Companies' patent litigation costs continue to rise, and the number of patent suits filed each year continues to grow, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers' (PwC) annual study on patent litigation, which suggests such litigation will play an increasingly important role in shaping companies' bottom lines.

A record 4,015 patent actions were filed in 2011, with the annual growth in patent actions averaging 6.4% since 1991, according to PwC. But median damage awards are falling, though awards to non-practicing entities (NPEs)—plaintiffs who never intend to produce the patented products—have nearly doubled, the study finds.

The $1.05 billion award that a jury ordered Samsung Electronics to pay Apple for patent infringement last month "is a dramatic exclamation point to the study's findings," says Sarah Burstein, an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

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