Twitter’s Innovator’s Patent Agreement Focuses on Defense

In the midst of its quarterly Hack Week, where members of Twitter’s flock take time away from their day-to-day work to collaborate and develop new ideas, Twtiter just posted a link detailing its latest offering: the Innovator’s Patent Agreement – or IPA for short.

Twitter’s IPA can be found at Github in draft form, where the microblogging master is seeking input from the technology community at large. According to Twitter’s blog, the goal of the document is to help ensure that patents are not used to “impede the innovation of others,” but for defensive purposes only. Here’s a bit more explaining what they’re trying to accomplish, from Adam Messinger, VP of Engineering:

The IPA is a new way to do patent assignment that keeps control in the hands of engineers and designers. 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. What’s more, this control flows with the patents, so if we sold them to others, they could only use them as the inventor intended.

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.

And what are defensive purposes exactly? Well, according to the agreement, one can cite a “Defensive Purpose” to assert a patent claim against:

(a) against an Entity that has filed, maintained, threatened, or voluntarily participated in an intellectual property lawsuit against Assignee or any of Assignee’s users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors;

(b) against an Entity that has filed, maintained, or voluntarily participated in a patent infringement lawsuit against another in the past ten years, so long as the Entity has not instituted the patent infringement lawsuit defensively in response to a patent litigation threat against the Entity; or

(c) otherwise to deter a patent litigation threat against Assignee or Assignee’s users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors.

And those “in the know” when it comes to patent law seem to approve:


“It’s no secret that software patents can cause great harm for inventors, companies, and innovation. Twitter’s IPA gives those companies and inventors a powerful tool to take a system that’s broken and make it work for them, which in turn will benefit us all. I’m encouraged by Twitter’s announcement and look forward to seeing the IPA in action.” –Julie Samuels, Staff Attorney at EFF


“Twitter’s innovative new patent license aims to reassure inventors that ‘defensive patents’ remain just that: defensive. In a world where patents are increasingly weaponized and struggling companies grasp at patent litigation, Twitter’s IPA changes the landscape. This could be as important as open source licensing was two decades ago.” –Mark Lemley, a professor of patent law at Stanford


What do you think? Will this help out the little guys moving forward?


(Innovation image from Shutterstock)

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