Should Twitter Own The “Pull To Refresh” Patent?

Twitter has filed a patent application to own the “pull to refresh” functionality, which is increasingly popular on a whole slew of mobile apps, including Facebook and Google+. But should Twitter really be able to own something as basic as pulling the screen down to refresh it?

It sounds so intuitive, but so do a lot of things in hindsight. Rather than breaking your workflow during a massive tweet-reading session and click the “refresh” button at the bottom of your screen, you simply swipe your thumb down to pull the entire screen, refreshing it and bringing up the latest tweets.

However, someone had to come up with this idea first, and that badge of honor goes to Loren Brichter, the creator of Twitter-acquired Tweetie. And although he tweeted back in 2010 when the patent was filed that he would “absolutely not” prohibit any other developers from using the pull to refresh method, a lot can change in a few years – especially after an acquisition.

Blogger Dustin Curtis renewed interest in the pull to refresh patent when he began ruminating on why Apple hadn’t implemented the feature which had become so popular on Twitter’s and other mobile apps. He found his answer while digging around in the patent applications section of the US Patent and Trademark Office website.

The important part of the patent, which describes the pull to refresh functionality, read:

“Input associated with a scroll command may be received. Then, based on the scroll command, a scrollable refresh trigger may be displayed. Subsequently, the scrollable list of content items may be refreshed in response to determining, based on the scroll command, that the scrollable refresh trigger has been activated. In at least one instance, it may be determined that the scrollable refresh trigger has been activated in response to determining that the scroll command was completed while the scrollable refresh trigger was fully displayed.”

Although this patent was filed back in 2010, it has implications on how apps operate today. Apple hasn’t implemented this functionality into any of its own apps, a fact that plenty of Apple-lovers found odd before the patent surfaced – after all, swiping to refresh seems like an Apple-ish thing to do.

Mobile apps like Facebook and Google+ do indeed use the pull to refresh functionality, but it’s unclear whether they are doing so based on their own technology or on the patent filed by Twitter.

Although the application hasn’t been granted yet, and it’s unlikely Twitter will enforce it any time soon, it’s still a sticky situation for plenty of developers who would love to get their hands – and their users’ thumbs – on the technology.

What do you think? Should Twitter be able to own technology like this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

(Pull to refresh image via HotTipsCentral; Rope image via Shutterstock)