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Patent Trolls: What’s in a Name?

When we talk about patent trolls, it’s seldom in a good light. The idea of a shell company ripping patents and money from small inventors and startups that could have America’s next big innovation, makes us want to take them all down. But what’s in the moniker?

A Name Rooted in Harm?

The term ‘patent troll’ has in recent language been used as a jokey identifier that gained widespread use in the tech and patent spheres. Some trolls, however, are trying to use this to their legal advantage by doing what they do best… threatening to sue.

A Patent Assertion Entity called Automated Transactions, LLC, sued when they claimed that the use of the term ‘patent troll’ classified as defamation. Defamation is the legal act of damaging one’s reputation. In New Hampshire, the Supreme Court ruled against this, stating that the term is subjective opinion, not a defamatory claim. They also ruled that the term has no sure definition, making it hard to objectively classify certain behavior as something that warrants the name ‘patent troll’ in a defamatory way.

So, where did the term come from?

Patent Troll Origins

In the late 1980’s, the term ‘patent troll’ first appeared. Thanks to the tech boom of the late 90’s, the use of the word became more widely used, but it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that the term became ubiquitous. Now whenever there is talk of patents, the term ‘patent troll’ is bound to pop up.

Patent trolls have only been brought into light in the last decade or so, as the practice has exploded, much to the chagrin of the invention and entrepreneurial industry. In fact, many of the famous inventors who we embrace today as original innovators have more in common with patent trolls than we’d like to admit.

Thomas Edison, for example, who is famous for inventing the light bulb and many other products, actually claimed credit for many of his inventions, although they were first created by others. He just happened to conveniently make money and notoriety off of them. Other notable inventors in history also did this.

Though patent trolls seem to plague the invention market today, they have a long history. Only time and legislation will tell the true impact they could have on the future of innovation.

Global Patent Solutions understands that patent trolls harm the livelihoods of innocent inventors, so we work to ensure that inventors’ ideas don’t already have prior art available, setting them up for a successful future. For more information, contact us today.