The intellectual property and high-tech industries are still trying to figure out what to make of Twitter’s recent patent announcement. The company has stated that it will begin using a new patent assignment agreement it calls the Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA).
Under the new agreement, Twitter agrees that it will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission. According to Twitter, “With the IPA, employees can be assured that their patents will be used only as a shield rather than as a weapon.” The IPA is novel in that most assignment agreements used in the industry give employers wide latitude to use the patents however they choose once the developer has signed over their rights.
The IPA follows the increasingly public and heated “patent wars” among tech industry competitors and a growing criticism of “patent trolling,” the practice of collecting patents just to force other companies to pay licensing fees. As I have reported on this blog, Google and Oracle are currently embroiled in a patent litigation trial over the Android operating system. Last month, Yahoo was accused of being a patent troll when it filed a lawsuit against Facebook alleging that the social media site infringed on its patents.
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 online for everyone to view.
While I certainly support the sentiment, it is unclear how well the IPA will work in the real world. While patent trolling gives patent rights a bad name, it is sometimes necessary for companies to use patents offensively to protect themselves from litigation.