The term “patent troll” is certainly a controversial one. Some see patent aggregators as bottom feeders who wish to make a profit not through innovation, but through litigation. Others feel that patents are essential for both big business and small entrepreneurs, allowing them to protect their own ideas and spur on innovation.

With such a hot button topic dominating much of the intellectual property conversation these days, it was only a matter of time before companies felt the need to launch a study to look into the effect that patents have on innovation. Qualcomm Inc. has invested $2 million to fund a study on this very topic, to be conducted by the Searle Center at the Northwestern University School of Law.

The wireless company has tasked the minds at Searle to develop a series of databases to gather information about standards, licensing litigation and markets for patents. This data will help researchers determine how innovation occurs, how it is monetized, and how to spur on more creativity in the future.

“Critics claim that patents may, in some cases, limit technological advancement,” said Matthew Spitzer, director of the Searle Center, in a statement. “There is a lot of discussion about ‘patent thickets,’ ‘hold-up’ and ‘royalty stacking’ and how these constructs could hinder innovation, but there is surprisingly little actual data out there. Our project will create the needed data sets and allow the critics’ claims to be tested.”

In the end, this study should help draw the line between the actual trolls who wish to game the system for a quick buck, and the companies with genuine innovative purposes that are just looking to protect their own interests and grow in new and creative directions.