Just nine months later, in December 2009, Micron sold at least 20% of its patent portfolio to Round Rock Research LLC , a Mount Kisco, N.Y.-based patent aggregator. Micron's patents are the only ones that Round Rock holds, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark database. Appleton was still Micron's CEO when this sale occurred, a post he held until the time of his untimely death in February 2012 .
Apple and Micron refused to comment for this story.
The bottom line for both consumers and IT professionals is that the costs of defending patents are passed along to consumers in the form of higher product prices, and the lawsuits hamper technology innovation, experts say. Some tech vendors -- including Apple and Micron -- rail against the concept of patent 'nuisance' lawsuits, only to fund or otherwise support some of the patent aggregators. (See sidebar.)
In a May 2011 report, Citigroup analyst Walter Pritchard said that phone maker HTC pays Microsoft $5 for every Android phone sold as part of a patent settlement reached in April 2011. By those numbers, HTC paid Microsoft somewhere between $35 million and $45 million in the first quarter of 2011 for patent fees alone.
Patent litigation has increased by more than 230% over the past 20 years, according to Article One Partners, a patent organization. Further, Article One says, in 2008, some 2,896 patent infringement actions were filed -- only 179 fewer than in 2004, the peak year.
"Most of the major tech companies are backing a troll in some way, probably financially," says Thomas Ewing, an attorney who has authored reports on what he calls " patent privateering " and whether patent "giants" are dangerous for American innovation.