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Twitter: 'We Promise To Not Be a Patent Troll' 103

Posted by Soulskill
from the gesture-of-goodwill dept.
Fluffeh writes "Twitter today unveiled a bold new commitment that will be made in writing to its employees — the company will not use any patents derived from employee inventions in offensive lawsuits without the inventor's permission. Twitter has written up a draft of what it calls the 'Innovator's Patent Agreement,' or IPA, which encourages its developers to invent without the fear that their inventions will be used for nefarious purposes. '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,' Messinger wrote. '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.'"
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Twitter: 'We Promise To Not Be a Patent Troll'

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  • We promise (Score:4, Funny)

    by stanlyb (1839382) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:10PM (#39718801)
    We, the poor users, promise to believe you.......
  • by bloodhawk (813939) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:12PM (#39718817)
    Manager : We would like to use one of your patents to sue our competitors for X amount
    Engineer : I am sorry my ethics don't allow me to do that
    Manager : We will cut you in for X million of the proceeds
    Engineer : Where do I sign.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:42PM (#39719027)

      Maybe. Have you read some of their corporate writing? I haven't looked at it in the two years since I was thinking about applying there -- I was working on software with an engineer from there in a non-Twitter capacity -- and it is by far the most hippie-dippy company speak you could hope to find outside of a vegan dessert shop. The employee himself didn't strike me outwardly as a hippie, though he talk about how he loved being near the parks and bicycling around. So perhaps a clean-cut hippie. At the time I found their wording a little off-putting, but thinking about it now it's a hell of a lot better than the standard "you pledge your undying loyalty to us and applaud for all of our decisions, no matter how stupid, and we'll in turn feel free to cut you loose any time we feel like it" of most corporations.

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        Yeah, it's horrible! All they do is speak about peace, love, and respecting your fellow man! What a bunch of fuckin' weirdos.

        But seriously, I really do appreciate the companies that understand this very basic philosophy: make a good product, don't treat your customers like shit, and you'll never have to worry about anything. Ben & Jerry's, for instance, is sometimes twice the price of comparable ice creams but you don't see them going out of business anytime soon because they make a good product and don

        • Ben & Jerry's? They are the "Monster cable" of desserts. No sane person buys ice cream for the prices they are asking.
          • by Golddess (1361003)
            The problem with your analogy is that while there may be hundreds of competing products for any given cable produced by monster cable, some flavors are only produced by Ben & Jerry's. I personally only buy it when there is a substantial discount, and even then only if it's a flavor I've not tried before, but it's not hard to imagine people regularly picking up such unique flavors.
        • I didn't think Ben & Jerry even owned Ben & Jerry's anymore? I thought they got bought up by a conglomerate, like Burt's Bees being bought by Colgate.
          • Well, thanks for explaining that mystery. I had wondered why the number of their products and locations carrying them had suddenly exponentially increased. Not enough to google for an answer, but I was kind of mystified by the Burt's Bees hair spray, toothpaste, perfume, and shaving cream section that had cropped up in all the grocery stores.

    • X = 1
      "X amount" being $1
      "X million" being X*1,000,000 = $1,000,000
      Bloody good deal for the engineer. :P

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Manager : We would like to use one of your patents to sue our competitors for X amount

      Engineer : I am sorry my ethics don't allow me to do that

      Manager : You're fired.

      Engineer : N/A

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If Twitter sells the patent, they get to have their money, and are protected from being sued by their own patents.

      They get to have their cake even after they've sold it. Genius.

  • Worthless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gweihir (88907) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:12PM (#39718819)

    They can just coerce or bribe the employee in question. "Don't want to sue? Well, I guess that promotion will not be coming down after all."

    This is an act of manipulation and misdirection and just as amoral as that sounds.

    • Re:Worthless (Score:5, Informative)

      by RazorSharp (1418697) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:26PM (#39718919)

      Why does something nefarious have to be going on? Because it's a corporation? I don't see what they have to gain from dishonesty. It's not like the average Twitter user could even define intellectual property, let alone care about it. It may seem strange, but sometimes people do things because they think it's right.

      Also, 'amoral' means ethically neutral or ignorant. An act of manipulation is generally considered immoral, which means not moral.

      • Re:Worthless (Score:4, Insightful)

        by gweihir (88907) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:29PM (#39718941)

        Oh, even if they are honest now, there will come a point in the future where they will rethink this. And then they will discover they have plenty of loopholes. That they do not take this future into account makes them dishonest and evil now, because they promise something worthwhile but must know they cannot deliver.

