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Twitter: we won’t be evil with patents

Promises pull-to-refresh and other innovations won’t be weaponised

These days, it's common to hear about tech industry giants slugging each other with huge clubs made up of glued-together patents, thanks to broken patent-protection laws that enable relatively generic ideas to be owned and licensed.

Reuters recently reported that relations between Yahoo and Facebook had taken a turn for the worse after the former sued the latter. In a feature for Wired, Andy Baio said that Yahoo weaponising his work was "a deplorable move" and "nothing less than extortion, expertly timed during the SEC-mandated quiet period before Facebook's IPO". He considered it an attack on invention.

Twitter is bucking this trend, though, and has introduced the Innovator's Patent Agreement (IPA). In a post on the company's blog, Adam Messinger, VP of engineering, explained that the company has many talented employees who invent things, but it has worried about how the inventions might impede the innovation of others.

The IPA leaves control of patents in the hands of engineers and designers and Messinger called it a "commitment from Twitter to our employees that patents can only be used for defensive purposes".

The company has promised to not use these patents in offensive litigation without permission from the employees, and said if patents are sold, the new owner could also only use them as the inventor intended.

The IPA follows weeks of speculation regarding pull-to-refresh, devised by ex-Twitter employee Loren Brichter, and now used in myriad mobile and web apps.

Dustin Curtis said last month that Twitter's patent perhaps explained why Apple didn't use the feature in its own apps, and argued the patent's abstract was "fairly ridiculous and serves as a showcase for the need of software patent reform".

Now Twitter's own actions could form the first step of said reform, especially with the company posting the IPA to GitHub, encouraging feedback and noting other companies could sign up.

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