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Apple Number One Target for Patent Trolls With 171 Cases in Five Years

Apple is the number one target for "patent trolls", with 171 cases total in the last five years, according to PatentFreedom (via Fortune). This puts the company ahead of Hewlett Packard, currently in second place with 137 cases, and Samsung, with 133. Dell, Sony, HTC, and LG all made the top 10 with a combined 1,218 cases between them.

patenttroll
A patent troll, or "non-practicing entity" (NPE) is defined by research firm PatentFreedom as "any entity that earns or plans to earn the majority of its revenue from the licensing or enforcement of its patents".

Michael Brody, an intellectual property specialist at Winston & Strawn, told an audience at Stanford University earlier this week that a patent, "is nothing more or less than a license to sue someone" and claimed that in 2012, more than 4,200 separate companies or individuals were sued by NPEs, with the average licensing cost for cases settled out of court being around $29.75 million.

Since 2004 onwards, the number of lawsuits involving NPEs has risen sharply and PatentFreedom has reported a 1300 percent increase in cases between 2004 and 2013. The site suggests that this may be due to a 100 percent increase in the number of patents granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) during the same period.

Over the years, Apple has faced litigation from a number of patent-holding companies like Lodsys, which targeted app developers over in-app purchases, and VirnetX, a company that was awarded $368.2 million over VPN connectivity in Facebook in 2012.

Apple faces a new lawsuit filed today by Remote Locator Systems, alleging that Apple's "Find My Friends" and "Find My iPhone" apps violate a patent held by the company.

Top Rated Comments

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15 months ago

Live by the sword, die by the sword

the biggest patent troller just got trolled. maybe now will apple learn something and stop this.

Are you under the impression that Apple is a non-practicing entity for some reason?
Rating: 13 Votes
15 months ago

So, exactly how would research based companies like Alcatel-Lucent, which do their own research and sell that IP, make money? Some companies (and universities!) butter their bread with IP they produce themselves and without producing much else.


Here's the problem: It's absolutely fine for these companies to get paid for something that I want to do, and that I cannot figure out myself. If Apple had looked into the patent database 171 times for things they couldn't figure out themselves, copied what they found, and used it without paying, they would deserve to be sued.

But that's not what is happening. Companies get patents for things that are so obvious that normal software developers put these methods into their products without having copied anything, and without realising they are doing something that someone was awarded a patent for, and definitely without realising they are doing something that is supposedly so clever that it deserves a patent.

But finally, what argument do you have that these research companies should have the right to prevent me from inventing things myself? There is a good argument for copyright. If you do the hard work to write a book, or some music, or some software, then I shouldn't be allowed to _copy_ what you did. But it would be absurd to think that I shouldn't be allowed to write a book, or music, or software, just before you did so first. But that's what patent law says. Just because someone "invented" something, I'm not allowed to invent it. There's no reason why this would have to be so. Might be tough for some companies, but then the car was tough for makers of horse carriages.
Rating: 13 Votes
15 months ago

Live by the sword, die by the sword


"We've patented the Hell out of this thing, and we intend to protect our intellectual property" -- to paraphrase Steve Jobs during his iPhone presentation.

2007: Ballmer laughed. "No physical keyboard!" he bellowed. Most people couldn't see the point in an iPhone; over-engineering a problem that doesn't exist, they said. "Apple to add a physical slidy-keyboard in the next iPhone", everybody hoped (yes, really, there was a huge amount of speculation about that).

RIM laughed, and kept their phones the way they had their phones. Phones running Android slowly took away keys and made them more touch-oriented -- but that took some time.

Then everybody suddenly claims Apple are patent trolls, because now companies argue 'there's no other way to do a phone'. 'There's no other way to do zooming', oh, 'Apple have patented a rectangle. Hurr durr hurr.'

I think you'd feel much differently about your intellectual property had you sunk millions into R&D, hardware, software, supply chain, agreements with carriers where your phone is your phone -- the lot. Apple put their balls on the line, and the rest reap the rewards.

