Sculpture on FTC building. Concetta Scaravaglione / US General Services administration The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has voted 4-0 to start an investigation of so-called “patent trolls.” The first step is to solicit public comment on a long series of questions that the agency plans to submit to about 25 of the most controversial patent-holding companies, which the FTC calls “patent assertion entities” (PAE).

The move by the FTC to begin a so-called 6(b) study is not unexpected. Back in June, FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez spoke about the agency’s interest in such a study. Today’s statement ensures that the investigation will move ahead, and the questions show what aspects of patent trolling most interest the FTC.

The study was called for by many tech companies, including Red Hat and Google, as well as business sectors that have become new activists on the troll issue, such as supermarkets and restaurant groups. “We want to use our 6(b) authority to expand the empirical picture on the costs and benefits of PAE activity,” Ramirez said today. “What we learn will support informed policy decisions.”     

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