Twitter's Revolutionary Agreement Lets Original Inventors Stop Patent Trolls

from the an-idea-whose-time-has-come dept

We've talked repeatedly in the past about how even if a company got patents for solely defensive reasons, down the road, those patents can end up in the hands of trolls, who abuse them to hinder real innovation. If you talk to engineers -- especially software engineers -- in Silicon Valley, this is one of the many things they absolutely hate about patents. But, because companies often feel the need to stockpile patents as a defensive means of warding off patent lawsuits, many engineers and companies do so out of a sense of obligation.

However, it appears that Twitter is thinking differently about this, and has announced that it will be using its new Innovator's Patent Agreement to guarantee that any patents obtained by employees at Twitter (past or present) grant lifetime control to the actual inventors, to prevent the patents from being used offensively against others.
One of the great things about Twitter is working with so many talented folks who dream up and build incredible products day in and day out. Like many companies, we apply for patents on a bunch of these inventions. However, we also think a lot about how those patents may be used in the future; we sometimes worry that they may be used to impede the innovation of others. For that reason, we are publishing a draft of the Innovator’s Patent Agreement, which we informally call the “IPA”.

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.
As Twitter notes, this is "a significant departure" from how just about every other company handles patent assignments. Along those lines, it's planning to evangelize this idea to other tech firms as well -- and I wouldn't be surprised to see a bunch of others jump on board. The basic idea makes a lot of sense. Twitter has also posted the full agreement to Github and put it under a Creative Commons license.

The method by which this works is pretty creative. Basically, if the actual patent holder tries to use the patent offensively without first obtaining the permission of the inventor, the agreement allows the inventor to issue a license to the entity being sued:
Company hereby grants a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, no-charge, irrevocable license under the Patents to the Inventors, along with the right to sublicense as further described herein, solely so as to enforce the promises made by Assignee in paragraph 2. The Inventors’ right to sublicense is explicitly limited herein to those rights necessary to enforce the promises made by Assignee in paragraph 2. Accordingly, if Assignee asserts any of the Patent claims against any entity in a manner that breaks the promises of paragraph 2, the Inventors, individually or jointly, may grant a patent sublicense to the entity under the Patents, the scope of the sublicense being limited herein to those rights necessary to enforce the promises made in paragraph 2
Of course, how much do you want to bet that an agreement like this violates someone's patent somewhere?

Either way, kudos to the Twitter team for not just doing what everyone else does, despite the fact that everyone hates it. Companies that actually recognize that "standard operating procedures" are a problem are plentiful. Those that actually do something different because of it, are rare.
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Filed Under: invention, licensing, patent troll
Companies: twitter


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  1. icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), 17 Apr 2012 @ 9:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: What about existing patent law?

    Yes, the brilliance of this approach is that it takes existing basic concepts of patent law and points them in a different direction — one that serves the public good. A single company doing this once won't have an impact, but if it catches on as an industry-wide practice in the way that open source and Creative Commons licenses have, for example, it could have a major cumulative impact over time.

    I agree. Perhaps there are loopholes which will cause it to fail, but at least it is a start. Trying to change the laws in DC will take forever, so companies that want to affect the patent system need to be doing something on their own.

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