Inside Sheila Gibson’s IP Fight at the Crossroads of Cannabis

An industry exists outside regulation. The people in that industry are fueled by beliefs that inspire them to carry on despite facing enormous risk, but then the law changes. Regulations arrive, and so do newly-emboldened corporations. What first felt like a victory soon turns to worry as those pioneers realize they’ll now have to fight off those corporations to remain in an industry they sustained all those years.


That’s the story of many industries before, and that’s the current story for cannabis.


A talented and smart young professional spends years, decades even, building a career in an established industry. But despite the achievements, they find themselves seeking more: more meaning, more impact, more opportunities to truly help others. They discover cannabis and in turn discover their purpose, bringing all those years of experience to a constantly shifting, newly regulated industry.

That’s the story of many, and that’s Sheila Gibson’s story.


For 14 years Gibson helped build a massive, global IP portfolio for a cancer immunotherapy company and was passionate about the role she played in helping patients. But when financial realities forced the company to abandon some of its cancer immunotherapy IP, Gibson felt “horribly discouraged.”

Enter Sophie Ryan. Sophie’s parents were treating their daughter’s brain tumor with cannabis and documenting their story via @prayersforsophie and, providing for Gibson what felt like an undeniable truth about cannabis as medicine. And with that, she had found her next purpose.

“As my curiosity led to a search for answers, I felt increasingly compelled to do more to help bring this plant back to life. Turning to what I knew best, I decided to focus my legal skills on protecting and fostering cannabis innovation and protecting the brands that will make cannabis available to everyone.”

After founding her own firm, Aura IP Law, Gibson has been focused on educating the cannabis industry about intellectual property, and how it can be used properly to ensure survival post-legalization. In short, many legacy cannabis operators find themselves in a bind.

In order to establish a trademark, Federal registration requires that the trademark be “in commerce,” or operating in a market regulated by Congress. But since cannabis is still federally illegal, the result is a Catch-22 that’s resulted in a chaotic IP environment that’s simultaneously created enormous opportunity and risk for cannabis operators.  

“There is a sweet spot right now where those in the industry have an opportunity to establish themselves with intellectual property positions while the large, established corporations and pharma are held at bay by the current federal position. I am working to empower those who have worked so hard to give this industry life before the industry is overrun with large corporations.”

Like John Poss, Gibson is devoted to democratizing medicine by seizing on the unique opportunity that cannabis provides. To hear her speak more about her work, join us in Los Angeles on July 27 for a day devoted to exploring the intersection of cannahemp medical research and manufacturing technology.

UPDATE: After sharing this article with Tracy Ryan, the mother of Sophie and the CEO of Cannakids, she felt inspired to share the following:

“Our journey with Sophie has been a long and challenging one. With 6 years of ups and downs, never-ending chemo and the side effects that follow, life has been exponentially more challenging than most can imagine. But to hear of stories like Sheila’s, and to get the phone calls from the patients and parents of kids we continue to help, it is that ever shining light that brings sunshine to our darkest of days. It’s these stories that will help us in our efforts to make the world a healthier place to live for all through the use of medical cannabis.”