The Ethical and Legal Implications of Information Systems
Sidebar: What Is a Patent Troll?
The advent of digital technologies has led to a large increase in patent filings and therefore a large number of patents being granted. Once a patent is granted, it is up to the owner of the patent to enforce it. If someone is found to be using the invention without permission, the patent holder has the right to sue to force that person to stop and to collect damages.
The rise in patents has led to a new form of profiteering called patent trolling. A patent troll is a person or organization who gains the rights to a patent but does not actually make the invention that the patent protects. Instead, the patent troll searches for those who are illegally using the invention in some way and sues them. In many cases the infringement being alleged is questionable at best. For example, companies have been sued for using Wi-Fi or for scanning documents, technologies that have been on the market for many years.
Recently, the U.S. government has begun taking action against patent trolls. Several pieces of legislation are working their way through the U.S. Congress that will, if enacted, limit the ability of patent trolls to threaten innovation. You can learn a lot more about patent trolls by listening to a detailed investigation conducted by the radio program This American Life.