        • Re:Worthless (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:39PM (#39719011)
          You live in a sad world. It's no wonder people give up trying to good things when there are people like you to tell them how they are evil for even trying. I'd rather a company try to do something good and fail than be such a cynic as to see the world through your eyes.
          • Ever heard of "The HP Way"?

            Yeah. There's plenty of reasons to be cynical about corporations making long-term commitments to employees. Once the people who made the promises are gone, so are their promises.

            • by gweihir (88907)

              Ever heard of "The HP Way"?

              Yeah. There's plenty of reasons to be cynical about corporations making long-term commitments to employees. Once the people who made the promises are gone, so are their promises.

              Indeed. It is not cynical to recognize facts. And it is a fact that corporations cannot make and keep promises. It is just not in their nature. There are other options that do allow them to make commitments, but any corporation making "promises" can always break them easily.

              • by psxndc (105904)

                I guess it's not cynical for me to recognize everyone on slashdot is a torch-and-pitchfork wielding anti-corporation zealot either, huh? I mean, you guys have been proving me right for about a decade now.

                why do I even bother to come here?

          • The problem is that a company is not "people trying to do good things". A company can change its personality at the whim of the directors. Or even change its identity when it is bought out. The Twitter commitment says a lot about the intentions of the current employers, and it is a great gesture, but a company can't be trusted with that sort of power in the long term.

            • by St.Creed (853824)

              And when the company goes bankrupt, not even the written contracts mean anything. All their patents *will* end up as a nice trophy for the highest bidder, who can then do with them whatever he wants.

              Did you know that if a company goes under, the curator can re-negotiate ANY licensing deal they ever closed? Including the "eternally free for a thousand years cross my heart" deals? That goes for anything the company released as open-source as well, unless they made escrow arrangements or transferred the IP pro

            • by gweihir (88907)

              Indeed. Promises, honor, etc. are _personal_ things. A person can give them and stick by them. Quite a few people take great stock in being true to their word, and that is a good thing.

              But companies cannot do that, because they are not individuals and have no personal honor. It just does not work that way. Any company trying to pretend that they do are just manipulating people. Of course, there is always the possibility of the specific individual pushing such a corporate statement being terminally stupid or

          • by gweihir (88907)

            You live in a sad world. It's no wonder people give up trying to good things when there are people like you to tell them how they are evil for even trying. I'd rather a company try to do something good and fail than be such a cynic as to see the world through your eyes.

            They are not people, this is a corporation and fundamentally different from individuals. Now, there are people pushing for the corporation to give assurances ("promises") the corporation cannot ensure it keeps true to by its very nature. That means these people are terminally stupid, do not care or do care and know exactly what they are doing, namely manipulating opinions. All cases are pretty bad.

        • by SomePgmr (2021234)

          The first slip would be, "Well we've been sued now, so yes, we're buying up patents now... but we swear it's only defensive posturing, we won't sue anyone." ;)

          Though seriously, Twitter doesn't DO a lot... so it's a lot less likely they'll end up in a patent war than a Google, who does EVERYTHING.

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          keeping the company from going under is defensive..

      • I think the suspicion is more or less that it is a worthless gesture. We will make a legal contract to make it take us 2 steps to do an evil act instead of 1. Personally I don't think they've done or are planning on doing anything evil, I just find the gesture meaningless and silly. Requiring permission from their own employee who created the technology essentially means they need to get permission from themselves. It's like the president of the united states, making a bill requiring a vote of his personal
      • by Trepidity (597)

        Even if you assume part of it is out of self-interest, there are non-nefarious explanations. For example, Twitter might genuinely not want to use patents offensively, but because of the current patent situation, feel they need to maintain defensive patents. In that case, this policy might actually help them gain more defensive patents. Engineers are often very reluctant to file and sign patent documents for "software inventions" they made. If you sign an agreement with them that you won't use the patent off

    • Re:Worthless (Score:4, Insightful)

      by wisnoskij (1206448) on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:27PM (#39718925) Homepage

      It sounds like this contract is not to make the company look good publicly so much as it is to provide a more reasonable and innovative environment for its workers.
      And while the possibly of bribery might make you not think that the contract will stop trolling it is still very good for the inventor (who gets the bribe).

    • by Khyber (864651)

      "Don't want to sue? Well, I guess that promotion will not be coming down after all."

      Actually, that would be felony extortion.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        "Don't want to sue? Well, I guess that promotion will not be coming down after all."

