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Twitter poses patent non-aggression treaty to unblock industry

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Twitter is trying a new tactic to slow or stop the increasing use of legal action over patents as a tactic in the technology industry.

It has proposed an Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA), which states that its patents will only be used in legal cases as a defensive tactic, unless the employee who created the patent agrees otherwise, even if the patent has since been passed on to a new owner. The first draft of the IPA has been uploaded to Github and Twitter is looking for comments from the community.

"We will implement the IPA later this year, and it will apply to all patents issued to our engineers, both past and present," said Adam Messinger, Twitter's VP of engineering in a blog post. "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."

Typically employers would have clauses in their staff's contracts that hand over control of the patents they develop on company time Messinger said. These can be used in legal action or sold on to third-parties. But with the IPA Twitter has said it wants to put control of patents back into the hands of people who dreamed them up and, hopefully, cut down on the amount of patent trolling going on.

The announcement was welcomed by internet campaigners at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is also exploring ways of reforming the current system of patents. It said that the proposal had merit, but said that an overhaul of the entire patent system would be a better solution, but it will take what it can get.

"Twitter’s IPA gives companies and inventors the means to take control of their own fate by ensuring that their patents will not end up in the hands of a troll," the EFF said in a statement. "We hope that other companies will follow Twitter’s example, and find creative ways to engage with the patent system." ®

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