Last week, Twitter took a bold step in announcing the implementation of their IPA (Innovator’s Patent Agreement), a policy that has many in the IP management industry shaking their heads, and others applauding. In a statement posted on their blog, Adam Messinger, VP of Engineering explained that moving forward, they will only assert their IP rights for defensive purposes; any offensive use will be strictly limited to direct permission from the inventors on the patent. This seems to be in part a response of support to the developer community’s frustration and anger at the manner in which technology is being leveraged in Yahoo’s infringement lawsuit against Facebook. Messinger explains that “we sometimes worry that they [patents] may be used to impede the innovation of others”, and that under this agreement, the control over the technology flows with the patents and therefore, their inventors.
The implications for the long term business value of Twitter’s IP portfolio don’t seem to be the most positive. Their lack of freedom to litigate makes their patent portfolio less desirable to potential buyers, if they were ever to look at unloading some of their assets to make some cash if needed. At the same time, the wording of the agreement leaves them open to offensively move against entities that have participated in a patent infringement lawsuit within the past 10 years.
What sort of motivations does it create for their developers? It’s an excellent recruiting tool for new developers, that is certain, and it encourages greater innovation internally. At the same time, it also paves the way for inventors to take their patents with them if they leave the company, which diminishes their asset portfolio. While in the short term it seems to be an interesting and bold strategy to clearly establish themselves as an innovation, developer-friendly company in a high competitive marketplace, it remains to be seen what the long term business ramifications will be. What are your thoughts?