Last year, Twitter announced something it called the Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA), which would keep patents in the hands of the designers and engineers that came up with the technology behind them. What this agreement serves as is a promise to only act on a patent for “defensive purposes.” Anything outside of that scope would need to be signed off on the creator of the patent itself.
Here’s how Twitter defines “defensive purposes”: “Defensive purposes means that you can defend yourself should another party try to initiate patent litigation against you or your customers or users. Under the IPA, it also means that you can use these patents against anyone who has sued others offensively in the past (up to ten years).”
The first patent to get the IPA treatment is Loren Brichter’s pull to refresh user interface interaction, which was built into Tweetie, the Twitter app that was acquired by the company and adopted as the official client.
Basically, Twitter is saying it’s not going to go after companies that are using pull to refresh, or other parts of Brichter’s patent, within their app. If someone were to claim to have created the functionality first, only then would Twitter defend itself.
Twitter has also announced that two other companies, Biz Stone’s Jelly and the Lift task tracking app, will also be adopting the Innovator’s Patent Agreement. With so many ideas running around, there should be no reason why the first person to successfully file a patent should hold the power to make everyone’s lives miserable. At the end of the day, all companies benefitted from Brichter’s work, and it’s been nice to see Twitter not going after anyone else for replicating parts of it.
When the IPA was announced last year, Twitter VP of Engineering Adam Messinger had this to say:
This is a significant departure from the current state of affairs in the 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.
Using patents as a shield will hopefully slow down the rampant patent trolling that has plagued the technology space for the past ten years. Twitter, Jelly and Lift promise not to be trolls, and that’s a good thing.