        Actually, that would be felony extortion.

        If delivered subtly enough, there is no possibility to prove anything. In fact something like this can be done with a silent understanding. Happens all the time.

        • by Khyber (864651)

          Implied Intent is still extortion. The DA will bring charges on you and that's that.

          I just happen to have an arraignment on the 24th for extortion. Subtlety doesn't matter.

          • by gweihir (88907)

            You do not even need to imply if you do this right. Of course it requires a bit of finesse. But entirely doable with minimal risk. You need to remember that this is a corporate-wide thing. For example, you can start a rumor that nobody later can verify or trace to a source. Entirely enough to make people afraid of negative consequences. This is not a problem that can be solved by the law.

    • by dabadab (126782)

      "They can just [...] bribe the employee in question."

      So if a company engages in patent trolling for monetary gain it's evil but when an employee makes the same then suddenly he is the victim?...
      "Let's do some patent trolling and stuff our pockets" is evil and it does not matter if Myhrvold or a random Twitter engineer says it.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        What are you talking about? Of course the second approach is that the patent creator may be willingly cooperating, is that not obvious?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Twitter is the new Google? (LOL! Not...) It sounds like a nice policy though, I mean ethically and for real.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They can promise anything they want, but if it isn't in their assignment, there's nothing that prevents them or the successor owners from doing to the contrary to it. I also wonder whether it's enforceable if it were in an assignment. The Federal Circuit interprets in funky ways sometimes.

  • by bmo (77928)

    I prefer my IPA in a glass, frosted mug, or stein.

    I think that using an IPA to determine whether to sue or not is a waste of good beer.

    Thanks.

    --
    BMO

    • by Pubstar (2525396)
      Damn you for beating me to it. I really dont like IPAs anyways. More of a Belgian white ale myself.
  • That's just a way of giving their innovator employees a cut of litigations. Because no employee will ever want to refuse to litigate aggressively if offered a cut of the supposed profits to come from it. And of course I guess it will make sure twitter never behave like Lodsys, but that was not really expected. They may also refrain from behaving like Microsoft, the half-demon, half-angel on the block, which is a good thing I guess.

    Oh and it also piss on the future buyers of twitter which will have to man
  • Cross-licensing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 17, 2012 @09:35PM (#39718983)

    Many corporations already cross-license their software patents. I think it would be better if Twitter promised to cross-license their software patents at zero cost to anybody who agreed to cross license theirs, and to maintain the registry AT COST. The cost should be virtually nothing, since it would just be a small database running in a cloud somewhere.

    Then a few biggies like IBM might join this. As the fortune 500 dominoes tumbled, smaller guys would get in on the act. Anybody, even individuals should be allowed to join.

    Eventually, only trolls would not be in the pact. The ultimate finally might involve an anti-trust suit, the SCOTUS, a suitcase full of cocaine and some balloon animals. Everybody wakes up next to a dead hooker and then the blackmailing begins. Next day, software patents are still on the books but for all intents and purposes no longer exist.

  • unless this policy is actually enshrined into the articles of incorporation of the company, it is, unfortunately, bullshit. actually it's worse than that: it's corporate financial irresponsibility, and as such can result in the directors being ousted by the shareholders and could also result in the directors being prosecuted and struck off from ever being permitted to be directors, ever again.

    professor muhammad yunus, economics professor and joint winner of the 2006 nobel peace prize, puts it best in his b

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      twitter is not a publicly traded company.

      • by Osgeld (1900440)

        and the second it becomes one ... see above

        • Eh? :) An incorporation process cannot nullify existing covenants retroactively.

          A future publicly traded company will assume both assets *and* existing contractual obligations.

          • by alexo (9335)

            Eh? :) An incorporation process cannot nullify existing covenants retroactively.

            A future publicly traded company will assume both assets *and* existing contractual obligations.

            Is this promise a contractual obligation?

            • Yeah, it will be

              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.

    • by Rennt (582550)

      Hold on there. You state that the patent promise is contrary to financial responsibility, but that is not apparent at all. Yes, they are closing the door on one potential revenue source (raising money by rent-seeking) but that is only an opportunity cost of opening other doors.

      The directors will argue that it would be fiscally irresponsible to persue rent-seeking over real innovation, and they would be right. Honestly, directors do have a lot of leeway to peruse whatever path they want pursuant to financia

  • ... they must also promise never to become a publicly traded company, such as a corporation, because if they do that, then we will only be able to trust that they will forget that they ever said that.
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      ... they must also promise never to become a publicly traded company, such as a corporation, because if they do that, then we will only be able to trust that they will forget that they ever said that.

