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

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!

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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