Late Night Comedian and Satirist Takes a Swing at Patent Trolls
Startups and entrepreneurs both chuckled and nodded gravely when John Oliver used his comedic hour on “Last Week Tonight” to satirize Intellectual Property and the growing threat of Patent Trolls, warning that “arriving on the set of Shark Tank without a patent is like turning up to America’s Next Top Model without knowing how to smize or booty tooch!”
However, he reserved the bulk of his biting humor for the one issue that keeps Inventors up at night: Patent Trolls.
These unsavory characters, said Oliver, typically don’t invent anything or sell anything of value. They simply exist to buy patents and make their money threatening lawsuits in what many call the ultimate “shakedown.”
“Calling them trolls is a little misleading: At least trolls actually do something: They control bridge access for goats and ask people fun riddles.”
Oliver recognized the massive problem this posed to entrepreneurs across America stating that at least 3000 out of 4,700 lawsuits in 2013 were initiated by trolls.
Astonishingly, this litigation may have cost inventors roughly 500 billion dollars or more since 1990.
Oliver highlighted this abuse by referencing Austin Myers, the inventor of a flight simulator app who one day received a patent infringement letter from a company called Unilock, which declared that it owned the original idea for a computer program calling up a central server for authorization.
The galactic scope and implication of this infringement challenge (which broadly covers ANY android or Apple app ever built) was not lost on Oliver.
“Essentially this means I could show up at the headquarters of Tinder and demand a cut of everything Tinder has created, which I assume would be a pile of STDs, sad orgasms and shards of human self-esteem!”
The absurdity of this infringement landscape also extends to casual users of technology or inventions.
Southeastern Employment Services, which provides job opportunities for Americans with disabilities received an ultimatum: Either fork over $1000 for each employee using the scanned email function on the onsite copy machine or face an expensive lawsuit.”
Folner, the litigant claimed it could enforce this payout since it owns the underlying patents for the software process programmed into the machine.
“Wow,” said Oliver.
“When you are threatening to sue a company which helps people with disabilities find work for using their own photocopier you’re not just on the road to hell you have your own parking spot right next to the devil.”
But what is the underlying cause for the growth of these patent trolls and the consequent infringement lawsuits?
Oliver suggests the The United States Patent Office has become overwhelmed with the surge in patent filings, especially in the technology realm, and the difficult task of ascertaining whether an inventor’s idea “is new, useful,and obvious”.
“Incidentally all the adjectives that Tom Cruise would say he’s seeking in an ideal mate,” said Oliver.
This challenge is especially true for software patent filings which like the growth of railroads a century before, require an exceptional, updated set of research and analytical skills by overloaded patent clerks.
Unlike machine patents, software patents can be so broad and vague that they may give someone later the ability to claim ownership over ideas that were not originally thought of at the time.
This allows Patent Trolls to pursue vaguely defined software patents and later parlay that into expensive lawsuits against unwitting inventors.
“Basically if they thought to ‘patent computer things that never works’ years ago they would currently be getting rich off off Facetime – very, very rich!”
The Patent Trolls usually find a way to get 90% of their lawsuits settled before going to court in what experts call an “extortion game” since it costs on average around $3 million to defend a patent in a courtroom.
Inventors would rather settle earlier than exhaust their capital in a long-running, expensive court battle.
The Patent Trolls, say Oliver, are thus estimating the maximum amount of money inventors would be willing to pay rather than going to court.
“They pick a number the same way airlines pick a cabin temperature: Perfectly calibrated to make you miserable, but not so much that you’d actually do anything about it.”
These sinister trolls often hide behind embellished names which have greek mythological overtones like Pragmatus IP.
“Incidentally pragmatist sounds like the most boring mythological Greek hero of all time. ‘I am pragmatist and I shall not battle the Hydra for it is much larger than me. so I shall go home via the farmers market for the bruised vegetables are cheaper at the end of the day! Pragmatist bids you farewell!’”
Texas bears the unlucky mantle of being a favorite destination for patent trolls, with over 25% of infringement lawsuits filed in the Lone Star State.
In particular, the town of Marshall, home to 24,000 Texans is one epicenter when it comes to Patent Troll activity.
Judges and courtrooms appear to favor trolls, which Oliver said is leading many major tech companies to launch giant PR campaigns to sway public opinion and the makeup of future juries.
For instance, Samsung, on the receiving end of many patent troll cases, has spent millions on community outreach ventures including building a giant skating rink outside the courthouse in Marshall.
“Do you know how hard that is to maintain: it’s like building a bowling alley in space!”
Oliver also lamented the death of the bipartisan bill, The Innovation Act, in the Senate a few years ago which had a few common sense provisions including encouraging judges to make patent trolls pay court costs if they lose, and forcing patent trolls to be more transparent about their identities.
While not perfect, he surmised the patent reform bill would have helped deter patent trolls.
“It’s like when parents, of teenagers lock the liquor cabinet. Look I know this isn’t going to stop you, Rhapsody, but it will make it just a little harder for you to ****up the entire neighborhood!’
Experts say that trial lawyer lobbyists in Washington championed the death of the bill.
“That’s the equivalent of trusting raccoons to make laws about garbage can placements: they should be easy to reach and left slightly open. All in favor say (Aye)!’
Oliver closed his late night routine by confirming the Innovation Act may be making a welcome comeback. But regardless, something must be done soon or else American businesses may have to operate without patents.
Oliver could think of only ONE business that fits this new model, an entrepreneur who appeared briefly on the Shark Tank with a once in a lifetime investment opportunity: I want to Draw a Cat For You!”