Patent Privateering: Patents As Weapons

Author: Thibault Schrepel, LL.M., Antitrust Analyst

In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I of England commissioned Francis Drake to sail for America. The Queen asked him to plunder Spanish vessels on his way there. Francis Drake became a pirate commissioned by the crown. This type of “legal” pirate was called a “privateer.” They allowed nations to attack one another without the risk of being counter-attacked, because the identity and the nationality of these pirates’ employers were kept secret.[1] Today, the spirit of those pirates is reborn. Known as “patent trolls,” these companies do not use patents for their technical aspects and are principally in the business of collecting money from others that use the patented designs or ideas,[2] and are now employed by high-tech companies seeking to use patents against their competitors.

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