Micro-blogging website Twitter plans to hand more control of its patents to the designers and engineers behind the innovations, rather than the company as a whole.
The plans in the draft Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA) would apply to both past and current employees. Twitter said it could take legal action to protect its patents only if the employees permitted it.
But it reserved the right to use patents without permission for “defensive purposes”, according to a blog post by the company’s Adam Messinger.
“This is a significant departure from the current state of affairs in the industry,” he said. Typically, engineers and designers agree to hand over any ownership rights to their employers, and the company can use the patents however they want, he added. “With the IPA, employees can be assured that their patents will be used as a shield, rather than as a weapon.”
Jonathan Radcliffe, a partner at Mayer Brown LLP in London, said giving individual employees control over patents “drove a coach and horses through all norms of corporate decision making and responsibility”. “Shareholders won’t like it, and because these rights are intended to be contractually enforceable it would significantly deter those wanting to buy or license the underlying patents or business in the future.”
Radcliffe said allowing employees to decide when to take offensive action to protect patents gave them more control over wider strategic decisions. “That risk makes the company look weak, which heightens the chances that competitors will deliberately encroach on the company’s technology.”
But Professor Ted Sichelman, of the University of San Diego’s School of Law, said that because Twitter is a “natural monopoly” to a large degree, and a company that is, typically, sued by non-practising entities, the IPA would be unlikely to affect the overall offensive strategy.
He added: “To the extent the policy assuages the discontent of its employees who tend to hold anti-patent sentiments, then I think it’s very sensible.”
Twitter’s Messinger said that although the IPA was in its first draft, Twitter plans to implement it later this year. Twitter may also contact other companies to see whether they would be interested in implementing similar proposals, he said.
This article was first published on 01 May 2012 in World IP Review
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