John Oliver attacks 'patent trolls'

"Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver on Sunday night put his backing behind a House bill aimed at thwarting so-called patent trolls. 

Oliver spent 11 minutes of his HBO program mocking the "insane" problem of abusive patent litigation, discussing how companies buy up patents with the intent of obtaining legal settlements by threatening vague and sometimes frivolous infringement lawsuits.


The late-night host called House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte's (R-Va.) Innovation Act a bill with "decent" ideas.

"I'm not saying that bill was perfect but it would have helped," Oliver said, comparing it to parents locking a liquor cabinet to keep their kids from destroying the "entire neighborhood." 

Oliver has become increasingly influential in technology policy in the past year. A segment he did on net neutrality last June received nearly 9 million views and helped flood the Federal Communications Commission with public comments. Earlier this month, he grilled Edward Snowden as the two discussed surveillance reform. 

His patent-reform segment Sunday night received more than 100,000 views by Monday morning and advocates including the Internet Association and United For Patent Reform tweeted out the link to push for reform. 

During the segment Sunday, Oliver explained recent advances in technology have caused the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to issue sometimes vague patents, allowing companies to claim infringement on a large number of products. He also spent time lamenting that many cases are filed in a certain district in eastern Texas that has been sympathetic to patent plaintiffs. 

Goodlatte's Innovation Act was first passed last Congress but reform stalled in the Senate after then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised to block a bill from getting to the floor. Supporters of the bill blamed lobbyists for the biotechnology industry, universities and trial lawyers for killing it. 

"Unfortunately while the bill passed the House by an overwhelming majority, it never even made it to a vote in the Senate. I wonder why would that be," Oliver said, alluding to criticism from trial lawyers — a historically Democratic constituency.

Advocates see a greater chance at reform this Congress now that Republicans control both chambers, and Goodlatte has reintroduced his proposal. Senators on the Judiciary Committee are also working on their own deal. 

"And even if it doesn't pass, something has to," Oliver said. "We have to do something, or the only viable business left in America is going to be one that relies on no patents whatsoever."