When John Oliver talks, the Internet starts buzzing. This week, on HBO’s show “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver highlighted patent litigation reform. Patent issues rarely hit the mainstream media, and even more rarely do they become fodder for pop culture. But Oliver’s satirical segment has broken that barrier.
The segment contains lessons for both those who support and oppose legislation, such as the Innovation Act, designed to curtail abusive litigation.
- For supporters, the segment is important because it highlights their narrative that patent claims are too broadly drafted, making it too easy for patent owners to misuse them by alleging infringement to extort settlements. The reach of Oliver’s show will also give the effort an additional boost by speaking to an audience beyond those typically interested in the subject.
- For opponents of the pending legislation, the segment is equally important because it provides a well-told example of the perspective that Congress and others are hearing. It is vital to understand the other side’s views, both in an effort to find common ground and to understand the extent of the passion the other side of the debate. Oliver’s segment clearly provides that element.
The segment is also emblematic of how those who misuse patents—combined with the tenor of the current legislative debate—have harmed the reputation of the patent system. That result comes at a cost to everyone who invents and innovates.
Of course, it is important to remember that “Last Week Tonight” is satire. Its segments are not intended to tell both sides of the story. Bad actors can make any system preposterous when it’s the only aspect of the narrative that is told. A similar, and equally compelling story could be told about the foundational truth cited by the “Shark Tank” critics: that patents—the innovation they represent and the enforceable rights they provide—are essential to the ability of many small business to attract the investment necessary to bring breakthrough technologies to market, to create jobs, and to grow.
There is something to learn on all sides.