You know that little icon you see when you pull down the screen to refresh a page on just about every mobile app on the market? What you might not have known is that Loren Brichter, founder of Atebits, a little startup acquired by Twitter in 2010, was the guy who invented the pull-to-refresh feature. The Verge reports that the feature has been officially awarded a patent to Brichter on behalf of Twitter.
Don’t worry though. Twitter isn’t out to sue LinkedIn, Path, Google, or all the other companies that have implemented the now-patented pull-to-refresh. Twitter will only pull out the patent big guns if it needs to defensively protect itself.
In fact, Twitter has something called the Innovator’s Patent Agreement that it’s been working on since April 2012 to make sure that the company won’t ever use patents offensively. With the first official version of the Innovator’s Patent Agreement(IPA) launching today, it ensures that any legal action involving its engineers’ patents can only be used defensively.
Last year, Twitter lawyer Ben Lee then published a guest post in GigaOM defending Twitter’s win over VS Technologies, a company that patented the ability to follow famous people on social networks called “Method and System for Creating an Interactive Virtual Community of Famous People.” Lee alluded to the fact that VS Technologies was simply trolling considering that VS Technologies hasn’t really done anything with its patent in the first place.
We can’t help but recognize an anti-competitive caveat, especially knowing that the first version of the IPA has loopholes. People reading the document may even point fingers at Twitter, as The Verge recognizes, by saying that the social network now has grounds (without looking like the bad guy) to go after any company that in the past 10 years sued, filed, or participated in a lawsuit against Twitter. The IPA explicitly states that Twitter is able to use IPA patents to deflect patent suits.
For example, if Twitter decides that it’s inspired enough to use a “patented” feature from a competing smaller social network, and that social network decides to sue Twitter, there’s a good chance that the patents that Twitter has in its arsenal could shut down the competition.
In other words, don’t go after Twitter if it has a patent that could backfire on you.
At the same time, its PR spin publicizing the IPA might not be such a bad thing. The company is setting an example for the tech environment, which has a broken patent system as we know all too well. For a company that’s as well-known as Twitter, it’s a start in the right direction and you can only hope that other corporations can follow suit.