Taking on the trolls

Twitter put “Innovator’s Patent Agreement” into practice

Elliot Bentley

Pull-to-refresh patent no longer allowed to be used for offensive lawsuits without creator Loren Brichter’s permission.

Twitter have applied their ‘Innovator’s Patent Agreement’ for the first time, in an attempt to safeguard their innovations from being used in aggressive lawsuits.

The IPA prevents offensive use of patents without explicit permission from the individual creator. It was written in part as a response to “patent trolls”, companies that exist purely to monetise existing patents (and now make up 40% of all patent infringement lawsuits) – but also farcical legal battles such as Oracle and Google’s lengthy spat.

The first patent to have the IPA applied is pull-to-refresh, the clever UX feature pioneered by Twitter client Tweetie (which later became the official client). Since then, it has adopted by the majority of iOS apps – including, as of iOS 6, Apple themselves – despite Twitter’s ownership.

Tweetie developer Loren Brichter, who was also behind smash hit iOS game Letterpress, is listed as the patent’s sole creator. As per the IPA, his permission will be needed “to assert the patent for anything other than a defensive purpose” – even if it ends up in the hands of another company.

When first announced last April, a draft of the agreement was hosted on GitHub and has gone through a number of changes. Twitter’s use of the IPA presumably means that the company believes it is ready for use, though it remains to be seen if it will be applied to its other patent, which defines a method of “recommending electronic messages in a message sharing system” (aka Twitter itself).

The EFF have praised the initiative, describing it as a “powerful new tool”, albeit no substitute for “fundamental changes to the patent system”.

Others pledging to apply the agreement to their own patents include Stack Exchange, Tell Apart, Jelly and Lift. However, until the majority of software patents are placed under the IPA – and assuming it stands up in court – software patents are likely to continue being an industry-wide nuisance.

Photo by Keith Burtis.

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