Twitter today introduced a new patent license it's calling the Innovator's Patent Agreement, which allows the company to continue to file patents on technology its engineers develop while assuring that those engineers and others won't file lawsuits with the patents except as a defensive countermeasure. The company said in a blog post that it worries patents "may be used to impede the innovation of others," and that its new license is designed to protect the company's ability to file for and use patents freely while allowing engineers and other stakeholders significant control over how they might be used in litigation.

The new license has already made a few people happy. Loren Brichter, who worked on the Twitter app for more than a year and developed the iconic (and now in a pending patent application) pull-to-refresh gesture, tweeted:

As for the license itself, it's structured rather simply, and still provides Twitter (or whatever company which uses it) with a fair amount of flexibility in asserting its patent rights. Here's the basic rundown:

  • Twitter employees assign their patents to Twitter.
  • In return, Twitter promises it won't file any patent lawsuits unless for a "Defensive Purpose."
  • "Defensive Purpose" is of course, broadly defined, and means any lawsuit filed:
    • Against any person or company who's already filed, threatened to file, or participated in a lawsuit against Twitter or any of its users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors.
    • Against any person or company who's filed or been in a lawsuit against anyone in the past ten years, as long as that lawsuit wasn't itself defensive.
    • Or just generally to "deter a patent litigation threat" against Twitter, its users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors.
  • If Twitter does want to go on the offensive with its patents, it needs written permission from all the inventors, without paying for it.
  • The inventors get a full license to their patents, under all the same rules.

That's definitely a unique and clever way to get around the need for new companies to build and maintain their patent portfolios while dodging the bad reputation of patents in general, but we'll have to see these terms play out over the next few years - Twitter's given itself plenty of wiggle room with that "if you ever sue a Twitter user we can sue you" clause. Twitter plans to implement the IPA later this year, which will apply to all patents filed by Twitter employees