The complexities of patent law do not seem like fertile ground for comedy, but an independent filmmaker in Austin, Texas, hopes his new movie, "The Trolls," can both educate and entertain. Lex Lybrand said his film is about a tech start-up that creates a cellphone battery that never dies, but the company "loses everything that they've built to a patent troll, and they decide to fight back in an unconventional way."
His inspiration? Adam Carolla. "I'm glad my pain can bring you such creative freedom," Carolla told Lybrand this week when the two met for the first time inside the comedian's garage/studio in Glendale, California. "I'm the wind beneath your wings," Carolla deadpanned. "Not the right kind of wind," replied Lybrand, before shyly adding, "Sorry bad joke." "Yeah," Carolla agreed.
Lybrand is an avid podcast listener, and he followed Carolla's own saga against a so-called patent troll two years ago. The nickname has been given to companies which own a portfolio of patents and make a living either licensing the technology, or suing those who appear to violate the patents.
In Carolla's case, he was sued by Texas-based Personal Audio in 2014. The company claimed the way he sequentially distributed his podcast violated a patent it had going back to 1996. "It's still unclear what it is that we did," said Carolla. "They make a business of buying technology that they didn't create and then finding ways to sue to extract money."
He believes the firm figured he'd just write a check to make the problem go away, but Carolla decided to fight. "They picked on someone with a microphone."
The comedian started a crowdfunding site to raise money from fans to help finance his defense, eventually bringing in close to $500,000. He added about $200,000 out of his own pocket. "The first $75,000 we wasted just trying to get a change of venue," he said. East Texas is considered friendly territory for these lawsuits, and Carolla claims it's become a cottage industry in the area. "Guess who's got to get on an airplane? Guess who needs to stay in a hotel? Guess who needs to eat at a diner? Guess who needs an occasional prostitute?" He was joking about that last part ...
Still, Carolla was ready to fly to Texas as much as he had to. "We swore that we were going to fight," he said, "because once they're done with me, they're going to go after Joe Rogan and whoever else is podcasting next." Eventually, Personal Audio dropped the case though the firm has won previous judgments against Apple and CBS.
CNBC reached out to Personal Audio for comment, and has not heard back.
Lybrand wanted to highlight this tech industry dilemma in the movie, because few people outside of tech even know what a patent troll is. When he does explain the term, Lybrand said people have a universal reaction. "They're disgusted. Nobody says, 'Well, wait, there's probably another side to this story.'" By the way, the movie was funded for about $20,000 by an anti-patent troll law firm in Austin called Cesari-Reed.
There's nothing illegal about owning a legitimate patent and suing someone infringing on it, but critics say there are so many patents which can be interpreted in so many ways that it stifles innovation. Carolla calls patent trolling more "pernicious" than squatting on domain names. "I can at least choose to buy my name back from AdamCarolla.com, or say, 'No it's not worth fifty grand to me.' My dad says it's worth almost nothing," he joked. "When you're sued by a patent troll, you can't just be a conscientious objector ... you're getting dragged to Texas, and you're going to get sued."
Carolla said he made a fuss about patent law to try to get politicians to "step in and do something about it." Which seemed like a good opening to ask him about the presidential election this year. "It's great for all of us who do any kind of commentating on it," he laughed. Carolla said he hasn't decided yet whom to vote for, but it's a choice between two losers. "It's the weirdest thing, but it's like you can be a C- student which is not good, a C- or D+ student, but if you have an older brother who's in juvie (juvenile hall), you'll be fine....You can go, 'At least I'm not Kurt! Kurt's in juvie!'"
So, who's Kurt? Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Carolla won't say. When asked if he's voting for Trump, the comedian replied, "I'm undecided, but my ears are open. I definitely don't like Hillary, but I haven't committed."
UPDATED: This story was updated to include Carolla's views on the election.