|Written by Gene Quinn
Patent Attorney & Founder of IPWatchdog
Zies, Widerman & Malek
Follow Gene on Twitter @IPWatchdog
Last Updated: April 19, 2014
The term “patent troll” conjures up all kinds of images and ideas, but what is a patent troll? Unfortunately, there is really no universally accepted definition of what a patent troll is, which has lead myself and others to recognize that by and large if you are being sued for patent infringement it is your belief that you are being sued by a patent troll. Sadly, who is and who is not a patent troll is largely in the eye of the beholder.
Still, we are not without at least some recognized industry definition. For those who can look past the surface and do not feel that patent owners are evil simply because they own patents, the term “patent troll” is usually reserved for those who acquire patents from inventors or companies, perhaps through bankruptcy, auction or otherwise, and then turn around and sue giants of industry for patent infringement. In other words, patent trolls are those who simply acquire patents for the sole purpose of suing operating companies. Such a patent troll is typically extremely well funded, they are not engaging in any commerce, so they do not fear a patent infringement counter-claim because they are not infringing, or doing, anything.
It is, however, appropriate to recognize that there is nothing inherently wrong about acquiring a patent and enforcing the rights granted. This has lead many, including myself, to not want to look solely at the business model employed, but rather to focus on the patent litigation tactics employed. Anyone who has objectively looked at the state of patent litigation has to agree that there is real abuse by some patent owners who file patent infringement lawsuits without as much as a hint that the defendant is infringing. Often this type of patent owner is merely looking to obtain settlement for less than nuisance value, knowing that it costs many tens of thousands of dollars to even begin to initiate a patent infringement defense. It is this type of bad-actor who relies on judicial inefficiencies and sues on specious patents that many times are almost certainly not infringed that are the true patent trolls.
This later category of patent troll is starting to turn their focus in an ever increasing manner on small businesses. Small businesses are typically easy targets because many do not have the funding, or desire, to engage in a litigation. They see the offer of a patent license as too attractive to pass up despite the fact that they are not infringing, or that the patent being asserted is likely (or almost certainly) full of invalid claims for which there is much prior art. These bad actors prey on small businesses, banking on the fact that they will pay rather than fight.
Some have turned toward referring to patent trolls using the now popular term “non-practicing entities.” This is a more gentile term, but don’t be fooled. Many of the patent trolls would love to be called non-practicing entities because then they get to compare themselves with those society ought to be celebrating; those who no one in their right mind would ever consider vilifying. Yes, the bad actors who are the prototypical patent trolls are non-practicing entities, but so are Universities, federal laboratories, Research and Development companies and even independent inventors. In fact, Thomas Edison was in the business of innovating and hardly anyone would ever call his motives nefarious, at least those who are subscribers to the capitalist culture. Thus, as the debate has morphed from bad actors to a discussion about “non-practicing entities” reforms are being pursued that would harm all patent owners and weaken all patent rights.
There are ways to combat patent trolls. You don’t need to be a target. In addition to the articles below I recommend those being sued or targeted by a patent troll read: What To Do If You Are Sued for Patent Infringement, The PTAB Roadblock to Patent Monetization, Inter Partes Review: Overview and Statistics, PTAB Death Squads: Are all Patents Invalid?, and Extortion Patent Style. As you will see, the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) is striking down patents at an alarming rate. If you are going to fight as a patent defendant you really must consider filing a petition for inter partes review.
If you have been sued for patent infringement, or if you have received a threatening cease and desist letter, my firm and I can help. To contact me initially please fill out my contact form and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.
Patent Troll Basics
What follows is a sampling of IPWatchdog.com articles on patent trolls, non-practicing entities, patent monetization and related topics.
