Twitter creates “defence only” patents
Twitter is developing an agreement with its engineers that will ensure its patents are only used defensively.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing legal battle between Google and Oracle as well as other tech firms, Twitter has released a draft version of what it calls its Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA), a legally-binding document designed to give its engineers full control over how their patents are used in litigation.
“This is a significant departure from the current state of affairs in the industry,” wrote Twitter’s vice president of engineering Adam Messinger in a blog post. “It is a commitment from Twitter to our employees that patents can only be used for defensive purposes. We will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission.”
We will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission
Released on Github under a Creative Commons Attribution license, Twitter is inviting the broader tech community to comment on and make use of the agreement. The IPA will retroactively apply to all Twitter patents, with the company planning to implement it later this year. The agreement will flow with the patent if sold to another company — or if Twitter itself was sold.
Good PR or good move?
“It’s good PR for Twitter — philosophically, it sounds like a great thing — but will have an impact on the value of the business if it ever were to be sold,” said Kim Walker, IP Rights Partner with legal firm Pinsent Masons. “It’s an agreement binding on the company and it’s expressed to be binding not just on the company but its successors and assigns. It’s certainly been drafted with the intention that it will be binding on a purchase of Twitter.”
While such an agreement may have prevented a lawsuit like the one brought against Google by Oracle, Walker thinks the IPA will make life difficult for Twitter in the event it actually wants to sue to protect its intellectual property.
“There are some very aggressive businesses out there who get as close as they possibly can to your territory and the reason so many patents are often filed is so that a company has got a number of deterrents to deploy against those who it thinks are encroaching on its territory.” he said. “People spend a lot of money developing their innovations and protecting them by patents, and I would argue they need to use those patents to the full.”
He added: “It’s a lovely idea philosophically, but in the tough, competitive world of business and innovation, I just think it’s an idea that’s not going to spread very far.”