Feb 20, 2015 · 1 minute

A study from the University of California Hastings College of the Law -- that's a mouthful -- has shown what many already suspected: patent trolls don't actually encourage innovation.

The study examines claims that a patent troll is meant to "serve as a middleman facilitating innovation, bringing new technology from inventors to those who can implement it." (All the evidence needed to the contrary is the phrase "middleman facilitating innovation," as if innovation is something that requires middlemen).

Examining that claim required UC Hastings' Robin Feldman and Stanford Law School's Mark Lemley to survey "those involved in patent licensing" across eleven industries. Anywhere between 249 and 1,945 people from each of the eleven industries responded to the survey. The responses were anonymized; neither Feldman nor Lemley could attribute them if they tried.

The study, perhaps unsurprisingly, does not support trolls' claims.

"We found that very few patent licenses from assertion actually lead to new innovation," Feldman says in the study's abstract. "Most are simply about paying for the freedom to keep doing what the licensee was already doing." This assertion is true across industries, leading Feldman to conclude that wide reform is needed.

That shouldn't surprise anyone who has watched trolls hound people over patents concerning "markers of people on a map" or for the technologies used by podcasters. Those trolls aren't distributing innovation or synergizing opportunities or any of that. They're extorting people and companies that often can't afford to fight their ridiculous claims.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]