It’s tempting to read the result as an implicit signal to Apple and other aggressive tech litigants that they’re probably not going to win enough to meaningfully affect their businesses. The jury knew enough about tech to know that $119 million is a rounding error for Apple. Even that result isn’t really final. It’s still possible, as patent analyst Florian Mueller writes, that Apple’s underlying patents in this case could be overturned, nullifying the award.
But if you think that the relative paltriness of the award and the drumbeat of criticism of “patent trolls” indicates that an end to the patent wars is in sight, take a look at the chart below. It shows the number of computer industry patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
In 2012, that number reached 138,239, a 14 percent increase in one year. And that’s a lagging indicator; the patents granted now are mainly for applications from several years ago. The supply of patents to fight over is increasing, and in this industry, as in many others, an excess of supply tends to create new channels of demand. So don’t be surprised if despite all the hand-wringing over unnecessary patent litigation, the patent-lawsuit fires flare up mightily before they burn out.