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10-11-12, 11:20 AM
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Trolls have long been the standard villain in patent debates. Often little more than an empty office in East Texas, patent trolls produce no useful products themselves but earn millions of dollars by threatening patent lawsuits against productive companies. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that patent trolls are a serious and growing problem, but until recently there has been little hard data to back up the evidence.

A new study (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2158455) helps to fill the gap by providing systematic data on the growth of patent troll litigation. Robin Feldman, a professor at UC Hastings College of Law, teamed up with Lex Machina, a Stanford Law spinoff that collects data on patent litigation, to compile a systematic survey of patent litigation. Their results are striking: the fraction of lawsuits filed by troll-like entities grew from 22 percent in 2007 to 40 percent in 2011.

The study was inspired by the America Invents Act, last year's largely toothless overhaul (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2011/09/mostly-pointless-patent-reform-bill-goes-to-obama-for-signature/) of the patent system. In it, Congress asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the impact of non-practicing entitiesā??a more clinical term for patent trollsā??on the economy. Because Lex Machina already had a database of patent litigation, the GAO asked it to produce a random sample of 100 patent lawsuits for each year from 2007 to 2011. In addition to supplying the GAO with the data it needed for its forthcoming study, Lex Machina decided to publish its own interpretations of the sample.

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