Twitter’s anti-patent troll pledge attracts interest, skeptics

Twitter is promising that the company will not use the patents of its designers and engineers offensively in lawsuits, to avoid being compared to patent trolls that flood the tech industry with lawsuits. The San Francisco-based company’s new “Innovator’s Patent Agreement” has earned equal amounts of praise and criticism.

The agreement states that employees’ patents would be used as an offense in litigation only with the engineer or designer’s permission. The company hopes to see the contract make its way into the licensing agreements of information technology giants like Google and Facebook.

Officials at Twitter believe that by allowing employee inventors to maintain control of a patent’s future, fewer so-called “patent troll” suits will arise. Terms of the Innovator’s Patent Agreement call for patent protection and control even after a patent is sold or the invention’s creator no longer works for Twitter.

Some intellectual property lawyers say the agreement is innovative but not practical. The licensing agreement’s simplicity could create large loopholes for intellectual property thieves. Observers recommend that similar licensing agreements get more specific.

Twitter will roll out the IPA plan later this year. The California firm’s goals are to encourage invention, soothe the worries of designers and engineers, standardize tech licensing agreements and cut down the number of unnecessary patent lawsuits plaguing Silicon Valley.

Tech industry analysts may not be quick to adopt the Twitter licensing agreement until they see how well it works for the contract’s originator.

In some cases, companies are forced to buy patents just to fend off litigation. Google angled to protect the Android operating system by spending more than $12 billion to buy 17,000 Motorola Mobility patents. The company bets the expensive defensive move will pay off by discouraging frivolous intellectual property litigation by patent trolls.

Patent troll companies are defined as businesses that own patents without really putting the inventions to use, other than to take other companies to court for patent infringement. Patent trolls are seen as blights among tech companies that pride themselves as progressive market innovators.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “Twitter’s pledge changes tone on patent litigation,” Benny Evangelista, Apr. 18, 2012