PublishedMarch 4, 2014

Patent Trolls Keep On Suing

Well, the numbers are in for 2013, and it seems that patent trolling shows no signs of slowing down. According to RPX, trolls sued over 4,800 companies last year, up from the 4,282 they sued in 2012.

Now, some argue that it’s not patent trolls that are the problem; it’s big companies “stripping garage inventors of their rights.” What are poor patent trolls to do?

As I said a panel this past Friday, with apologies to Shakespeare,

Hath not a patent troll eyes? Hath not a patent troll hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick a patent troll, does it not bleed?

(Yes, I did say this, which is why you should try to attend any panel I’m on.)

Seriously, do you expect us to believe that, for example, Google and Apple ripped off a few “geniuses” a month in 2013?

The number of companies targeted by entities that do nothing but make money from patent litigation is increasing steadily. The Government Accountability Office, for example, which was fairly conservative in its estimates, found that the number quadrupled from 2007 to 2011.

When you start to look at the scale of the patent trolling, it becomes harder and harder to swallow the argument that this is mostly inventors (and their proxies) defending their hard work.

Yes, it’s possible that the number of companies intentionally ripping off innocent inventors quadrupled over a five year period, and increased 13% from 2012 to 2013 (notwithstanding all the media coverage of extraordinary damages in patent cases coming out at the same time).

But isn’t it more likely that this growth in patent trolling represents a simple expansion of a profitable industry? I’m thinking that Occam’s Razor (which suggests that the theory with the fewest assumptions is most likely the correct one) supports this explanation.

Not that I expect the argument that big companies are a bunch of thieves to go away. As Upton Sinclair famously said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Matt Levy

Previously, Matt was patent counsel at the Computer & Communications Industry Association

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