Twitter is no stranger to innovation and ground-breaking ideas. And ever the one with a seemingly endless batch of fresh ideas, the tech company has come out and published their latest contribution to the world: the Innovator’s Patent Agreement.
So, what exactly is the IPA? At the risk of misinterpretation, we’re going to leave it to Twitter VP of Engineering, Adam Messinger, to explain.
“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.
In a nutshell, the IPA is a pretty simple agreement between Twitter and its employees that states that any patents related to their work will not be used in “offensive litigation without their permission”, but rather for “defensive” purposes only. Messinger even calls using patents “only as a shield rather than as a weapon”.
With the IPA, Twitter hopes that its employees would be more empowered to assign their patents to Twitter with the promise that it won’t file any lawsuits unless it falls under the vague-and-valid-to-many-interpretations phrase “defensive purposes”. Should Twitter feel the need to go after a patent, it can do so only under the permission from the inventors, who, as part of the agreement, receives full license to their patents.
If you were able to follow that, it’s easy to point out how the IPA could very well set the standard for patent control, especially for technology companies. But while there’s a lot of things about the IPA that should empower Twitter’s employees, the fact that it is, in some ways, a legal document, leaves it with plenty of loopholes, particularly on the vagueness of what “defensive purposes” really means.
Far more reaching is the fact that the patent system is screwed up far worse than most people think. Could something as ideologically simple as the IPA lead to wide-sweeping changes in the system? We won’t be holding our breathes on that one.
But on a micro level, the IPA appears to be a really good tool for employee empowerment. According to Messinger, Twitter will begin to implement the IPA later this year and the agreement will cover all patents that will not only be issued in the future, but also those that have already been issued in the past.
How far Twitter can take the IPA remains to be seen. But to their credit, they’re, at the very least, doing something to attempt to clean their own patent system.