Patent ‘Trolls’: Rent-Seeking Parasites or Innovation-Facilitating Middlemen?

18 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2011

See all articles by Shawn P. Miller

Shawn P. Miller

University of San Diego School of Law; Stanford Law School

Date Written: April 26, 2010


Non-practicing entities (NPEs), a.k.a. patent "trolls", have been disparaged as wasteful rent-seekers who assert patents that are credible as litigation weapons but weak in innovative value. Others, however, view NPEs as beneficial middlemen between capital-constrained inventors and technology producers. In this paper I analyze the characteristics of NPE-litigated patents and NPE litigation opponents. I find evidence that supports both the negative and positive view of NPEs: NPEs do litigate broader patents in complex technologies consistent with the hold-up theory of NPE patent litigation. However, consistent with the view they are beneficial middlemen, NPEs are more likely than practicing firms to assert patents originally obtained by individuals or foreign inventors.

Keywords: Patent, Litigation, NPE

JEL Classification: K41, O34

Suggested Citation

Miller, Shawn Patrick, Patent ‘Trolls’: Rent-Seeking Parasites or Innovation-Facilitating Middlemen? (April 26, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Shawn Patrick Miller (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States

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Stanford Law School ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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