How patent trolls operate

Infographic: Patents, intended to encourage innovation, have spawned an unintended creature: the patent troll. Here's how you can get something for nothing—if you have the capital.

Courts long ago recognized an inventor’s right to benefit from innovation, laying the foundation for modern intellectual property law. But this spawned an unintended creature: the patent troll. That’s a derisive term for an entity that acquires patents solely for the purpose of suing others for infringement, much like the folkloric monsters that extracted tolls for the right to cross a bridge. The latest mutations are called mass aggregators—secretive organizations that are basically trolls on steroids. They “operate on a scale and at a level of sophistication and complexity that would have been unimaginable a decade ago,” write Tom Ewing and Robin Feldman, two American academics, in a recent paper analyzing such entities. Here’s how mass aggregators operate.