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Apple the top target for patent trolls in past 5 years, study says

A new study from PatentFreedom puts Apple at the top of the list of companies that have been targeted in patent lawsuits by companies without products.

For tech companies, deep pockets can mean more lawsuits. That certainly appears to be the case for Apple.

According to a newly published study by PatentFreedom, Apple was the top target of lawsuits by what lawyers call non-practicing entities, or NPEs for the past five years. NPEs, commonly referred to as "patent trolls," are essentially companies that own intellectual property but don't make any real products.

In its report, which was profiled by TechHive (via Fortune), PatentFreedom placed Apple above peer companies like Hewlett-Packard and Samsung, with 171 lawsuits against it since 2009. Of that total, 24 came in just the first six months of this year. That's on track to match or exceed last year's 44 suits, and 2011's 42 lawsuits.

Apple was tied for first place with HP in last year's listings, with both companies being targeted for 131 suits going back to 2007.

PatentFreedom's report is the latest to highlight the growth of lawsuits by NPEs. In April, a study published by UC Hastings and intellectual property analytics company Lex Machina noted that the majority of patent cases in 2012 were launched by NPEs, or what the study referred to as "patent monetization entities."

There are gears in motion to curtail some of the lawsuits by NPEs, including the recent beginnings of an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. That investigation, which was announced in late June, aims to find out whether these companies are making behind-the-scenes arrangements when buying and selling patents, to use them in offensive litigation.

The top 10 most targeted companies.
The top 10 most targeted companies. PatentFreedom