Taking Innovation Back: Twitter’s Innovator’s Patent Agreement
Often the biggest leaps in creativity come from relatively small tweaks to status quo mechanisms. These small tweaks can have a big impact, when they enable bigger latent forces to operate and move the status quo, like a sail can catch the wind and move an otherwise stationary boat to a new location.
It remains to be fully seen, but Twitter’s announced model for the IP assignment agreement, the Innovator’s Patent Agreement is the small tweak that has the potential to over time dramatically disrupt the dangerous and toxic world of patents and patent litigation which is constraining innovation today.
The background is that companies usually require its inventor employees to assign ownership of his or her patents to the company. Because patents are property, years later another entity can gain possession of the patent and use it offensively to sue others. It also turns out that many inventors find it offensive that their innovation is being used to squelch innovation in a later life.
The innovator’s disgust with becoming tools of anti-innovation objectives is the strong “wind” that Twitter realized was not being reflected in current patent policy. The question then becomes: what is the “sail” that might move patent policy from the destructive location that it is anchored in.
Twitter’s tweak is to give a veto right to the inventor in the assignment agreement if the patents are to be used offensively, regardless of who later owns the patent. It empowers inventors to say no to their patents later becoming tools of innovation disruption. By unilaterally adopting the policy and evangelizing it to other companies and venture capitalists, it has the potential to become the new norm, and potentially a prerequisite for attracting the most creative minds to come invent under your roof.
If it does become the norm, and there is a long way to go, this will be one of the most revolutionary developments in the tech industry — on par with many important enabling technology and process innovations of recent times that have resulted in the low barriers to entry startup culture that we have. This is something to be very grateful to Twitter for taking the lead on.