Laura: The term patent troll was first coined by a guy named Peter Detkin, who at the time was one of the top lawyers at one of the biggest tech companies in the world, the computer chip maker Intel.
Alex: Around 1999, Intel found itself in the position that Jeff Kelling, the guy we heard from at the top of the show, was in — getting approached by a company that didn’t build anything:Detkin: Simply saying “I have a patent that covers semiconductors generally. You make a semiconductor. And therefore, you should pay me some money.” And there were a lot of claims like that.
Laura: One lawsuit in particular made Peter Detkin so mad that he called the lawyer who filed it a “patent extortionist.” The lawyer turned around and sued Peter Detkin for libel. So, Detkin needed a better name.Detkin: So I had a contest inside Intel. The contest itself was named “The Terrorist.” And the suggestions, we got a lot of suggestions but none really fit. But, at the time my daughter was four or five and she liked playing with those troll dolls. The original one, in fact, is still in my office. And so I turned to her and said, “Oh, the story of a troll kind of fits ‘cause the whole Billy Goats Gruff thing, it’s someone lying under a bridge they didn’t build, demanding payment from anyone who passed. I said, “How about a patent troll?”
Alex: The name stuck. And if anything, the problem of patent trolls just got worse.
Laura: We went back to Intellectual Ventures to clear some of this stuff up. Now, there’s one thing we need to explain before we tell you what happened there. Remember the guy at the very beginning of our story? Peter Detkin, the guy who coined the term “patent troll” after his daughter’s doll, the guy who hates patent trolls. You’ll never guess what he’s doing now.Detkin: I’m a founder and vice-chairman of Intellectual Ventures here in Silicon Valley.
Alex: That’s right, the guy who coined the term patent troll teamed up with Nathan Myhrvold to start a company that many people call the biggest patent troll out there.