Thursday, June 12, 2008

What's a patent troll?

Dear Rich: I have a question. What's a patent troll and why does everybody hate them? A patent troll, according to Kirk Teska, author of the book Patent Savvy for Managers: Spot & Protect Valuable Innovations in Your Company (Nolo), is a "derogatory term used to describe a patent owner who sues for patent infringement but who does not make or sell any products using the patent technology." Typically, a patent troll sends many cease and desist letters to companies threatening to sue, but also offering to settle, usually at an amount that is cheaper than proceeding with the litigation. The result is that many companies agree to pay a "license fee" rather than battle what may prove to be a dubious patent. The term was coined in 2001 by an Intel attorney, referring to the original patent trolls -- attorney Raymond Niro and his client, TechSearch LLC. (Presumably, the troll reference had to do with bridge trolls, creatures who hid under bridges and exacted a toll from passers-by -- or ate them. Kids: don't try that at home.) A lot of people don't like patent trolls (and whole blogs are devoted to tracking their whereabouts). But not everybody hates them. Some consider them unfairly labeled and some inventors get rich through their efforts. And we assume that their families like them, too.