Execs at Windstream, Megapath and another 40 or so Internet service providers may be hitting the punching bag a lot harder now that they’ve all been accused of patent violations over arcane capabilities built into DSL equipment supplied to them by the likes of Alcatel-Lucent, Adtran, Calix and others.

DSL Reports calls our attention to numerous filings made recently by Brandywine Communications Technologies,  a company that appears to exist solely for the purpose of holding patents and suing other companies over them. A DSL Reports blog post notes that in a curious development, Brandywine is not suing the manufacturers of the DSL equipment but instead is focusing on ISPs that use the equipment.

Perhaps the move is not surprising, considering some other developments we’ve seen on the patent infringement front:

  • August 2011- Google buys Motorola Mobility, a move motivated in large part by the desire to obtain the entity’s extensive patent portfolio and which illustrates the increasing need for companies to have a patent portfolio arsenal with which to defend themselves through counter-suits.
  • August 2012- Apple wins a patent infringement case against Samsung. Some industry observers speculate that Apple really wanted to sue Google over capabilities in the Android operating system that runs on the Samsung devices. Like Brandywine, Apple appears to have gone after the company with weaker defenses, even if it wasn’t the most appropriate company to sue.

In an era when businesses are encouraged to focus on their core competencies, the patent litigation battlefront is undoubtedly an unwelcome distraction for many companies. But in a market where the pursuit of the dollar brought us derivative trading and zero-down variable-rate mortgages, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised about the rise of patent trolling.

There’s a riddle from the 1980s which, with a slight twist, seems appropriate here.

Q: What do you call 29 patent trolls buried up to their necks in sand?

A: A good start.

(The original version simply referenced lawyers but patent trolls have clearly risen –or should I say fallen? — from the pack as the most-abhorred sub-category within a category that already has a major image problem.)