Saturday, April 23, 2005
LOS ANGELES - Orthopedic surgeon Gary Michelson said Friday he is considering philanthropic alternatives for some of the $1.35 billion Medtronic Inc. plans to pay him to end a patent dispute.
"All you can really do with that kind of money is give it away. There's no way you can spend it," he said. "What I'm interested in doing is setting up a medical research foundation and seeing if we can't make a difference in the world."
The 56-year-old Los Angeles doctor has pioneered some of the most popular technology used in spinal surgery today, as well as more commonplace gadgets. He's patented a new paper clip and is still perfecting a lid that would eliminate the task of scraping dog food out of a can.
"It's not bad for lifting out pickles without getting your fingers in the water either," said Michelson, who has received more than 500 patents.
But the medical inventions are his life's work.
"To be around him with his inventions is to see boundless enthusiasm," said his attorney, Marc Marmaro.
During trial of his lawsuit against the medical-device company last year, Michelson would hop from the witness box to explain to the jury how his gadgets worked.
"He'd say, 'Look at this, isn't this neat?'" Marmaro recalled.
Under the settlement, which has yet to be finalized, Medtronic would pay $800 million for spinal-fusion technology, as well as another $550 million to settle the legal claims.
Michelson has long had a contract with Medtronic to license many of his inventions. The legal battle began after he felt he wasn't getting sufficient royalties from Medtronic's booming sales of his products and sought to sell some of his products elsewhere. Medtronic sued him in 2001 for $820 million, and Michelson countersued for more than twice that amount. Last year a jury awarded him $510 million in the case, but the settlement announced Friday will replace the award.
"These inventions are his children," Marmaro said. "He's not a man who's going to allow anyone as he views the world_ to take his life's work."
Many of Michelson's patents relate to improving the implants, instruments and methods used to fuse vertebrae and alleviate the pain of degenerating spinal discs.
Michelson says he has always been curious about how things work. As a child he used to take things apart, regardless of whether he could put them back together or not.
He became interested in orthopedics as a boy watching his grandmother suffer from a crippling spinal disease.
A native of Philadelphia, Michelson, attended Hahnemann Medical College, where he also did his internship and residency. He says many fellow residents would shy away from treating patients with spinal problems because the technology was still so bad, and unhappy patients would continually return. Michelson would try to treat them.
Before his legal battle with Medtronic, Michelson was working as a surgeon at Centinela Freeman Regional Medical Center in Inglewood.
"He'd do surgery during the day and come home, work late into the night on his inventions and wake up early to go to work," Marmaro said.
Dr. Mark Spoonamore, director of the University of Southern California's Center for Spinal Surgery, called the settlement "very significant," adding that roughly 60 percent to 80 percent of spinal surgeries today include a product or method patented by Michelson.
Spoonamore said his main concern was that Michelson's more than 700 patents and patent requests get made into products that doctors can use to help their patients.
Michelson agreed and said he plans to spend the next few years working closely with Medtronic engineers to develop as many products as possible.