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Twitter pledges to limit use of patents in lawsuits

April 17, 2012|By Jessica Guynn
  • Dick Costolo, chief executive of Twitter Inc., speaks during a news conference in Tokyo in April.
Dick Costolo, chief executive of Twitter Inc., speaks during a news conference… (Tomohiro Ohsumi / Bloomberg )

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle and Google were facing off in the second day of a high-stakes intellectual property showdown in a San Francisco federal courtroom Tuesday when Twitter made a surprise announcement: It pledged that employees who created its technology would exercise control over the patents so they could not be used as a legal battering ram against other companies.

The “Innovator’s Patent Agreement,” or IPA, would give legal rights to inventors and ensure that patents are not used to “impede the innovation of others,” the San Francisco company said in a post  on its official blog.

“Typically, engineers and designers sign an agreement with their company that irrevocably gives that company any patents filed related to the employee’s work,” wrote Adam Messinger, vice president of engineering. “With the IPA, employees can be assured that their patents will be used only as a shield rather than as a weapon.”

Twitter said the agreement would apply to patents even if they are sold. Twitter does not yet have any patents but has applied for them.

Patent warfare has broken out all over Silicon Valley. Yahoo sued Facebook in March for infringing on 10 of its patents. Facebook has countersued.

But all eyes are now on Oracle’s patent and copyright infringement dispute with Google. Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in 2010 for $7.3 billion, and picked up its programming technology Java, which Google uses in Android, which now powers more than 300 million smartphones and tablet computers.

"During the integration meetings between Sun and Oracle where we were being grilled about the patent situation between Sun and Google, we could see the Oracle lawyer's eyes sparkle," James Gosling, one of Java's original architects, wrote on his blog the day the lawsuit was announced.

Google says former Sun Microsystems Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz will testify that he supported Google’s use of Java. His testimony will bring to the surface that underlying tension in Silicon Valley among brainy programmers who build the technology and the deal-making executives who want to profit from it.

“Sun was fairly altruistic in their views about intellectual property assertion and ownership. Some people will see it as a sad day that the Java system built by people who wanted to have it used very widely and weren’t thinking about monetizing it has now become a big fat corporate asset,” UC Berkeley law professor Robert Merges said.

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