John Oliver is probably the funniest reporter in mass media today -- he also might be the best. In this 11-minute segment, he brings the funny while explaining the legal mechanisms patent trolls use to their advantage and laying out the deleterious effects of their legal shenanigans.
The core issue is that the U.S. patent system is geared toward mechanical ideas, not less concrete items like software. By successfully patenting broad technologies (one example given is a patent for software checking a central server for authorization -- also known as the basic technology upon which all Android apps are based), trolls can lay claim to all sorts of future developments.
"If a troll can get a vaguely defined software patent," says Oliver, "they can demand payment for anything that fits that description. Basically, if they thought to patent 'Computer Thing That Never Works' years ago, they'd currently be getting rich off of FaceTime."
But the patent trolls have not only prevailed in acquiring vague patents, they've also figured out how to wield them. Over the years, trolls have determined how much money to demand from their targets (enough that simply paying the demand is cheaper than going to trial for the accused company) and even where to file suit (Marshall, Texas, which is uncharacteristically kind to plaintiffs). It's essentially a legalized form of extortion, and as Oliver explains, it makes patent reform an absolute must.