • [2015] Recipient of the 2015 Distinguished Achievement Award from B'nai B'rith International for his commitment to philanthropy, humanitarian assistance and community leadership.[74]
  • [2015] Recipient of the 2015 Albert. B Sabin Humanitarian Award in recognition of his extraordinary philanthropy and commitment toward the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) through high-level advocacy and vaccine research and development.[75][76]
  • [2014] Inducted into the National Academy of Inventors on March 7, 2014 in recognition of exceptional accomplishments in innovation and invention to benefit society.[77][78]
  • [2011] Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C. on May 4, 2011.[79][80]
  • [2010] Member of the board of Educational Foundation of the Intellectual Property Owners Association since July 2010.[81][82]
  • [2006] Recipient of the 2006 Paralyzed Veterans of America Award for Outstanding Medical Research in the Field of Spinal Disorders.[83]


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External links[edit]