What is a Patent Troll?
The most basic definition of a patent troll is an individual or company that obtains patents in bad faith and then proceeds to misuse them to assist with business strategy. Often, they gain their patents through purchasing them; the most common sellers are companies facing bankruptcy. They will then use the patents they’ve obtained to launch infringement lawsuits against companies in order to gain a profit. Patent trolls also commonly lay on their patents in hopes of halting the productivity of other establishments.
History of the Term
Although not definite, other common terms for patent trolls are patent-holding companies (PHCs), patent assertion entities (PAEs), or non-practicing entities (NPEs). The term “patent troll” itself gained notoriety in the early 1990s when a video depicting a troll rushing into offices and swiping patents from their original owners was released to companies. The goal of the film was to alert people to the growing presence of unethical litigants in the business world, and how it may harm them.
The Effect of Patent Trolls on Business
Patent trolls are a hot topic of debate, but their effect on companies and the overall economy of the United States is no mystery. Not only are they a plague to large corporations, but they have played a big part in discouraging start-up businesses. People grow fearful of the infringement lawsuits perpetrated by trolls, and for good reason. In 2011 alone, they cost U.S companies over $27 billion in cost. Not only that, but a study out of MIT’s Sloan School of Business indicated that investment in startups and otherwise smaller establishments would have been $21.772 billion dollars higher if it had not been for the frequency of patent trolls’ litigation.
Laws Regarding Patent Trolls
There has been a variety of legislation, both proposed and passed, with goals of limiting the power of these companies. A notable example is the Innovation Act of 2013, which would have made it more difficult for non-practicing entities to file frivolous or vague lawsuits. It passed in the House, but was put on indefinite hold in the Senate in 2014 and left to collect dust.
A version of a bill known as the Patent Act has recently been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Although it has the same goal as the Innovation Act, its proposals are a little different. First, it raises the requirements necessary to file a legitimate patent lawsuit. Plaintiffs must clearly indicate which of their patents are being infringed upon and explain why, among other things. Not only that, but it lays out conditions stating that the loser in an infringement suit must pay for the winner’s legal fees. This will weed out the patent trolls who like to file lawsuits despite knowing they will lose in court. Furthermore, it sets limits to the amount of “discovery” that occurs during lawsuits. Discovery is the amount of work that either side involved in a lawsuit must do to produce evidence in their favor. Startups and smaller businesses must often settle during infringement lawsuits because they cannot afford to produce favorable evidence. If passed, this legislation will hopefully put an end to a lot of unsavory patent abuse and improve economical conditions.