Evil Is As Yahoo Does

Twitter, a microblogging site founded in 2006, is taking a new approach to patent protection amongst the inventors for their site. In mid-to-late April, Twitter introduced its Innovator’s Patent Agreement, where Twitter announced that employee-invented patents would only be used defensively, where any offensive litigation is at the discretion of the inventor.

“This control flows with the patents, so if the company sells the patents to others, the assignee can only use the patents as the inventor intended.” Twitter IPA

In other words, whereas most companies automatically accept ownership of work that is created for the company, with inventors and their patents at least for Twitter, the patents they invent for their company remains in their control, at least in the respect of offensive claims against another company.

“Company, on behalf of itself and its successors, transferees, and assignees (collectively “Assignee”), agrees not to assert any claims of any Patents which may be granted on any of the above applications unless asserted for a Defensive Purpose. An assertion of claims of the Patents shall be considered for a “Defensive Purpose” if the claims are asserted:

(a) against an Entity that has filed, maintained, threatened, or voluntarily participated in an intellectual property lawsuit against Assignee or any of Assignee’s users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors;

(b) against an Entity that has filed, maintained, or voluntarily participated in a patent infringement lawsuit against another in the past ten years, so long as the Entity has not instituted the patent infringement lawsuit defensively in response to a patent litigation threat against the Entity; or

(c) otherwise to deter a patent litigation threat against Assignee or Assignee’s users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors.

A draft of the agreement was released on GitHub and Twitter is urging other companies to adopt a similar agreement.

You can bet your bottom dollar that this is in response to the legal drama between Yahoo and Facebook: in which the inventor/founder of upcoming.org (now, http://upcoming.yahoo.com/) sold his idea to Yahoo years back, only to be used as one of the many patents that Yahoo referenced in its lawsuit against Facebook.

“Now, I’ve always hated the idea of software patents. But Yahoo assured us that their patent portfolio was a precautionary measure, to defend against patent trolls and others who might try to attack Yahoo with their own holdings. It was a cold war, stockpiling patents instead of nuclear arms, and every company in the valley had a bunker full of them.”  As told by Andy Baio, in A Patent Lie: How Yahoo Weaponized My Work

Long story short, Baio filled out patent applications for his site that was acquired by Yahoo, and this was one of the patents approved to Yahoo by the US Patent and Trademark Office, giving Yahoo full discretion to use this patent in litigation against other companies who may (or may not) be in violation of a similar patent.

The problem with most of these tech and social media patents is that they are so ambiguous, its anyone’s guess to whom the original idea belongs- if you can even call an idea original anymore. And, now companies are getting sued on the basis of these original and ambiguous ideas, signed over by an inventor who was merely trying to change the world through innovation.

Take notes, ye old tech giants, on ways in which inventors and their inventions are protected against corporate warfare in the legal tech world. And, while you are taking notes feel free to stop and applaud Twitter for taking matters into their own hands.