Sunday, 23 June 2013

Pop Question: What is an Innovator’s Patent Agreement? (The 'Defensive' Only Patent)

About a month ago, on May 21st 2013, something *really* cool happened. Not only did Pull-to-Refresh get granted a patent, it was done so by Twitter using their new Innovator's Patent Agreement (IPA). (If you've read my previous post (June 18th) on Creative Commons, you could almost think that this is CC for Patents.) 

Hopefully you already know about the PTR control created by Loren Britcher, of Tweetie fame. Britcher, who I believe now is working with Facebook, was very clear he wasn't a fan of the patent system. One of his quote is:

 "I have plenty of feelings about the patent system and how broken it is," (from here)
I can understand his frustration. I remember quite well how shocked I was when NTP sued Canadian mobility icon RIM (now Blackberry) and they had to settle for $612 million in 2006. If you didn't know, NTP is *purely* a patent holding company. They don't actually create anything. Wikipedia has them noted as a 'Patent Troll'. Clearly, they were not doing this 'defensively'. Even more recently, many believe that a main factor of Google purchasing Motorola was to acquire more patents to 'defend' itself.

A refreshing sight is seeing that legal director Benjamin Lee and the rest of counsel @ Twitter did their best impression of Ghandi to " the change that you wish to see in the world". You can actually read the entire IPA agreement @ Git Hub here. It seems some may have been critical of Lee & Twitter's first attempt. I am not a lawyer and my experience with patents is limited to being involved in a few patents applications many years ago, but as a 'layman', I think the 'spirit' of the agreement is very inspiring:

The Company, on behalf of itself and its successors, transferees, and assignees (collectively the “Assignee”), agrees not to assert any claims of any Patents which may be granted on any of the above applications unless asserted for a Defensive Purpose. (Section 2 of IPA @ GitHub)
There is some 'wiggle' room in agreement, but it takes agreement from all the engineers to really step out-of-bounds for non-defensive action:
If Assignee needs to assert any of the Patent claims against any Entity for other than a Defensive Purpose, Assignees must obtain prior written permission from all of the Inventors without additional consideration or threat.(Section 2 of IPA @ GitHub)
Overall, if quoted correctly, I think Britcher said very it well here:
"I really hope this becomes the de facto standard for hiring — engineers could demand this in their contracts."
"If other people can't use pull-to-refresh, they can never build on top of it either." He says other developers shouldn't worry about using pull-to-refresh in their apps. "Twitter and I see eye-to-eye on the patent system." (from here)
Being somewhat realistic, I think the IPA has hope to be at least as transformative as the Creative Commons license. Being even more optimistic, the IPA (or a future derivative) may have an even more influential role, maybe even comparable to Open Source movement, because while the CC has bred many derivative (or incremental) innovations, having open patents could help drive disruptive innovation and remove some of the hurdles created today by the over-patenting of ideas. 

The following is a quote from VOX research:
This evidence shows that, at least on average, patents block cumulative innovation. (from here
Even more famously, Mark Cuban got a rant here as well. However you can pretty much summarize his view with this response:
Because dumbass patents are crushing small businesses. I have had multiple small companies i am an investor in have to fight or pay trolls for patents that were patently ridiculous. There is no place for software patents and most tech patents are not original in the first place. They are merely “remixes” of early technology.
(To be clear, Mark Cuban is talking about patents which shouldn't have been granted in the first place. I don't think PTR is in 'that' bucket.)

Any inventors or lawyers want to 'weigh' in? Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau.

p.s. What's almost just as *cool* is that IPA agreement from Twitter was posted on GitHub with CC license. So you can literally say that the IPA 'leverages' CC. ;)


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