      Unless the incorporation charter explicitly includes provisions in that direction. (when you'd buy any company stock, you should read their charter, isn't it?)

      • Is that true? Then why do B corporations need a separate definition under the law?
        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Is that true? Then why do B corporations need a separate definition under the law?

          1. Twitter seems to say: "We are not in the business of patent trolling, we'll not going to attempt getting income/profit from suing". Now, how's this in the contradiction with the corporation laws? Do these laws require a corporation to sue?

          2. You say: "B corporations need a separate definition under the law". I'm asking: in which jurisdictions [wikipedia.org]?
          Let's see: Maryland, Hawaii, Virginia, California, Vermont, and New Jersey. Benefit corporation legislation introduced or partially passed in Colorado, North Caro

          • That wiki page says:

            By law, the mission of a corporation is to maximize profit for shareholders, and the totality of a corporation's activities must serve that single end.

            Thus my question: is it true that a corporation can use its charter and/or bylaws to enforce non-profit maximizing behavior on the part of the corporation - and therefore caveat emptor as a shareholder (who presumably desires only profit maximizing behavior)?

            • by c0lo (1497653)

              That wiki page says:

              By law, the mission of a corporation is to maximize profit for shareholders, and the totality of a corporation's activities must serve that single end.

              Thus my question: is it true that a corporation can use its charter and/or bylaws to enforce non-profit maximizing behavior on the part of the corporation - and therefore caveat emptor as a shareholder (who presumably desires only profit maximizing behavior)?

              Now look... my opinion:

              1. Any business will act in a certain area/industry and will have limits in how it obtains the revenue (e.g. IBM is not in the business of hospitality). IANAL, but I see nothing wrong (in the eye of corporation law) with a corporation declaring in its charter that it is not going to obtain revenue by entering other industries or following certain practices - even if it would be capable and it would be legal and profitable - in this case by aggressive use of the patents.

              2. If, in the

              • OK, that makes sense. Perhaps at some point there will be a due diligence lawsuit about a company not enforcing its patents aggressively; hopefully the court would agree with you.

  • I aim for the stars. Sometimes I hit London.

  • twitter I think owns that...

    seriously... all those app's that you pull down to refresh well... you cant sue twitter otherwise they will counter with that...

    honestly its all crazy IMHO

    regards

    John Jones

    • by Polizei (1782856)
      Twitter has filed [gizmodo.com] the patent, but it's still not granted.
      We'll see about this patent trolling in the near future, but my 2 cents are that Twitter will, sooner or later, start trolling around. Though I'd be happy to be proven wrong.
  • Until (maybe when?) Twitter proves me wrong: +1 Twitter for not being a douche...
    • Until Twitter proves me wrong: +1 Twitter for not being a douche...

      +1 for Slashdot if I can get an "edit comment" button
  • Dear Twitter: if you don't want to use a patent to beat other companies into submission, grant an irrevocable license for anyone to use it for FreeAsInBeer in perpetuity. No one would be able to prevent you from using the idea protected by the patent (defense + 1) and you wouldn't be able to prevent others from using it (offense - 1).
  • no really i mean it
  • We were all so worried about that paltry Patent List, dontcha know.
  • Why? Because this is a private corporation. The current CEO and it's owners may be willing to honor this now, but down the road after someone else acquires Twitter (An evil company, like for example Oracle) then any loopholes will be used to ignore this commitment. After reading the agreement I can spot a loophole in almost every paragraph, like for example in 2c "otherwise to deter a patent litigation threat against Assignee or Assignee’s users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors." Doe

  • The title of this piece on Slashdot was:

    Twitter: 'We Promise To Not Be a Patent Troll'

    However, I don't see in any of the three links where twitter made the statement: "We Promise To Not Be a Patent Troll".

    It is really not appropriate to use quotation marks when paraphrasing. It's not only unfair to the person you're allegedly quoting, it's also misleading to your readers.

  • Like Google, everyone under the sun starts suing you over BS software patents.

  • Note I am not a lawyer. But I would assume this IPA would not be inforcable in the event the Patent was sold in a bankruptcy. Twitter is only likely to sell its patents if the company is going under. So it only really protects the inventor from changes in Twitter's management.
  • and what's hostile and what's defensive?

    they get sued by someone else for patent infrigment - is it defensive then to use some bs patent on meshed server architechture with auto failovers and guaranteed transits on the "attacking" company?

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