Every once in a while I read a post that just cries out “re-post”. Today, Fred Wilson wrote about the Twitter “Patent Hack”. The post is not extraordinary. Twitter is extraordinary for its actions.
In a nut shell, when an employee works for a company, that employee signs an assignment of inventions agreement. This means that inventions that the employee creates on the job are owned by the company. I hope that you see this as an obvious necessity. The company is paying the employee to create and the company needs those creations to function and operate.
Twitter has its employees sign assignment agreements (really, every employer has its employees sign them assuming they have good legal input). BUT, what Twitter has done is to tweak its assignment form to say that it will only use the inventions so assigned for defensive purposes in the event it is later sued for patent infringement. So, it will use inventions, particularly those that get embodied in a software-based patent, to defend against an infringement claim.
Importantly, Twitter will not use any such inventions (again, think patents) to offensively go after a competitor that might be infringing. Twitter does not want to stymie innovation by its competitors in the software space. And, even further, would require any buyer of the Twitter patents (for example, a buyer of Twitter in an acquisition) to get the original inventor’s (i.e., the Twitter employee who originally assigned the invention to Twitter) consent to use the patents offensively.
This is really interesting. Plain and simple, Twitter is trying to start to de-claw patent trolls in the software patent realm. I like what they are doing as it applies to software patents. Truly innovative!
If only Apple would de-troll itself we would have world peace. Well, almost. Apple’s gazillion patents are not even software patents, they are idea-patents disguised as “Mobile-Device-Utility” patents. This is an open invitation to all entrepreneurs to form/join Twitter in its noble campaign to refrain from using the ignorance of patent examiners for the purpose of thwarting widespread entrepreneurship. Don’t get me wrong. REAL inventions of clever, novel, non-obvious utilities deserve and should be protected. But the “first-to-file-claims-on-obvious-embodiment-of-basic-technology” frenzy is hammering down progress and free enterprise. Sadly, Twitter has few revenues to protect whereas Apple and the likes have real cash cows to guard.