The Twitter Patent Hack

On Tuesday, Twitter announced a pledge to employees that patents on their inventions will only be used for defensive purposes.  In other words, Twitter is promising not to use those patents in offensive litigation without the permission of the inventors.

To back it up, Twitter is putting that commitment in writing and making it clear that the promise flows with the patents.  So, if Twitter sells the patents or the company, the buyer is bound by Twitter’s commitment.  Twitter calls the pledge, posted on GitHub, the Innovator’s Patent Agreement, or the “IPA.”  Noted NYC VC Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures (USV) calls it the “Twitter Patent Hack”.  We like that name a lot.  Fred notes that USV will be instructing the start-up lawyers with whom USV works to include the patent hack language in all standard forms.

When it announced the IPA, Twitter noted that it’s a significant departure from the current state of affairs in the industry.  That’s an understatement.  We’re not aware of any leading technology company that has made a similar written commitment regarding its patents.

You may want to dismiss this as a wacky idea.  Don’t.  Other tech companies and investors agree with Twitter and USV that software and business method patents are an enemy of innovation in the tech sector.  This is a very serious effort by Twitter into which a lot of thought (and money!) has been invested.  It remains to be seen whether other companies and investors will line-up with Twitter and USV, but we expect that this very public effort will spur a lot of discussion and debate – and maybe even start a movement.

This post was authored by Steve Charkoudian.

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