By Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica
A couple of months ago, Twitter made a pledge that is heartening to anyone sick of patent lawsuits. The company will not use any patents derived from employee inventions to launch offensive lawsuits without the inventor’s permission.
The pledge might help Twitter attract ethical engineers, but ultimately it’s just one company taking a stand among a sea of litigators that are happy to prevent the sale of competitors’ products or extract licensing fees. A potentially more ambitious project called the “Defensive Patent License” aims to take the same basic idea practiced by Twitter and spread it across a big part of the technology industry.
Developed by Berkeley Law professors Jason Schultz and Jennifer Urban, the Defensive Patent License (DPL) project has been in development well before Twitter’s pledge. The project just launched its website and the legal document members will be asked to commit to.
Any company that commits to the terms of the Defensive Patent License would have to pledge all of the patents it owns to this league of do-gooders. Any other member of the league would gain a free license to any other member’s patents, and no one in the league would be allowed to launch offensive patent lawsuits against other members of the league. Doing so would be grounds for the member to have its license revoked.
You can sue anyone except your friends
“The idea is if you want to be part of this network of defensive patent people, you are committing that all of your patents, every single thing you’ve done, will be available royalty-free to anyone who wants to take a license, if they commit to only practice defensive patent licensing,” Schultz said today in Boston at the Usenix conference on cyberlaw issues. “As long as they don’t offensively sue anyone else in that network, everything’s cool.”
The commitment is both daunting in that it requires submitting all of a member company’s patents to the pool, and forgiving in that members can still sue the pants off non-members. Schultz said his team thought long and hard about the exact implementation of the Defensive Patent License.