Twitter puts patents in hands of engineers

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Twitter's seized the moral high ground by giving control of its patents to its staff, and promising never to become a patent troll.

It's created a new policy - the Innovator's Patent Agreement (IPA) - under which it pledges to use patents only as a defensive tactic, unless it has the agreement of the employees who created them. It'll pass this obligation on when selling patents to a third party.

"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," says VP of engineering Adam Messinger.

"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."

The company says the policy will be applied to all its patents, past and present. It's calling for input from users, and says it hopes other companies will follow suit.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has welcomed the move.

"To be clear, what we really need are fundamental changes to the patent system. Unfortunately, Congress and the courts have failed to make that happen," says the EFF's Julie Samuels in a statement.

"In the meantime, Twitter’s IPA gives companies and inventors the means to take control of their own fate by ensuring that their patents will not end up in the hands of a troll."

Certainly, Twitter's halo now looks nice and shiny compared to those of Google, Apple and all the other companies currently slugging it out in the courts.

Microsoft recently promised to negotiate to license patents in future, trying to one-up Google, whose own patent promises have been seen as feeble at best.