Even rich, obnoxious comedians can't afford to fight patent trolls

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on March 4, 2014

From The News Desk

The fight against patent trolls is taking place on many battlefronts. We have folks fighting on a smaller, state-law level, others working at the national legislative side, then those who have taken it to a judicial level. All together, we have a multimillion-dollar war crusading against a multimillion-dollar business.

Now we have a new, unlikely soldier added to the ranks: Adam Carolla, comedian and generally immature human being, and he's turned to crowdfunding to help fund his fight.

Early last year, Carolla and others were hit with a lawsuit from a patent troll over his widely popular podcast. The troll, a non-operating company called Personal Audio, claims that it owns patents for such ubiquitous online products as podcasts and playlists. For over a year the company has been seeking damages from companies like NBC, Fox, CBS, and Ace Broadcasting (which broadcasts Carolla's popular show).

Carolla has launched FundAnything campaign to help finance his legal costs against Personal Audio. In addition to being a comedian he is now "leading the fight against Patent Trolls." (I suppose hyperbole is a necessary part of comedy.) A donation of $5 gets you the "Troll Fighter Digital Pak," which contains unspecified "exclusive materials" (the mind reels) while $20 means you receive four full-size posters. Five grand will get you and a guest a private tour of Carolla Digital, where you can watch genius in the making and observe the show as it's taped.

While my guess is that Carolla isn't none-too-poor himself (I mean, with such great programs as The Man Show and Crank Yankers to his name, how could he be?), the price of fighting back is truly exorbitant and can take years. This is primarily because trolls, which can be well funded, try to extend these battles for as long as possible to bleed a settlement from their targets.

I reached out to Carolla yesterday but was told that he is so busy he couldn't sit still for a five-minute conversation until April. Not the smartest PR move for someone launching a public campaign aimed at eliciting general sympathy. So don't knock yourself out donating.

So I turned to Julie Samuels from the Electronic Frontier Foundations who works as the foundation's staff attorney, as well as the "Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents." She told me she has been on Carolla's show a few times to talk about the issue of patent trolls, although this specific FundAnything campaign is not one aided directly by EFF.

What Carolla's campaign does do is show that even those with more money than the average Joe cannot afford to litigate these cases. "Patent litigation is outrageous expensive," she says. That's why "the vast majority of patent troll cases never make it to the end... They rely on making early settlements."

At the same time, Personal Audio probably got more than it bargained for after hitting Carolla with the suit. He has taken the last year to stand on as many soapboxes as he could find to let people know what's going on. Eliciting the ire of a somewhat well-known comedian is just asking for trouble. "[Carolla] was a funny choice on Personal Audio's part," Samuels says.

So far, the campaign has raised almost $35,000 and there doesn't seem to be an exact target (which may just be a fault with how FundAnything designs its pages). The general idea is that this case is going to go on for a while, so every dollar helps. Samuels sees anyone fighting back as the best way to help stop the culture around patent trolling -- so often they sue, the companies cower, and no one hears how bad it actually is.

We'll have to wait to find out how Carolla's case ends up. It would be funny if he settles and as a result is prevented from disclosing the terms. That might be the first time in his life he is at a loss for words. Until then, perhaps in a month Carolla will have that one extra minute to provide a quote about his campaign.

[Image via whatwouldtotowatch]