Based on the way the tech blogosphere reacted, you'd think "patent" was a curse word. That's because some companies wield patents the way countries can wield the threat of nuclear annihilation. Several companies have patent libraries that provide leverage against competitors. If a competitor releases a product that infringes -- or seems to infringe -- upon a patent the company holds, then it's off to court!
There are even companies that are just in the business of holding patents. These companies can license patents to organizations, people or other companies. Or the company might choose to go after other entities in court. The strategy is simple -- threaten to level a lawsuit, and then wait for the settlement money to roll in. The less charitable among us refer to such companies as patent trolls.
Not all patent litigation ends with huge sums of money exchanging hands. Sometimes, two companies will agree to cross-license various patents, as Samsung and Microsoft did in September 2011 [source: Crook]. This way, everyone can keep doing business without fear of having the corporate pants sued off of them.