With nearly US$150 billion in the bank, Apple finds itself in the envious position of having more cash on hand than it knows what to do with. Recently, Apple leveraged its cash position to borrow money at extremely low interest rates as a means to fund dividend payments and stock buybacks. On top of that, Apple in recent months appears to be acquiring companies at a faster clip than in years past.
Unfortunately, when you have more cash than the GDP of many countries, you're bound to find yourself the target of patent trolls. Such is the position Apple now finds itself in.
With dollar signs flashing in their eyes, patent trolls -- or NPEs (non practicing entities) if you want to be politically correct -- have taken to targeting Apple more than any other company in tech.
According to PatentFreedom, Apple over the past four years has been hit with 171 lawsuits from patent trolls. Trailing behind them are Hewlett Packard and Samsung who were both hit with about 135 patent troll lawsuits, on average.
So while Apple may be a favorite target, it's not the only company that has to deal with the frustration of patent trolls filing lawsuits in an effort to make a quick buck, often with frivolous and vague patents that should have never been granted in the first place.
Over the last nine years, the number lawsuits from NPEs has absolutely skyrocketed. In 2004, for example, there were fewer than 500 lawsuits from patent trolls. Flash forward to 2013 and we're already close to 3,500 lawsuits.
Hopefully, the patent troll epidemic will lose some of its momentum in the years to come. Back in early June, President Barack Obama announced a new plan intent on minimizing the ubiquity and impact of lawsuits filed by patent trolls.
One of the proposals in Obama's plan would require patent trolls to "disclose the owner of a patent." If you've followed any number of the patent suits that affect Apple year over year, you've likely noticed that many patent trolls file lawsuits under the shroud of shell companies set up to keep the true owner of the patents in question hidden from public view.
Another one of Obama's proposals would hit patent trolls with sanctions when their actions are found to be abusive.
Until then, though, I'm sure the patent troll lawsuits will keep on coming. One scary thing to ponder is that patent trolls will, in increasing numbers, begin going after small time developers a'la Lodsys.