Searching for Patent Trolls

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During the past few weeks, I’ve heard the term “patent troll” repeated over and over again in patent-related blog posts and news articles. At the beginning of March, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report entitled “The Evolving IP Marketplace: A Patent Notice and Remedies with Competition” (PDF). How is the mysterious term “patent troll” related to this lengthy government report? According to Angus Loten over at the Wall Street Journal , this report is “singling out ‘patent assertion entities’ – or so-called ‘patent trolls’ as they’re known in the information technology sector – for raising costs and risks in the patent system without contributing to innovation.”

So a “patent troll” is a company that buys up patents and sues other companies for patent infringement, even though the patent trolls don’t produce or improve upon the patents themselves. I decided to try searching for the patents belonging to an alleged patent troll, to see if they hoarded a specific type of patent. I used the search system Questel’s Orbit.com to conduct the search. Read on to learn how I searched for the patent trolls!


First, I had to find a patent troll. I chose to search for a company that has been mentioned recently in the news for suing multiple corporations in a specific technological field for patent infringement. Let’s call this company, for the sake of anonymity, Company A.

I had my target: Company A. Now, I wanted to find all the patents belonging to it.

First, I opened my patent search system and chose the “Assignee” field as the area in which I would search the patents.  The “Assignee” field refers to the owner of the patent.

Search the Assignee field.

Search the Assignee field.

Second, I used the “Corporate Tree” function to locate the exact company name of “Company A”, as well as any subsidiaries.  I searched for the general term “Company A” and found the specific company name “Company A Inc.”

Find the company name through the Corporate Tree.

Find the company name through the Corporate Tree.

The Corporate Tree only located one company with the title “Company A”, so I searched for this company as the assignee. According to the Corporate Tree, Company A also has two subsidiaries, Subsidiary 1 and Subsid. 2. I searched for all three of these companies as the assignees, and I used the boolean operator “OR” between each assignee.

Company A and subsidiaries are listed as the assignees for 1003 patents. I viewed the list of search results, so I could further analyze it.

View the list of search results.

View the list of search results.

Next, I selected “select all families”, and then I chose to view the top US classifications for all selected results. I could also view top ECLA, IPC, F-Index, or F-Term classifications on this particular search system.

Select all results, and view top US classifications.

Select all results, and view top US classifications.

Finally, I clicked on the US classification in order to view it’s definition.

Click on classifications to view definitions.

Click on classifications to view definitions.

For Company A, one of the top US classifications listed on it’s holdings is 327/158– “miscellaneous active electrical nonlinear devices, circuits, and systems […] with variable delay means.” This classification, as well as other top US and international classifications, can help the searcher identify the technical field in which this “patent assertion entity” specializes.

If you hear about a company buying up a lot of patents, try conducting an assignee search in order to see if they are accumulating patents in a specific field. It’s always good to identify the “patent assertion entities” in your technical field. If you have any other tips about identifying patent trolls or their holdings, please let us know in the comments!

Patent Searches from Landon IP

This post was contributed by Joelle Mornini. The Intellogist blog is provided for free by Intellogist’s parent company, Landon IP, a major provider of patent search, technical translation, and information services.

10 Responses

  1. Sadly, the term patent troll gets kicked around a lot. While some companies fit the definition, the moniker gets applied to all sorts of patent holders that probably don’t deserve it. Interesting investigation you performed – a good way to see tendencies and moving currents in the patent market.

    • Hi
      This is very interesting article. thanks for sharing. My company is world’s one of the biggest FMCG. I would like to search any possible threats from patent trolls, can anyone guide me the search strategy you would use. I cannot use for any particular technology as we deal with lots of technologies and file around 30K patents per year.

  2. I completely agree, it seems that individuals or corporations often use the term against other entities during patent litigation in order to tear down the reputation of their opponent. There was a great article over at BusinessWeek.com called “Debunking the ‘Patent Troll” Myth” that defends the work of nonpracticing entities who invest in buying up patents. Its a good read, check it out at http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/feb2010/tc2010021_330487.htm

  3. You’re right – the troll label really depends on the perspective of the person dubbing the label. The article you link to does a nice job of explaining the unfortunate critique of independetn inventors. America depends on normal people with great ideas, and those people shouldn’t be penalized or criticized because just because they can’t bring a product to market. If they have a great idea, want to patent and sell it, it may be more efficient for a larger company to purchase the patent and develop it in their place. To call them trolls….

  4. The technique you describe above will be ineffectual for any sophisticated non-practicing entity (“troll”). It is common practice in the NPE field to use holding companies registered off-shore to obscure the true owner. An assignee search will be nearly worthless in those cases.

    There are techniques for assembling lists of holding companies related to particular NPEs, but they require work outside of the patent databases.

    • A point well taken Patrick. Some of that would be captured by looking up subsidiaries as was shown in the example (and there are many alternative ways to do so), but business intelligence research is required for any in-depth project.

  5. That’s a good point. Thank you for your input.

  6. I find the PAE/NPE aspect quite interesting. Many have long noted that there is a need to differentiate between NPEs such as universities and those other entities who abuse the system through arguably-excessive patent litigation. Whatever one’s position on the “patent troll” issue, there are bad actors in any given group, and such abusive behavior should not unfairly serve to malign the entire group; therefore, distinguishing between those bad actors and other NPEs may be helpful in narrowing the focus and the terms of the debate over patent trolls.

    • I completely agree, many NPEs have legitimate reasons for their large holdings. These comments have made me look more closely at my own use of the label, and I can now see I’ve used it too liberally at times.

  7. […] special thanks to commenter Arizona Patent Attorney, and his insightful comments on the “Troll Searching” post. They made me think about […]

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