Twitter breaks from industry norm, swears to only use patents defensively

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Like a number of large tech companies, Twitter files patents all the time. Unlike other companies, however, the social network has just pulled the nuclear option out from under itself.

The company today published a draft of its Innovator’s Patent Agreement, which it informally calls the IPA.

According to Twitter “the IPA is a new way to do patent assignment that keeps control in the hands of engineers and designers”.

The social network claims that this means “that patents can only be used for defensive purposes” and that it “will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission”.

Because the control “flows” with the patent, it says, the patent cannot be used in any way other than the inventor intended.

Twitter claims that this is a fairly significant departure from the way things normally operate in the tech industry:

Typically, engineers and designers sign an agreement with their company that irrevocably gives that company any patents filed related to the employee’s work. The company then has control over the patents and can use them however they want, which may include selling them to others who can also use them however they want. With the IPA, employees can be assured that their patents will be used only as a shield rather than as a weapon.

Once the IPA goes live it will apply to all patents relating to Twitter — past and present.

Looking at the messy patent wars some of the big tech players are involved in, you can see why Twitter might want to distance itself from the rest of the industry. In 2011, after all, Apple spent over US$100-million suing the pants off Samsung, HTC and anyone who incurred its wrath.

Google’s US$12.5-billion Motorola Mobility acquisition meanwhile, was undertaken mainly to get its hands on over 17 000 patents. While useful in and of themselves, those patents also provided it with some ammunition in its war with Apple (surprise, surprise), Microsoft, and Oracle.

Besides money spent in court is money that could be spent on building better products.

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