By Justin Chapman
Intellectual property is the future and should be taught to all students, Dr. Gary K. Michelson said on a recent episode of the “Understanding IP Matters: From Creator to Entrepreneur” podcast, which looks at the role of intellectual property rights and how creators become entrepreneurs.
On the podcast produced by the Center for Intellectual Property Understanding, Dr. Michelson said he has felt compelled to give back by educating young people on how to navigate the complex but critical world of IP and copyright law. In that spirit, in 2017 he launched the Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property (MIIP), which offers a portfolio of free resources including courses and the first IP textbook for students, The Intangible Advantage. Nearly 400 institutions have embedded MIIP’s curriculum and resources. In 2021, the course on Udemy reached a new high of 20,000 learners and there were more than 1,000 downloads from the new online Resource Hub. The Resource Hub library has reached more than 600 unique visitors since the beginning of the year.
“We created the textbook so that somebody who is in that college demographic could understand how to protect what they were going to create,” he said. “They are the creators of today’s economy. Is IP literacy a basic skill that should be taught to all students? Absolutely. And the place to start, by the way, is first grade. These kids get it.”
Dr. Michelson shared with host Bruce Berman that all of the most successful companies in the world today were started by people who were college-aged.
“Young people have a great advantage over everyone else,” he said. “When you’re young, you have, let’s say, daring. You don’t know that you cannot do it, so you do it.”
A 2021 report by the Center for Intellectual Property Understanding, a non-profit education organization, found that “none of the top business schools in the United States require their graduate students to learn about intellectual property to obtain their degree. This is especially bizarre in light of the fact that intangible assets—like R&D, intellectual property, software, and data—account for 90% of the value of companies in the S&P 500 today.”
“Every time I’ve ever heard a president or chancellor of a university explain what the purpose of the university was, the answer is always the same: It’s to prepare students for the future,” Dr. Michelson said. “Well, how can we be preparing students for the future if we’re not teaching them basic intellectual property? That is the future.”
He added that he believes all students deserve to know how to utilize the tools of intellectual property to solve problems and be compensated for their creativity.
Recently, the Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property launched the HBCU IP Futures Collaborative, a program at Historically Black Colleges and Universities designed to bring IP education to a new generation of entrepreneurs.
“We’re in a time of increasing awareness of what the sequelae has been: racial discrimination,” he said. “Even though so many of us say, ‘We’re not racist,’ in all my organizations now, we take the position that that’s not enough, that you have to be anti-racist. There is work that needs to be done to level the playing field. One of the projects we’re the happiest about is going into Historically Black Colleges and Universities and promoting intellectual property understanding as an engine of entrepreneurship.”
“IP literacy is a basic skill that should be taught to all students. And the place to start, by the way, is first grade. These kids get it.”
—Dr. Gary Michelson
Dr. Michelson, an orthopedic surgeon and one of the most prolific medical inventors in history, is the sole inventor on 992 issued U.S. and foreign patents, all of them related to the treatment of spinal disorders. His main goal as an inventor was to improve the treatment of his patients. On the podcast, he described the inventions that he’s most proud of, the experience that propelled him to invent new surgical instruments and processes that transformed lumbar spinal surgery, and the roundabout way he began selling those tools.
“The [inventions of mine] that made the largest difference were the ones that revolutionized lumbar spinal surgery, which were historically just massive operations—five or six hours, four or five units of blood loss, long hospitalizations, high risk of infections, long recuperations at home, a lot of pain,” he explained. “And the things that I invented have changed that to being an in-patient operation for a day or an outpatient operation where you go home the same day, the magnitude of the surgery has been dramatically reduced, and the success rate has been improved from about 55-60% to over 95%.”
He also laid out the five essential ingredients to be a successful serial inventor: intellect, knowledge, courage, imagination, and perseverance.
“Why do people need courage to become a successful inventor?” he said. “Well, first of all, you went through a school system that said, ‘Color inside the lines.’ And goddammit, you can’t invent anything in there. You need to color outside the lines; you need to think outside the box. If you were just going to do what everyone else is already doing, then you wouldn’t be inventing. Also, you’re not necessarily going to succeed on the first try. You have to be willing to not consider that a failure, because it’s only a failure if you stop right then and there. If you keep going, it’s just a learning experience.”
Berman pointed out that there’s a disconnect between what IP rights achieve and how they’re perceived, which is that IP rights create a barricade, that they’re for protection only and not for facilitating sharing.
“There are many technologies that simply would never come to the public if they did not have some proprietary protection,” Dr. Michelson said. “The public would actually be deprived of those things. You could never stand up to a large corporation if you did not have intellectual property protection.”
Learn more about the Center for Intellectual Property Understanding at understandingip.org.
The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, provides access to empowering IP education for budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit 20mm.org.