Cover photo for Carl Gulbrandsen's Obituary
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1947 Carl 2022

Carl Gulbrandsen

February 14, 1947 — October 17, 2022


Madison - Carl Edward Gulbrandsen was born on Valentine’s Day, 1947, and died peacefully at home on October 17, 2022, after a long illness with IPF (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis). He was the only son and third child of Dr. Lars F. Gulbrandsen and Lucille Gulbrandsen (Vig). He grew up with his sisters, Martine (Starr) and Mary (Larsen) in the Norwegian enclave of Viroqua, Wisconsin, where his father was the kind of small-town doctor who took house calls late into the night.  By the age of 13, Carl often served as his dad’s chauffeur on those late-night house calls to Norwegian farmers who served strong coffee and still spoke the language of their native country. Driving country roads with his dad and talking late into the night, played an important part in informing the way he thought about life.

Carl is survived by Mary (Wachter) his wife of 51 years; his children Lars (Kara Eigenberger), Ellen Jalkut (Michael), Erik (Emily Talbot); his grandchildren: Zoe, Hannah, Benjamin, Charles, Bodie, Hazel and Grady; extended family members and many friends and colleagues.

Music was always a big part of Carl’s life. In high school, he played banjo in a folk band, The Burgundy Five. Carl’s musical endeavors continued at St. Olaf College where he played drums in two different bands, The Zookeepers and The Weekly Gathering, who toured briefly throughout the upper Midwest.

At St. Olaf, Carl met and fell in love with Mary Wachter. Carl graduated in 1969 with a degree in Biology. Shortly after graduation, he was drafted into the Army. He and Mary married in December of 1970 before moving to Germany, where Carl served at the 97th General Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany.

After returning stateside, Carl pursued a PhD in Physiology at the University of Wisconsin, completing his degree in 1978. He then made the momentous decision not to follow a career path in research and instead enrolled in law school. He received his JD from the UW in 1981 and embarked upon the private practice of law.

In 1985, Carl put his degrees in science and law toward a common purpose and received his license to practice patent law. Carl enjoyed working with inventors of all stripes. He filed patents for a variety of inventions, from an archery bow peep sight to pet food additives to derivatives of Vitamin D.

In 1997, Carl became Director of Patents and Licensing at WARF, a foundation formed to patent and commercialize inventions developed at the University of Wisconsin and to use the revenue derived from those inventions to fund research and further the University of Wisconsin’s mission. He became Managing Director in 2000, retiring in 2016. During his tenure, the WARF endowment grew significantly, allowing WARF to give hundreds of millions of dollars to the UW. Carl strongly believed that WARF should fund and support developing technologies and startup companies. He also believed that the policy and law (the Bayh-Dole Act) that allowed inventors and institutions to own inventions created using federal funding strengthened this country – making it the greatest engine of innovation in the world.

Some of the accomplishments during Carl’s time at WARF include the establishment of WiCell, a global leader in banking, testing and distributing stem cell lines and the formation of WiSys, a WARF-like foundation organized to benefit campuses of the University of Wisconsin System. He was instrumental in the planning, design and construction of the Discovery Building and the Morgridge Institute for Research, collectively an innovative research facility on the UW campus. Until his final days, Carl was thoroughly involved, engaged, and excited about the Morgridge Institute, which he believed would foster ever greater innovation at the UW.

Throughout his career and into retirement, Carl served on various local and national not-for-profit boards. Notably, Carl was a member of the Public Advisory Committee of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He testified in front of Congress on three occasions. When he retired, on June 6, 2016, Carl received tribute for his distinguished service to WARF in the congressional record.

Family was central to Carl’s life. He participated in biking, skiing, fly fishing and golf, although he did so mostly just to enjoy the company of his friends and family. He loved to read – from fiction to historical biographies to law journal articles on patent law – he always had a book or magazine in hand. He passed his love of books on to his children and grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at LUTHER MEMORIAL CHURCH, 1021 University Ave., Madison, on Monday, October 24, 2022, at 11:00 am. A visitation will be held at church on Monday from 10:00 am until the service. A memorial tribute and luncheon will follow at the Discovery Building at noon.

Memorials can be made to the Morgridge Institute for Research, Access Community Health Center, Luther Memorial Church, or a charity of your choice.

Cress Funeral & Cremation Services

3610 Speedway Road

(608) 238-3434

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Carl Gulbrandsen, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services


Monday, October 24, 2022

10:00 - 11:00 am (Central time)

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Memorial Service

Monday, October 24, 2022

Starts at 11:00 am (Central time)

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