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2016 sees lull in patent lawsuits after December spike

The number of patent lawsuit in the first quarter of 2016 dropped to its lowest point in a few years, but the technology industry continued to be the target of the majority of cases. 

Statistics from RPX found that 496 patent infringement lawsuits were brought in the first quarter by non-practicing entities, which includes companies that critics derisively call patent trolls. 

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That is more than 100 fewer lawsuits than any quarter since at least 2014. But analysts say the drop is likely a temporary lull after a large spike in litigation in late 2015, shortly before new rules went in place that were unfriendly to trolls. 

"Whether this plays out as a true downturn remains to be seen. Litigation volume offers one lens through which to view and gauge the marketplace," according to RPX, a firm aimed at hedging patent litigation risk for companies. 

The group Unified Patents found that 57 percent of all district court litigation centered around the high-tech industry. And major companies in the industry have pushed for reform in Congress. 

Litigation numbers have been followed closely over the past few years as Congress has debated but failed to pass reforms to the patent litigation system to limit many of the techniques used by trolls to extract settlements.

Non-practicing entities are companies that do not manufacture anything but instead leverage their patents in licensing agreements or lawsuits. They can also include universities and small inventors. 

Patent reform has not seen any movement in Congress since a broad bill stalled before reaching the House floor last year. 

However, last month a handful of senators introduced legislation that would set limits on where patent litigation could take place. Trolls have been accused of shopping for friendly judicial districts and filing their lawsuits there — especially in the Eastern District of Texas, which has the highest number of such cases by far.