- Dear Patent Troll: Drop Dead Oct 29 2014
- Reality Check: Patents Foster Innovation and Economic Activity May 08 2014
- Inventing the Smart Phone: Why the ‘Trolls’ Were Saviors May 01 2014
- Fear of the Troll has Many Crying Foul Apr 23 2014
- Identifying the Real Patent Extortionists: A Review of the Extortionist Demand Letter Apr 09 2014
- Overstock Prevails, Patent Trolls Defeated Apr 02 2014
- Obama on Patents: The One-sided USPTO Patent Litigation Beta Feb 26 2014
- Why NPEs Lose Less Often in Court Than Operating Companies Feb 25 2014
- Sued by a Patent Troll? How to Respond to Demand Letters Feb 24 2014
- NY Attorney General Settles Investigation into Patent Troll Jan 14 2014
- Who is a Patent Troll? Jan 07 2014
- Patent Reform: Will Fee-Shifting Solve the Patent Troll Problem? Dec 18 2013
- Massive Litigation Spike in Response to America Invents Act Oct 23 2013
- Fighting Patent Trolls is the REAL Solution Oct 07 2013
- GAO Report Unmasks the Mythical Patent Troll Problem Aug 26 2013
- GAO Report Finds No NPE Patent Litigation Crisis Aug 25 2013
- Patent Troll Epilogue – A Fractured Fairy Tale Part 5 Aug 02 2013
- A Factured Fairytale Part 4: More Patent Troll Myths Aug 01 2013
- A Factured Fairytale Part 3: More Patent Troll Myths Jul 31 2013
- Probing 10 Patent Troll Myths – A Factured Fairytale Part 2 Jul 30 2013
- A Fractured Fairy Tale: Separating Fact & Fiction on Patent Trolls Jul 29 2013
- Exclusive with Ray Niro: The Man They Call the Patent Troll Jul 23 2013
- In Defense of Innovators: An Exclusive Interview with Ray Niro Jul 21 2013
- Déjà vu: Targeting Inventors as the New Boogie Man Jul 11 2013
- A Patent Troll Conversation – One on One with Rachael Lamkin Jun 21 2013
- Obama on Patent Trolls – Much Ado About Nothing Jun 04 2013
- Chief Judge Rader Speaks Out About Patent Litigation Abuse Feb 28 2013
- Troll Turning Point? Federal Circuit Breathes Life into Rule 11 Dec 09 2012
- The Enforcement of Bad Patents is the Problem Dec 03 2012
- New Patent Reform Takes Swing at Patent Trolls Aug 03 2012
- NPE Data Does Not Support the Patent Infringer Lobby Jul 18 2012
- Setting the Record Straight: Patent Trolls vs. Progress May 01 2012
- Patent Litigation Study Discusses Dealing with NPEs Apr 17 2012
- Indicia of Extortion – Federal Circuit Slams Patent Troll Aug 04 2011
- The Problem with Patent Trolls Jul 28 2011
- Extortion Patent Style: Small Business in the Troll Crosshairs May 24 2011
- Patent Litigation: Davids Seeking Many Millions from Goliaths May 18 2011
- Understanding NPEs: Patent Troll Myths Debunked Apr 26 2011
- Patent Trolls: Innovation Vampires Suck Life Out of Economy Dec 14 2010
- Patent Trolls Just a Cost of Doing Business for Big Tech Aug 12 2010
- In Search Of a Definition for the term “Patent Troll” Jul 18 2010
- Patent Trolls: A Conspiratorial Story of Symbiosis Jul 14 2010
- Was Thomas Edison a Patent Troll? Jun 01 2010
- Musings on Patent Trolls & Bad Patents Dec 16 2008
- Defensive Portfolio No Help Against Patent Trolls Nov 24 2008
- Reexamination Would Stop Patent Trolls Nov 18 2008
About the Author
|Eugene R. Quinn, Jr.
President & Founder of IPWatchdog, Inc.
US Patent Attorney (Reg. No. 44,294)
Zies, Widerman & Malek
B.S. in Electrical Engineering, Rutgers University
J.D., Franklin Pierce Law Center
L.L.M. in Intellectual Property, Franklin Pierce Law Center
Send me an e-mail
Gene is a US Patent Attorney and the founder of IPWatchdog.com. Known by many as “The IPWatchdog.” Gene started the widely popular intellectual property website IPWatchdog.com in 1999, and since that time the site has had millions of unique visitors.Gene has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the LA Times, CNN Money and various other newspapers and magazines worldwide. He represents individuals, small businesses and start-up corporations. As an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus his specialty is electronic and computer devices, Internet applications, software and business methods.