A patent war is a "battle" between corporations or individuals to secure patents for litigation, whether offensively or defensively. There are ongoing patent wars between the world's largest technology and software corporations. Contemporary patent wars are a global phenomenon, fought by multinational corporations based in the United States, China, Europe, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Patent wars have occurred in a wide range of technologies, both in the past and in the present.
The occurrence of patent wars has been shaped by the Information Age, as the rapid pace of innovation makes much of the patent system obsolete. In the 1980s, technology corporations in the United States and Japan engaged in a patent war, creating a scenario where companies were forced to "fight patent with patent." This bilateral patent war, partly exaggerated by the media, subsided by the mid 1990s.
Exacerbating the frequency of patent wars was the advent of Patent troll. The term "patent troll" was coined in the 1990s by the employees of Intel and popularized by Intel's Peter Detkin. According to Detkin, Intel was "sued for libel for the use of the term 'patent extortionists' so I came up with 'patent trolls...a patent troll is somebody who tries to make a lot of money off a patent that they are not practicing and have no intention of practicing and in most cases never practiced."
During the 1990s, federal courts began reversing earlier decisions made by the patent office that restricted the patenting of software. In 1997, software companies Trend Micro, Integralis, McAffee and Symantec fought a patent war over antivirus software. In 1999, a patent for "one-click ordering technology" led to a patent war between Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
The current smartphone wars started in the late 2000s. According to PC Magazine, Apple brought the patent wars to the smartphone market by its desire to "go thermonuclear" on Google's competing Android operating system for mobile devices. This triggered a "war" between major technology companies in the mobile market. Apple has been accused of having links to the company Digitude Innovations, which has been labeled as a patent troll. Following this warfare, Apple itself has also been called a patent-troll.
There are numerous proposals aimed at reducing the risk of patent wars. Twitter announced in 2012 an "Innovator's Patent Agreement" promising not to use its patents opportunistically and without the consent of the company's employees. There have been commentators favoring abolishing patents entirely, outside of the industries that require them.