Twitter Gives Peace a Chance in Patent Wars

Agenda-Setting Financial Insight.
April 19 2012 5:15 PM

Twitter Gives Peace a Chance in Patent Wars

129504564
Twitter said on April 17 that it will not file patent-infringement lawsuits without the permission of an invention’s creator.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

All we are tweeting is give peace a chance. Twitter is going to allow its engineer-inventors to veto lawsuits against alleged infringers of patents they develop. That’s a model for curbing the kind of expensive legal salvos that Apple, Microsoft and others are lobbing just to slow each other down. If the rest of the technology world one day falls in line, innovation could benefit. 

Apple and Samsung’s 20-lawsuit, 10-nation battle over smartphones and tablets may be the most prominent, but patent brawls have engulfed plenty of big-name tech firms, from Oracle to Google to Microsoft. In March, Yahoo sued Facebook over 10 web-advertising patents, the first major case involving social media. 

The lawsuits have fueled a costly arms race, with Microsoft shelling out more than $1 million apiece for 800 patents bought from AOL earlier this month. Such acquisitions allow firms to launch infringement suits against competitors while countering legal ambushes with claims of their own. Promoting innovation, the supposed purpose of patents, has little to do with it. 

The U.S. Congress tried to fix flaws in the patent system last September. But the law that passed didn’t address a major problem. Too many patents remain vague and overly broad, allowing holders to assert rights they were never meant to have. 

Twitter’s plan might help. Its agreement with its innovative employees will permit the company to use patents to fend off infringement claims but prohibit it from acting as the legal aggressor without the inventor’s permission. An engineer’s veto would survive even if he or she leaves Twitter or the company transfers the patent. 

In part, the plan is spin designed to lure top-notch engineers, who tend to prefer to let creativity bloom, and make Twitter’s customers feel good. And it’s relatively easy for a company that lacks a big patent arsenal to make such a move. But the idea will still pressure rivals to adopt similar policies, something Facebook and Foursquare say they will consider. 

Efforts like The Open Invention Network, which shares its Linux-related patents with IBM and other members if they agree not to assert their own, show tech firms can cooperate and reduce litigation. True, wasteful lawsuits will persist as long as so-called trolls buy patents just to enforce them for profit. But for innovators rather than profiteers, Twitter’s lead is one to follow.

Read more at Reuters Breakingviews.

Reynolds Holding is a Breakingviews columnist who writes from New York about the law in conjunction with Reuters Legal. Before joining Breakingviews, he was a national editorial producer for the Law & Justice Unit at ABC News, a senior writer for Time magazine and the executive editor of Legal Affairs, the first general interest magazine about the law.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

Walmart Is Crushing the Rest of Corporate America in Adopting Solar Power

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.