Twitter’s decision to implement the Innovator’s Patent Agreement could not have been an easy one. While it’s refreshingly straightforward and an obvious crowd-pleaser, it potentially puts the company in a bit of a vulnerable position. What if no one else adopts the policy? They’ll stand alone with their pants partially down.
While I haven’t yet talked to anyone at the company about the decision, my sense is that they made the call using a simple principle: do the right thing.
While obvious, it seems that companies are rarely guided by simply doing the right thing. Legal departments get in the way. Or investors get in the way. Someone gets in the way. What’s right isn’t often what’s “smart”. And that’s a problem on multiple fronts.
When I tweeted about the upsides of this decision earlier, many people were quick to point out some of the practical problems. What struck me is how all the problems mentioned were derivatives of fear. Fear of others. Fear of change. Fear of dying.
The number one reason not to implement the IPA seems to be the fear that one day things could turn south and then your patent portfolio becomes your main asset — either as a commodity for sale (see: Aol) or as a weapon (see: Yahoo).
That is such a losing mentality. I’d bet any company not willing to implement something like the IPA due to those thoughts is more likely to fail. Failure is quite literally on their minds!
With the IPA, Twitter is taking the opposite stance. They’re betting that rather than having the fallback option to sell their patents at the highest possible price or suing others with them, they’re going to continue to win. And they’re going to continue to innovate.
And if things go wrong, they’ll go down with grace, not with the cowardice that Yahoo is currently showing. But again, things are less likely to go wrong because they’re not busy dwelling on things going wrong.
I think Twitter will find that doing the right thing will pay dividends. It’s hard to imagine a better tool for recruitment in this day and age. True innovators can do what they do best at Twitter without fear that their work will be misappropriated in the future. And in an age of growing concern about the power and intentions of Google, Facebook, and Apple, the broader startup space will look more favorably upon Twitter.
This, of course, isn’t the end of software patents. But it is a practical solution to a problem that was quickly spiraling out of control.
After the initial high-fiving is done today, the cynics will come out and say this was purely a marketing maneuver. Or that it actually won’t change anything. But that talk is a disservice to what Twitter has actually done here. They’ve gone out on a ledge that others haven’t been willing to go out on — and that some never will.
They’re doing the right thing, which isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds.