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A defensive patent is a patent that is used with the primary intention of defending a company against patent infringement lawsuits. This differs from more aggressive uses for patents, which can include generating royalties or preventing competition through legal action. A defensive patent can protect a patent holder by allowing it to countersue after a competitor sues for infringement - or even if the competitor sues for some other reason. A large collections of patents can also protect a company by deterring lawsuits altogether.
Many tech companies use defensive patents as ammunition in infringement lawsuits. This strategy involves stockpiling a large number of patents to use as protection, in the event that a company is sued by a competitor. The use of patents as a defensive mechanism can involve several strategies, but essentially, they act as bargaining chips for case settlements. This may include:
Some point to Google's 2011 acquisition of Motorola Mobility as an example of patents being used in a defensive manner.
Weaponizing of patents is a term that describes when a company uses patents in a more agressive manner.