VCs, tech incubators get on board with Twitter’s patent agreement

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The tech industry has reacted positively to Twitter’s innovative patent agreement, announced earlier this week.

The Innovator’s Patent Agreement, informally referred to as the IPA, is effectively a promise by the company to only use its patents defensively. It also promises that it will “not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission”.

According to The Next Web, big VC companies including Union Square Ventures, Spark Capital and SV Angel have already signed up to the agreement. Startups Yammer and Multizone as well as incubator Tech Stars meanwhile have all publicly backed the project.

Twitter claims that the IPA 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.

In an official post, Union Square’s Fred Wilson called the agreement “very clever” and said that the move was “likely to have a material change in the way patents are used to foster and/or hinder innovation, as the case may be”.

He also underlined his company’s commitment to the IPA:

USV is committed to support this initiative. We are instructing the startup lawyers we work with to insert the patent hack language in our standard forms. We are reaching out to our friends in the startup world including other VCs, accelerator programs, and the startup lawyer universe to suggest that they to insert the patent hack into their standard forms. And we will recommend to our existing portfolio companies that they adopt it as well.

While others have criticised the IPA for being vague, it is worth remembering that the draft published by Twitter is just that: a draft. The social network has made it clear that it will be taking industry opinion into account before it releases a final version later this year.

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