In the 1960’s, Robert Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, battled the auto industry over licensing agreements and accusing them of stealing his invention. Later, his story was made into the movie, “Flash of Genius,” starring Greg Kinnear, as described in Today Movies.
Earlier this week, Twitter announced they would commit to their employees, and release the Innovators Patent Agreement (IPA) – a new way to do patent assignment that would keep control in the hands of its engineers and designers. This is a revolutionary approach by Twitter since typically engineers and designers are required to sign an agreement with their company that gives that company any patents filed related to the employee’s work. The Atlantic reports that part of Twitters pledge from Twitter’s IPA reads as follows: “[Twitter] will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission. What’s more, this control flows with the patents, so if we sold them to others, they could only use them as the inventor intended.”
There’s no surprise tech and intellectual property writers and thinkers are jumping for joy, and rightfully so, with many feeling it’s been a long time coming. Twitter also intends to reach out to other companies to discuss the IPA with the hopes that it will catch on and eventually become the norm. (I wonder if they will Tweet the other tech companies?)
If Robert Kearns had Twitter’s IPA to rely on, it would have saved him 20 years of legal headaches. He would have received full and immediate patent rights for the design and invention of a device that has been used in virtually every car from 1969 to present. Eventually he did win significant court settlements ($10 million from Ford and $30 million from Chrysler).
Who knows how differently Robert Kearns’s life would have turned out with all of the sudden wealth, and who knows how this new approach to software patent control would affect our developers and engineers in the future. The difference now is they can control the destinies of their own ideas … and all the perks that come along with them.