‘Patent Wars’: Twitter to Limit Use of Patents in Lawsuits

Twitter announced Tuesday that it would structure its patents in order they couldn’t be used for offensive litigation purposes without permission from their designers.

Twitter, which was launched in 2006, does not currently have any patents, but insiders claim the company has applied for many. Photo: Chinen Keiya/Flickr

Twitter Inc. wants to buck the patent-lawsuit trend and institute what it calls the Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA). The company introduced the IPA on Tuesday, saying it will give Twitter engineers a say in how their inventions are used.

A new agreement would only allow using a patent for defensive purposes unless Twitter had explicit permission from the inventor. The move is quite unusual in the technology industry, which is full of patent lawsuits filed by and against seemingly all of the biggest companies.

“It is a commitment from Twitter to our employees that patents can only be used for defensive purposes. We will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission,” Twitter said on the blog.

With its new “Innovator’s Patent Agreement,” or IPA, Twitter encourages developers to invent without the fear that their inventions will be used for nefarious purposes.

According to Twitter, the IPA is expected to be attractive to its designers and engineers, but it also sees it as a safety valve for patent trolling, the practice of buying patents simply to shake down successful companies for cash.

“A lot of those patents come from startups that have failed and bought out of bankruptcy,” says Adam Messinger, Twitter’s vice president of engineering. “If those startups had adopted the IPA, then those patents would not be usable in that way and we could reduce the amount of patent-troll litigation.”

Twitter predicts that the limits on the use of its patents, which it dubbed the Innovator’s Patent Agreement, will apply to patents even after they are sold, writes Reuters.

Eric Goldman, an associate professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, said Twitter’s announcement will single out the company’s standing among software engineers, some of whom have grumbled at seeing their patents used to sue other companies.

“Unquestionably, it’s an effort to define Twitter’s brand in the marketplace and to signal that its perhaps more engineering-friendly than companies that wouldn’t make such a promise,” said Goldman.

The announcement was made during Twitter’s quarterly Hack Week, in which employees work on projects and tools outside of their daily responsibilities. The IPA is reported to be implemented later this year, and applied to “all patents issued to our engineers, both past and present.”

CEO Larry Ellison took the stand and Oracle continued arguing that Google infringed on Java — a product Oracle bought — when it developed the Android mobile operating system.

Besides, earlier this month Facebook accused Yahoo in their patent infringement cases. Some were so critical of Yahoo’s initial suit that they offered bounties for any employees that jumped ship.

Former Yahoo developer Andy Baio revealed last month that he regretted helping Yahoo develop patents that were later used in a patent lawsuit against Facebook. “I thought I was giving them a shield, but turns out I gave them a missile with my name permanently engraved on it,” Baio said.

Twitter’s announcement came the second day after one of the highest profile patent litigation suits in the history of the tech community, Wired claims.

The microblogging service is not the first company to try for an ostensible patent treaty. In 2007 IBM granted “perpetual access” to certain pieces of its intellectual property that make software interoperable.

Share this article

We welcome comments that advance the story directly or with relevant tangential information. We try to block comments that use offensive language, all capital letters or appear to be spam, and we review comments frequently to ensure they meet our standards. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Coinspeaker Ltd.