Thanks to Dave for pointing out this Kiplinger Article about InterDigital Communications - a company that's been getting anywhere from one to three percent of the wholesale price of many modern cell phones based on their patent enforcements.
Founded more than 30 years ago, it has pocketed more than $1 billion in royalties, primarily from the sale of cell phones. Owning intellectual property is a marvelous business because there is no manufacturing cost and no inventory.
You may remember the (sadly) successful legal hijinks of push-email patent holders NTP, who forced Research in Motion into a settlement almost exactly a year ago. InterDigital isn't as nefarious as all that, though, as it appears they're working on augmenting their "growing base of 3G patent licensees" with actual hardware design. (Their CFO has recently resigned, for whatever that's worth.)
The point is they're holding all sorts of patents for TDMA, CDMA, HSDPA, GSM/GPRS... you name it. Even if a small percentage of your last phone purchase didn't somehow make it's way to this Pennsylvania company, chances are it'll happen with your next purchase. They've pulled some hefty settlements out of Nokia and Samsung in the past few years and I suspect they'll continue to have a steady cash flow from settlements and licensing agreements for some time to come.
What I can't decide is how I should feel about them - evil sketchy patent enforcers or (relatively) small engineering firm making good? Reuters has a nice little company profile and history that seems to imply the latter. Had you heard about InterDigital Communications before? Hit us up in the comments and educate this poor ignorant blogger.