Photo: yoshiffles via Flickr
Yesterday, Twitter published a pledge that it would only use patents for “defensive” purposes, and a lot of folks in the tech industry are lining up in support.Yammer CEO David Sacks, who is so angry about Yahoo’s patent lawsuit against Facebook that he offered a $25,000 signing bonus to fleeing Yahoo employees, has promised to support the agreement via Twitter.
VC Fred Wilson said that Union Square Ventures is “committed” to supporting it. Startup accelerator TechStars said it would incorporate it into the standard formation documents for all its startups, although founders are free to ignore it.
Despite all the congratulations going on, the pledge actually doesn’t mean much.
As Michael Kanellos pointed out on Forbes yesterday, the agreement has holes.
For instance, Twitter’s pledge doesn’t apply to any company that’s filed its own patent infringement suit in the last 10 years. So even if you’re a real company making real products, and you filed a lawsuit to prevent somebody from blatantly ripping off your IP, Twitter reserves the right to sue you first.
Another example: the pledge says that Twitter can use the patents offensively to “deter a patent litigation threat.” So if Twitter feels threatened, it can sue.
Twitter’s pledge also gives employees — the actual inventors — an uncomfortable amount of power. Kanellos lays out a hypothetical situation in which a rip-off company clones Twitter, then bribes a key patent holder to withhold consent so Twitter can’t sue.
Geekwire interviewed three IP experts who agreed that the pledge is full of loopholes. One of them called it “both dumb and disingenuous.”
Among other problems: you can’t use patents defensively against most trolls, because they don’t make any product. By definition they can’t possibly violate your patents.
You can really only use patents “defensively” when another company sues you, or threatens to do so.
So what’s this really about?
This is about Twitter trying to portray itself as an innovative good guy in a world full of big, slow competitors. Think Yahoo. Or Microsoft.
That’s fine marketing — it may even be true — but it’s not a serious attempt to fix the patent system and shouldn’t be regarded as such.
NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.