Micro-blogging outlet Twitter is giving its creative personnel more power and control over their output, with a new internal framework on intellectual property (IP). The Innovators Patent Agreement (IPA) aims to put control of patents in the hands of the network’s designers and engineers, reserving their use in litigation primarily for ‘defensive purposes’.
The IPA provides that Twitter will use patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation only with the permission of the relevant staff – and if the patents are sold on to other companies, they could be used only as the inventors intended.
Across the business spectrum, companies tend to operate policies in which innovations developed by employees on company time are the property of the company – not the employees. Many technology developers, particularly those from an open-source background, openly dislike that system, and the new agreement could open the way for an alternative relationship that will set Twitter apart from its rivals.
In a Twitter blog announcing the IPA, vice president of engineering Adam Messinger said: ‘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. 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. [But] with the IPA, employees can be assured that their patents will be used only as a shield rather than a weapon.’
Under the IPA’s terms, use of patents for ‘defensive purposes’ is defined as:
i) asserting the claims of those patents against any entity that has ‘filed, maintained, threatened, or voluntarily participated in an IP lawsuit’ against Twitter or any of its users, affiliates, customers, suppliers or distributors; or
ii) to otherwise deter a patent litigation threat against any of the same parties.
Some IP experts have said that, while Twitter’s move may be well intentioned and is likely to result in positive publicity, it is debatable as to whether the agreement will actually give inventors more power. In a blog posting, patent attorney Leonid Kravets of US law firm Panitch, Schwarze, Belisario and Nadel argued that, for all the time an inventor remains employed by a company, management has significant control over that person’s actions – especially if the employee is seeking career advancement. ‘It appears unlikely that employees would be able to deny the use of their assets if management feels it is in the best interests of the company to do so,’ he said.
Kravets also suggested that the IPA’s introduction may be a way of attracting new and talented innovators – pointing to the inclusion in Twitter’s announcement of the hashtag #Jointheflock: an attempt to rally developers to a recruitment drive.
Twitter’s announcement came during its monthly ‘Hack Week’, where all their employees are encouraged to work on projects outside their daily work, intending to inspire new ideas and innovations.
To read the IPA in full, click here