John Oliver rips into “horrifying” patent trolls: Why startups should take notice


A patent troll is a person or company that doesn’t invent or create anything.

They buy up patents, assert those patents against other companies who are legitimate innovative businesses, and then make their money out of threatening law suits.

Here in Australia, we don’t experience a severity of patent trolling – or not yet anyway.

But in the US, small businesses and startups are under increasing threat.

The UK has also recently opened itself up to increased patent trolling, following the Brexit vote, as the EU’s new Unified Patent Court only covers the territory of participating member states.

This episode of John Oliver’s brilliant ‘Last Week Tonight’ aired over a year ago, but it is still highly relevant, particularly as we continue moving into an era of technological innovation that is ripe for opportunists quick to make a buck.

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  • Ben

    Sure, patent trolling is poor from an innovative perspective but it’s perfectly illegal. The point of a business is to make money, not to save baby whales (leave that to non-profits).

  • Ben


  • mrcolj

    The thing all these articles conveniently gloss over is that 1) there is no even widely accepted definition of patent troll, and 2) nearly all experts on the topic say what John Oliver describes is not happening. Let me say that another way, in the patent world, it’s the corporate defense lawyers who have “I”m a bad guy” existential crises and then quit and become plaintiffs working for inventors. Yes, those inventors may sell their technologies, and said sale includes the ownership of the legal rights associated with those technologies. But 99% of the cases John Oliver listed are inventors themselves, who tried to sell to these big companies, but the big companies said “I’m going to steal your idea and there’s nothing you can do about it, because you’re a dirty little nerd working out of his garage and we’re a beloved anchor of silicon valley!” If the inventor so much as files a complaint, the giant companies go and start buying press releases calling the inventor a patent troll. Again, judge after judge says they’ve never seen it, or maybe seen it in 1% of patent cases–it’s only the bad guys who say it’s an epidemic that only their lobbyists can fix. It’s all and only marketing.