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In Perspective - Troll’s bane

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 6:53pm
Brian Santo

Twitter intros unique IPA.

CED's Brian SantoTwitter just announced an astonishing patent policy that provides a fascinating correction to the way the patent system has been going astray.

Patent law has almost always been a mess. During World War I, for example, an exasperated U.S. government suspended all patent litigation, in large part because the lawsuits among Nikola Tesla, Guglielmo Marconi and several contemporaries over the invention of radio were stifling innovation in a technology likely to prove critical for the war effort. But I digress. …

These days, the U.S. Patent Office (USPO) is overwhelmed – and shows it. Those problems are compounded by corporations using their patent portfolios as offensive weapons, which generally serves to discourage competitive innovation. Companies are bought and sold not for their businesses, but for their patents. Patent trolls too frequently make everything worse. The benefits of patents are supposed to accrue to the inventor, but modern companies typically take full control of any invention by employees.

Almost everyone is complaining, but Twitter’s solution appears unique.

Here the company explains its new Innovator’s Patent Agreement: “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.”

Twitter says it will implement the policy later this year. It will apply retroactively to patents already filed by current and former employees.

In one smooth motion, Twitter has shown a path toward a future where patent abuse is minimized.

Its IPA has an interesting defensive component. No company looking only to strengthen its patent position is likely to touch Twitter unless it wants Twitter’s business, too. One can’t help but wonder if Motorola Mobility and AOL have been purchased if they had policies like IPA? Would a company looking to be acquired be too undesirable to find a buyer if it adopts such a policy?

Of course, if every company adopted such a policy, that would moot the question. I suspect few will. Few organizations have ever given up any kind of control once they’ve gained it.

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