The totally slimy, completely dishonest way some companies are getting rich in 2015.

It even makes the hosts of "Shark Tank" nervous.

Back in the good old days, there was basically only one way to get rich.

You invented something. And then you sold it for money.


"Invent something" is pretty loosely defined here. Image by Hempdiddy.

But guess what, kiddos? There's a brand new way of cashing in that's taking America by storm. And the best part is, you don't even have to, like, invent anything.

Just apply for some super-vague patents!

Patents are basically copyrights on ideas. You can also get them for things you can hold in your hand, but patents on things you can actually hold in your hand is so 20th century!

Now, for this to work, you have to make sure your patents are super-broad and vague so that they encompass pretty much anything you can think of.

Did you do it? Nope. Vaguer. Vaguer. OK, good.

Now sue the pants off the people who actually invent things that could potentially kinda sorta be covered by your super-vague patents but are too poor and/or skittish to fight you in court!

It's called "patent trolling."

You may have heard John Oliver talk about it on his show.

While Oliver makes some fantastic points about how ordinary people and small businesses get railroaded by companies that make their living suing people for patent infringement, he leaves one big thing out.

Threatening innovators with huge lawsuits and hoping they settle out of fear isn't just one of the shadiest ways of doing business imaginable.

It's also a huge roadblock to technological and economic progress.

Remember how in 1875, we didn't have cars? Or planes? Or mass-produced electric lightbulbs? And then, within 30 years, we had all those things?

Also zeppelins. How could I forget zeppelins? Photo by U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command.

That was because people thought, "Hey! Why don't I invent this really cool thing that doesn't exist already so that I can make a ton of money."

But now, all the people who would otherwise be inventing all the cool stuff are saying to themselves, "Hey! Why don't I not invent anything because if I do, I'm just going to get sued by someone who claims to hold the patent on it already."

Don't take it from me. Take it from this super-dense paragraph about how, despite a booming market and high demand, companies have stopped developing software for storing medical images.

"Why, precisely when the market for their product had just taken off, would companies stop innovating? An explanation comes from Catherine Tucker, an economist at MIT who has studied the medical IT sector. In an unpublished study, she shows that the slowdown in R&D occurred as a result of litigation by a company whose primary reason for existing is to acquire the rights to others' inventions and file patent claims against producers of related products — a patent troll. Tucker's study is, to date, one of the best pieces of quantitative evidence of the broken state of America's patent system, a critical concern not just for improving health care but for encouraging the innovation that's needed to ensure future economic prosperity." — Ray Fisman, Slate, April 9, 2012

Or this one, about how companies named in a patent infringement lawsuit are more likely to limit research and development spending.

"Researchers from Harvard and the University of Texas recently examined R&D spending of publicly listed firms that had been sued by patent trolls. They compared firms where the suit was dismissed, representing a clear win for the defendant, to those where the suit was settled or went to final adjudication (typically much more costly). As in the previous paper, this comparison helped them isolate the effect of lawsuits from other factors. They found that when lawsuits were not dismissed, firms reduced their R&D spending by $211 million and reduced their patenting significantly in subsequent years. The reduction in R&D spending represents a 48% decline." — James Bessen, Harvard Business Review, Nov. 2014

There's a bill currently kicking around Congress that seeks to limit this. And shockingly, it has support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Honestly, we're too bored to fight over this one. Image by Chuck Kennedy.

But delays have stacked up and opposition has grown, due in large part to pressure from lobbyists for trial lawyers.

If this whole terrible thing gets you steamed up and you'd like to translate your anger into productivity instead of deep self-loathing at your own powerlessness, what are you waiting for? You have a senator!

Call that guy or lady right now and tell them to vote for this thing.

I would link their number for you, but only you know where you live. So go Google it!

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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