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Patent Trolls Cost The Economy Half A Trillion Dollars since 1990

I have previously estimated that the patent system imposes at least $42 billion in net loss to the economy annually (Costs of the Patent System Revisited). As Mike Masnick notes in his Techdirt post Patent Trolls Cost The Economy Half A Trillion Dollars, a stunning new study by James Bessen, Michael Meurer, and Jennifer Ford, The Private and Social Costs of Patent Trolls, concludes that companies sued by patent trolls have lost $500 billion from 1990 to 2010, with increasing annual costs of late, on the order of $80 billion per year over the last four years. It’s not clear how much of this cost would overlap with my conservative $42 billion annual estimate, but obviously not all of it can, as the sum is greater; and it does not even address non-”troll” wealth-destroying patent battles such as the smartphone wars between Microsoft, Google, Apple, Samsung, Motorola, RIM, and others.

My $42 billion estimate was intended to be conservative. I’d venture that even an estimate of $100 billion a year of net loss in the US economy alone due solely to patents is still conservative. That’s at least a trillion dollars of net loss in innovation and economic productivity every decade, people. A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you’re talking serious money.


Stephan Kinsella

Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.