And what happens? 6 years later, we're reading "live by the sword, die by the sword" comments. This is MacRumours FFS, it's meant to be a community of Apple enthusiasts, not a community of people scrambling to write their oh-so-witty comment first.
Rating: 12 Votes
15 months ago
We need a reform in our patent system. It completely blows and allows leeches to mooch off company's efforts. Regardless if said company is Apple or not. Patent trolls stifle innovation everywhere.
Rating: 11 Votes
15 months ago

So, exactly how would research based companies like Alcatel-Lucent, which do their own research and sell that IP, make money? Some companies (and universities!) butter their bread with IP and without producing much else.


They could license the patent. Patent trolls are people who buy patents from those companies then sue other companies. No one would really have a problem with the company that developed the patent suing, unless it is a bogus patent.
Rating: 7 Votes
15 months ago

They could license the patent. Patent trolls are people who buy patents from those companies then sue other companies. No one would really have a problem with the company that developed the patent suing, unless it is a bogus patent.


Well, IP companies make their money by licensing their patent, so it is in their best interest to do so. Large companies tend to flip them off and steal their IP under the assumption that if they try to sue, most likely their IP will be invalidated or they'll just be buried. Which is a safe bet, so smaller companies sell their IP to larger clearing houses, or at least sell the rights to distribute the IP to larger clearing houses, so they don't have to put up with these shenanigans.

On the other hand, if they don't want to license, because it is THEIR PROPERTY, and they plan to commercially exploit it differently, that's their right as an inventor.

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Does this make Kodak a patent troll now?


Yes. And apparently any other company that does research and produces IP as a product. As a matter of fact, if all you have is IP for sale, you're basically a Somali pirate trying to stifle the brilliance of HP in their endless pursuit to make another paper munching beige box. Apparently, according to the internet, you're not allowed to do that or you're a "troll".
Rating: 7 Votes
15 months ago
Live by the sword, die by the sword
Rating: 5 Votes
15 months ago
So, exactly how would research based companies like Alcatel-Lucent, which do their own research and sell that IP, make money? Some companies (and universities!) butter their bread with IP they produce themselves and without producing much else.

For that matter, what about smaller startup companies that are financed based on their IP. Blanket reform of patents would kill investment in technology spinoffs since the first thing investors ask is "Is it patented"? So startups and spin offs, which likely will produce more IP on their way to producing a product, are in a position of defending their IP against anyone who even remotely attempts to use it... Until they have a product (if they ever do) their whole worth is in IP... NOTHING ELSE!

So, it might be fun to beat up on "big companies that troll patents" but maybe big companies should actually pay attention to their patent searches and stop trying to screw over everyone else.
Rating: 5 Votes
15 months ago
Software patents are plain stupid. They limit innovation, favor big companies and in most cases they just describe obvious approaches.

I doubt that we had today's computers if the same legal framework were in place in the 70s.
Rating: 4 Votes
15 months ago


VirnetX, a company that was awarded $368.2 million over VPN connectivity in Facebook in 2012.



VPN connectivity in Facebook? I think you meant Facetime. It's good to see that nobody proofreads articles anymore. Virnetx is made up of employees that worked for SAIC, and invented a way of easily communicating securely between two devices without the need to log in with usernames or passwords of any kind. They developed this technology for the CIA! This technology is the backbone of what makes "Facetime" and "imessage" so great. You can securely chat with your friend across the globe without ever logging in with any passwords or usernames. Your connection is established so that the conversation goes directly from your device to your friend's device and not through any sort of servers that are operated by apple or anybody else. There is no way for apple or the government to spy on your conversation through Facetime, even if they wanted to. This is a remarkable technology that was developed for the CIA. They then took their patents and left SAIC and decided to license out their technology for everybody to use, since it was such a great idea. Apple decided to steal the technology and use it to sell more apple products. Almost every Apple commercial that I have seen on TV lately has been for "Facetime". It is a great app and it works flawlessly, but there is a reason for that, and the people that invented the technology should be compensated for it in the form of a license.
Rating: 4 Votes

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