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 fodder.

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 industry’.

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 weapon.

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 Twitter.

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