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Money for Nothing: How to Stop 'Patent Trolls' From Stifling Innovation

Money for Nothing: How to Stop 'Patent Trolls' From Stifling Innovation
Photograph by Cannon Films via Everett Collection

When it comes to smothering good ideas, no group does it better than the so-called patent trolls, also known by more flattering euphemisms as “patent assertion entities,” “nonproduct entities,” and “nonpracticing entities.” Whatever you prefer calling them, these “entities” do little more than feed off the work of companies that actually make things.

Deep-pocketed corporations are often the targets of lawsuits brought by patent trolls. According to William J. Watkins Jr., author of the forthcoming book Patent Trolls: Predatory Litigation and the Smothering of Innovation, the world’s most-innovative companies have been hit with hundreds of patent-troll lawsuits since 2009. The result, Watkins notes, is that some of America’s top technology companies in recent years have spent more money on patent litigation and “acquisition”–much of the latter under threat of legal harassment–than on research and development. This is not a healthy sign.