Introducing the Innovator’s Patent Agreement

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Cross-posted on the Twitter Engineering blog.

One of the great things about Twitter is working with so many talented folks who dream up and build incredible products day in and day out. Like many companies, we apply for patents on a bunch of these inventions. However, we also think a lot about how those patents may be used in the future; we sometimes worry that they may be used to impede the innovation of others. For that reason, we are publishing a draft of the Innovator’s Patent Agreement, which we informally call the “IPA”.

The IPA is a new way to do patent assignment that keeps control in the hands of engineers and designers. It is a commitment from Twitter to our employees that patents can only be used for defensive purposes. We will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission. What’s more, this control flows with the patents, so if we sold them to others, they could only use them as the inventor intended.

This is a significant departure from the current state of affairs in the industry. Typically, engineers and designers sign an agreement with their company that irrevocably gives that company any patents filed related to the employee’s work. The company then has control over the patents and can use them however they want, which may include selling them to others who can also use them however they want. With the IPA, employees can be assured that their patents will be used only as a shield rather than as a weapon.

We will implement the IPA later this year, and it will apply to all patents issued to our engineers, both past and present. We are still in early stages, and have just started to reach out to other companies to discuss the IPA and whether it might make sense for them too. In the meantime, we’ve posted the IPA on GitHub with the hope that you will take a look, share your feedback and discuss with your companies. And, of course, you can #jointheflock and have the IPA apply to you.

Today is the second day of our quarterly Hack Week, which means employees – engineers, designers, and folks all across the company – are working on projects and tools outside their regular day-to-day work. The goal of this week is to give rise to the most audacious and creative ideas. These ideas will have the greatest impact in a world that fosters innovation, rather than dampening it, and we hope the IPA will play an important part in making that vision a reality.

- Adam Messinger, VP of Engineering (@adam_messinger)