Patent reform advocates have long argued that "patent trolls"—companies that do nothing but sue over patents—are harmful to innovation, not just a plague on big companies. A new study attempted to find out if there's any real data behind that accusation or if it's just a few sad anecdotes.
Turns out there is a very real, and very negative, correlation between patent troll lawsuits and the venture capital funding that startups rely on. A just-released study [PDF] by Catherine Tucker, a professor of marketing at MIT's Sloan School of Business, finds that over the last five years, VC investment "would have likely been $21.772 billion higher... but for litigation brought by frequent litigators."
The study defines "frequent litigators" as companies that file 20 or more patent lawsuits, which limits the definition to true-blue "patent trolls," or Patent Assertion Entities (PAEs), the term used by the paper. The study covers the period from 1995 to 2012.
Tucker's paper estimates a 95 percent confidence interval for the amount of lost investment to be between $8.1 billion and $41.8 billion. Those numbers are relative to a baseline of just under $131 billion of investment that actually occurred during that five-year period time.