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July 15th, 2015

Patent Trolls Working Overtime

Unified Patents LogoThe trolls are still at it. In spite of the fact that the Supreme Court was busy ruling against them last year — between January and June it ruled against patent holders six times — the number of cases being brought by non-practicing entities (NPE), which is one measure of a troll, continues to rise. According to a report published in June by patent defense organization UnifiedPatents, there will be about eight thousand tech related patent disputes this year, with over six thousand of these expected to go to trial.

Unified Patents Graph

The numbers really get interesting when we compare the number of cases brought by NPEs with those brought by companies that actually make products covered by their patents. In the first half of this year, NPEs initiated 2,075 cases in District Court, compared with 975 initiated by non-NPEs. While the cases being brought by non-NPEs remains relatively steady — with 949 and 963 cases being brought respectively in the two halves of 2014 — the numbers for NPEs is on the rise: They only initiated 1,797 cases in the first half of last year and 1293 in the second — much fewer than this year.

Unified Patents Graph

The report also points out that the infamous Eastern District of Texas — the patent holders’ friend — continues to grow in importance as a venue for settling patent disputes. In fact, this year the Marshall, Texas courthouse passed the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) as the top venue for patent disputes. Indeed, the good ol’ boys and girls in East Texas have been pretty busy, as already this year 1,389 cases have had at least some dealings with the court. With that many lawyers travelling through town, all needing lawyer quality food and lodging, the hospitality business in Marshall must be booming.

Unified Patents Graph

Another interesting metric: Cases involving tech make up the lion’s share of all patent disputes, with the number for 2015 so far above 2,500. Compare that with a little over 500 for medical patents, or less than 900 for all other patent disputes. It seems that the trolls love tech as much as do those who earn their livings developing tech products.

Unified Patents Graph

What this means, of course, is that despite some big wins that severely limited the patent trolls abilities, they’re still with us and aren’t about to go away quietly. They’re still a threat to free tech and will be for the foreseeable future. In other words, it looks as if our friends at the Open Invention Network and other organizations that are fighting the good fight have their work cut out for them.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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