It's sad for an engineer or inventor to see their work used as a ball-gag to stifle innovation. Too often companies referred to as "patent trolls" will buy up patents without any intention of using them or licensing them fairly. It's a problem plaguing the tech industry and is decried by many industry leaders such as Mark Cuban and Steve Wozniak.
Now Twitter has taken a stand in the movement to stop patent trolling by introducing the "Innovator's Patent Agreement" (IPA). According to a post on the official Twitter blog by Adam Messinger, Vice President of Engineering at Twitter, the IPA is a way for inventors to make sure their inventions can only be used as they intend. From the blog post:
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.
"Defensive purposes" seems a bit subjective, but the text of the IPA makes it clearer. The patent-holder can only assert its claim to a patent under the IPA against a company or person who is suing them over intellectual property, against known patent trolls, or to deter a patent litigation threat against the patent-holder. Any other use and the patent-holder must get permission from all of the inventors.
Messinger stated that Twitter will begin using IPA later this year for all patents issued to their engineers. Twitter wants their designers to be confident their work will only be used as a "shield rather than as a weapon."
The full text of the IPA has been posted by Twitter at GitHub. It's written in patent-law gobbledygook, but careful examination of the document reveals that it is a huge departure from the industry standard. Normally, employees sign agreements that make patents they file the sole property of their employers.
Do you think the IPA will catch on with other tech companies? Could it lead to real patent reform for the tech industry? Let me know in the comments section below.