My biggest fear is that all the really valuable and very broad patents that qualify as crap have been granted, and we're merely in the midst of the "long tail" of patent applications. How can we fix the problem of the 30,000+ patents that have the potential of ruining startups? Is there a speedy, non-lawyer-required way of killing companies' patents by proving they're obvious or that they already exist?
No, there is no way that is quick and inexpensive. Patents are presumed valid and the least difficult way to try to knock one down is an ex parte reexamination. Anyone can file a request based on submitting published documents and an explanation as to how they apply to which claims, and $6000. The patent office gets 3 months to decide if there is a "significant new question of patentablity". If not you get your $6000 back. If so, they proceed to examine it again, but with "special dispatch". At the end a reexamination certificate is issued that might say everything is fine, some claims are changed, some or all claims are gone. The requestor does not get to participate after sending it in.
No lawyer is technically required. You could draw it up yourself, or you can use a registered practitioner. That includes patent attorneys and patent agents. If one were actually spending $6000 in USPTO fees, another few thousand to get it done professionally seems wise.
My idea was to create an online system which allows defendants which are accused of patent infringement to find other defendants in the same situation, being sued or threatened to be sued. This would allow several defendants to combine resources and take down some of the patent trolls. Perhaps it could be an addition to this awesome website!
Crowdfunding and crowdresearching patent invalidation suits can really put a dent in the patent trolling industry.
To add to Mr. White's answer, there is also inter partes reexamination, in which you can actively participate in the process. Cost is higher, and each new submission requires additional fees.
Also, "another few thousand to get it done professionally" is a bit low. :-) I suppose you could find someone to do the filing for cheap, but really, to do it professionally, you're talking five figures, and not necessarily low five figures.