Patent Trolls and Small-Business Employment

by Ian Appel, Joan Farre-Mensa, and Elena Simintzi

Overview — Patent trolls are organizations that own patents but do not make or use the patented technology directly, instead using their patent portfolios to target firms with patent-infringement claims. This paper provides evidence that state anti-troll laws have had a net positive effect for small firms in high-tech industries. There is no significant effect for larger or non-high-tech firms.

Author Abstract

We analyze how frivolous patent-infringement claims made by “patent trolls” affect small firms’ ability to create jobs, raise capital, and survive. Our identification strategy exploits the staggered passage of anti-patent-troll laws at the state level. We find that the passage of this legislation leads to a 2% increase in employment at small firms in high-tech industries, which are a frequent target of patent trolls. By contrast, the laws have no significant impact on employment at larger or non-high-tech firms. Anti-troll legislation is also associated with fewer business bankruptcies. Financing appears to be a key channel driving our findings: in states with an already established VC presence, the passage of anti-troll laws leads to a 19% increase in the number of firms receiving VC funding. Our findings suggest that measures aimed at curbing the litigation threat posed by patent trolls may play an important role in reducing both the real and financing frictions faced by small businesses.

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