April 18, 2012

More On Twitter's IPA

Marco Arment, on Twitter’s recently announced Innovator’s Patent Agreement:

“A lot of people are heaping praise upon them for this, but it’s important to maintain perspective.”

Marco is the creator and developer of Instapaper, and host of the podcast “Build and Analyze” with Dan Benjamin. He was also a senior developer at Tumblr, so he’s well-qualified to discuss software development and the industry’s practice of defensive patent portfolios. Here he argues that while well-intentioned, the IPA reserves Twitter the moral (and legal) right to file patent infringement suits at will, and as such isn’t as big a deal as many commenters believe.

In an industry where companies routinely purchase multi-billion dollar patent portfolios solely as counter-suit ammunition, Twitter’s move is an incremental step away from that. It leaves some control of their employee’s patent use in the hands of the inventor, ostensibly giving the inventor a say in how a patent is used. It signals an intent, noted by Marco, to act as a gentleman entrepreneur, rather than a robber baron. Coming from a company so deeply entwined in both the Internet social networking infrastructure as well as Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, that’s remarkable.

What matters is how Twitter behaves under the IPA. They’re sitting on a patent that’s widely infringed upon, the pull-to-refresh technique used to manually trigger in-app updates. Anyone who has used the Gmail web site on his iPhone is familiar with it: swipe down on the inbox and release to manually check for new mail. Google has emerged as the latest boogeyman in software and Internet development. Let’s see how long Twitter goes without attempting to force them to license their very handy gesture-based technique.