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Patent Trolls and how they Affect You

trollTake a moment and picture your daily routine in your mind. What kind of technology do you interact with on a regular basis? I’m betting that one instance includes something like a gas pump, or perhaps an ATM machine. These items have become so common that it’s hard to imagine not having the convenience to stop and get gas whenever your car gets low, or the ability to run through an ATM to keep cash handy as well as make deposits and check up on your finances.

I know that when I think of these two modern conveniences, I see them as one complete unit. I don’t take the time to visualize the inner workings of the machines, in other words, or wonder who made the parts and how they work. Patent trolls, however, do just that – and the results can be devastating to businesses and consumers alike.

What are Patent Trolls?

Patent trolls are individuals that acquire the patents for various parts in a machine like an ATM. They aren’t trying to patent the idea of the finished product, but rather some smaller, inner device that is integral to the machine. They will then hold the item for “ransom” and demand money in return for using “their” product in the machine. It should be noted that those who acquire these patents and hold the technology hostage are rarely those who created the items in the first place.

How Can this Affect Me?

Patent trolls are very efficient when it comes to extolling money out of businesses that have purchased machines such as an ATM. If they are not compensated for the use of “their” device, the machine cannot be used – this obviously limits consumer access to a convenience that is considered a normal part of daily life to many, many people. Even if the businesses in question are able to successfully pay for the device in question and use the machine as they originally intended, the cost of lawyer’s fees and the payout to the patent troll have to come out from somewhere. This usually equals a higher cost to the consumer, where the fees for using a machine like an ATM are often raised in order to recoup some of the business’ lost money.

While it should be noted that Congress is attempting to address this issue, the fact remains that these kinds of frivolous patent claims have increased by nearly 300% from 2009 to 2013, and businesses – as well as consumers – are still suffering the consequences.