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Apple faces more patent 'troll' suits than any other tech company

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Over the last five years, no technology company has been sued by more non-practicing entities over alleged patent infringement than Apple.

The tally of tech companies being "pursued" by non-practicing entities has been tracked by the group PatentFreedom. By their tally, Apple and Hewlett-Packard are tied with 131 lawsuits filed against them since 2007.

In more recent years, as Apple has grown to become by far the largest technology company in the world and most valuable corporation in America, no one has been sued as many times as Apple. In the three-year span from 2009 to the end of 2011, Apple faced a dozen more lawsuits from "NPE" groups than PC maker HP, making it currently the most-sued in the industry.

"Patent trolls," as they're commonly known on the Internet, are referred to by PatentFreedom as "NPEs." The group feels the term "patent troll" is "unhelpful," as it is frequently used to refer to individuals or corporate entities who wish to enforce their patent rights.

PatentFreedom, however, draws a distinction by defining certain groups as "non-practicing entities." To them, an NPE is "any entity that earns or plans to earn the majority of its revenue from the licensing or enforcement of its intellectual property."

That means companies like Samsung, Motorola and HTC, which have lodged their own patent infringement complaints against Apple, do not qualify as NPEs. Instead, companies like Lodsys Group LLC and Graphics Property Holdings Inc., which derive most revenue from licensing or enforcing patented technologies, would fall under that umbrella.

The data also shows that the number of lawsuits filed by NPEs against the top the top technology companies has been growing. While Apple saw just 12 lawsuits from NPEs in 2007, another 42 were filed in 2011 alone. HP also saw NPE lawsuits against it double from 15 in 2007 to 30 in 2011.

The PatentFreedom numbers show that Apple and HP have been the most-sued technology companies by NPEs since 2007, while Samsung came in third with 105 complaints lodged against it. In fourth is AT&T with 102 lawsuits, while Sony took fifth with 100 over the last five years.