Power to the people

Twitter announce revolutionary patent agreement, giving control to developers

Chris Mayer

No doubt persuaded from the fallout of several high profile tech cases, social networking behemoth Twitter reveal new developer-friendly patent agreement structure

Social networking king Twitter has revealed new plans to put
patents back in the control of developers behind innovations.

With various high-profile court cases surrounding the
copyrighting of patents, Twitter has taken steps to redress the
balance by announcing the ‘Innovator’s Patent Agreement’ (IPA)
which would safeguard said innovations from being used as
chesspieces in a corporate legal battle.

The IPA is a commitment from Twitter to its developers, past and
present, that they would not launch offensive litigation action
without the developer’s permission. Patents under Twitter’s
guardianship would be shields and not weapons. Twitter also say
that if they sold a patent that the buyer could only act with the
developer’s best wishes. This is a wonderful gesture from the
company, a lone beacon of clarity in a sea of patents being used as

Adam Messinger, VP of Engineering at Twitter made the
announcement through the
Twitter blog
 stating that this was a ‘significant
departure from the current state of affairs in the

He said:

Like many companies, we apply for patents on a bunch
of these inventions. However, we also think a lot about how those
patents may be used in the future; we sometimes worry that they may
be used to impede the innovation of others.

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

Messinger added that the IPA draft would hopefully
be implemented at some point this year, with opinion already being
canvassed, by posting the draft on GitHub,
and on Twitter via the hashtag #jointheflock.

The idea is in the early stages at the moment,
but just the notion alone is a breath of fresh air at the moment,
especially with Google and Oracle duking it out over Java patents.
Bucking the trend takes some guts, but now Twitter have offered
this landmark agreement to its developers, it could well signal a
change in how patents are dealt with.

The IPA could safeguard innovative ideas from
the smartest developers from becoming pawns in a courtroom and
gives something back to developers. But it’s bound to make some
companies uneasy, with shareholders put off by a big shift in
patenting methodology.

Either way, bravo

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