Thursday, May 07, 2015

Last Week Tonight Stuck in 2012

The heady days of 2012 saw “Gangnam Style” dominate the U.S. music charts, Patricia Krentcil rocket to fame as the “New Jersey Tanning Mom,” and the New York Giants win the Super Bowl. That year also is the source of nearly all the statistics John Oliver cited on the April 18, 2015 edition of his HBO program Last Week Tonight during a very humorous but potentially misleading piece about abuses in the patent system.

John Oliver echoes complaints others have raised against the patent system, namely that (A) patent owners that don’t practice their patents shouldn’t be able to assert them; (B) patent owners enforcing their patents are extorting parties, including small businesses and end users, that lack the funds or capability to litigate; and (C) patents, especially software patents, are too vague, resulting in uncertainty as to what products or actions are encompassed. The solution to most of these problems, he posits, is the Innovation Act, H.R. 9, the latest version of which was introduced on February 5, 2015. Seemingly, John Oliver is unaware that the last several years have seen judicial action and legislation that address the costs of patent litigation and the vagueness of software patents. Whether these measures are sufficient without additional legislation is up for debate, but John Oliver’s hypothesis is weakened by his reliance on outdated and largely irrelevant facts and data.

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