By Eliza Mergenmeier



Patent trolls have a strong presence in the United States Patent Office, which is a concern for technological innovation.[1] For those who do not know, a patent in the U.S. is a grant to own a twenty-year monopoly over a useful, novel, and non-obvious invention.[2] An owner of a patent must continue paying the fee on the patent for it to be legally enforceable, thus, if an owner fails to make payments, the patent will expire earlier than the twenty-year period.[3] This is when patent trolls come into the picture.

Patent trolls take advantage of companies or inventors struggling to make payments. The trolls will then buy out the struggling company’s patents and exercise ownership over the inventions they did not create.[4] Once the patent troll owns the patent, they will send out letters threatening legal action to people they suspect of infringement.[5] In this letter, the troll typically threatens “legal action unless the alleged infringer agrees to pay a licensing fee,” which can be extremely costly.[6] Essentially, patent trolls are big bullies who take advantage of the little guys and then assert their dominance over others.

Though the issue might not get enough recognition on primetime television, during President Obama’s second term, the former president issued executive actions to prevent the impact of patent trolls.[7] Some features of the executive order include implementing a tactic to increase transparency during patent litigation.[8] Further, the executive order aimed at expanding outreach to patent holders to explain their current issues, including demonstrating data trends and exposing the issues concerning abusive patent litigation.[9]

However, roughly ten years later, the majority of patent lawsuits filed in 2022 were filed by patent trolls.[10] Thus, despite Present Obama’s fervent effort to reduce these numbers, it appears to be a more difficult task. Even though federal legislation is probably the most helpful to combat patent trolls, private companies, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have formed to protect speech and privacy.[11] The EFF takes on cases they believe will become important precedents for the world of technology.[12] The EFF gets involved in cases to demand more transparency and disclosure from the courts during patent cases because “patent trolls rely on secrecy to perpetuate their business.”[13] Thus, one of their main techniques is requiring disclosure about the funds behind patent litigation.[14]

The United States patent system is rooted in this idea of the inventor as a patent holder; therefore, if patent trolls increase in size, fewer inventors will dominate the patent industry. Trolls are not looking to build upon these inventions and create something useful for the public benefit. Rather, trolls are businesses looking to make quick and easy money. Big businesses already own so much of the industry, and these new tactics only allow more businesses to infiltrate the patent system without doing any grunt work on the front end. People need to be aware and care about these issues because they present problems for the progress of science and technology.




[1] Patent Trolls, EFF, (last visited Feb. 2, 2023).

[2] 35 USC §§ 101­–103.

[3] United States Pat. Trademark Off.,or%20for%20statutory%20invention%20registrations.

[4] Supra note 1.

[5] Supra note 1.

[6] Id.

[7] Gene Sperling, Taking on Patent Trolls to Protect American Innovation, Obama White House, (June 4, 2013, 1:55 PM),,to%20encourage%20innovation%20and%20invention.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Joe Mullin, Seeing Patent Trolls Clearly: 2022 in Review, EFF, (Jan. 1, 2023).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.


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