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Twitter granted 'refresh' patent, vows to use it only defensively

The microblogging company has received a patent for a "pull down to refresh" feature, which it says it will use only if sued by another company.


Twitter has won a new patent that it hopes to use as an example to stem the tide of patent lawsuits.

Granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today, the patent named "User interface mechanics" refers to a way of refreshing the screen by pulling it down, a feature found in Twitter's mobile app as well as a host of other apps for smartphones and tablets.

In this case, though, the patent itself may be less important than the way it which Twitter plans to use it.

Under a new assignment known as the Innovator's Patent Agreement, Twitter promises to keep the patent in the hands of the engineers or designers who create the actual technology. In the "User interface mechanics" patent, control would remain with its developer, Loren Brichter.

Based on the terms of the IPA, the patent can be used only for defensive reasons, which means Twitter can assert it only if sued by another company first. If Twitter decides to use the patent offensively, it would need Brichter's permission.

"This promise stays with the patent: a signed copy of the IPA is kept in the public files for the patent where anyone can see it," Twitter legal director Benjamin Lee said in a blog posted Tuesday. "We plan on using the IPA on all of our issued patents."

The IPA is Twitter's contribution toward trying to fix a patent system that many people believe is broken. Companies, especially those in the tech industry, are caught in a neverending merry-go-round of patent lawsuits. And few seem willing to budge or compromise in the battle to assert their patents.

Twitter also wants the IPA to spread to other businesses. Startup firm Jelly Industries, which is led by Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, and app maker Lift have already adopted the IPA for their own patents.

"We hope the adoption of the IPA will spur constructive dialogue on making [the] patent system work better for companies, inventors, and policymakers alike," Lee added.