Twitter announced an internal patent agreement on Tuesday that it says will empower designers and engineers — as well as hopefully begin a movement to quell the tech world’s rash of patent infringement lawsuits.
Publicly revealed in a blog post and dubbed the Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA), the policy pledges that Twitter will not pursue offensive litigation over patents without the consent of the employees who created them.
If someone else sues Twitter over a patent, however, the company can use patents awarded to employees or former employees to defend itself.
The IPA has been greeted by many developers as an important step away from the “patent trolling” that many tech companies have been accused of recently — most notably Intellectual Ventures, founded by Microsoft veteran Nathan Myhrvold, as well as Yahoo.
Yahoo sued Facebook in March for infringement regarding 10 patents in a move many in the tech world saw as an attempt at extortion.
In an opinion piece for Wired, Upcoming.org founder and former Yahoo employee Andy Baio called the suit “an attack on invention and the hacker ethic,” explaining why support for Twitter’s IPA has been strong.
Take, for example, the popular “pull-to-refresh” function found in Twitter’s iPhone app. News that Twitter had moved to patent the technology — credited to Loren Brichter, founder of Tweetie, which Twitter acquired in 2010 — stirred some consternation among techies that the company could pursue aggressive litigation down the line.
The new IPA — which applies retroactively to patents the company has already filed and still gives designers and engineers ultimate power after they leave Twitter — essentially rules that out. Brichter endorsed the move in a tweet on Tuesday:
In Twitter’s blog post, vice president of engineering Adam Messinger says the company has begun to “reach out to other companies to discuss the IPA and whether it might make sense to them, too.” Twitter also posted a draft of the agreement to the online open-source archive GitHub as a way to further spread the word.
The move to more formally adopted agreements like Twitter’s appears to have already gained some traction among tech companies, as well as developers: Foursquare’s engineering lead Harry Heymann said he’s a “big fan” of the move; Facebook has expressed support for the idea; and the British startup Multizone committed to following suit with this tweet:
@nuxnix: @adam_messinger the IPA is a great innovation. We will adopt it @multizone as we have been struggling with exactly this issue. Thank you Do you applaud Twitter’s IPA? Do you think software patents should exist in their present form? Let us know in the comments.