Five years after Twitter founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone filed the application, the government issued a shiny new patent to the two cyber-inventors on Tuesday. Their invention? Twitter, of course.
Wait what? This news would suggest that Twitter just patented Twitter. And after having read the patent application, we can confirm that that's exactly what happened. The United States Patent and Trademark Office granted the Dorsey and Stone a patent on "a system (and method) for device-independent point to multipoint communication." The application's abstract sums up the service concisely, "The system translates [a] message based on the destination user information and message endpoints and transmits the message to each endpoint of the message." In other words, Twitter accepts tweets and sends them to your followers. There are other rules, each of which are detailed in the 22 claims that make up the patent.
If you're the type to follow these very geeky intellectual property developments, the simple fact that Twitter won such a broad patent is probably a little bit annoying. But it's par for the course in the crazy world of software patents. Facebook has a patent on pretty much anything you see, read or click on its site and basically all of the Internet, thanks to the spread of the various button and Facebook-native features. News Feed? Patented. Like button? Patented. If the social network had its way, Facebook would have even more patents, but even the USPTO has to draw the line somewhere. You can't blame Facebook, Twitter or any tech company really for building a wall of patents around its intellectual property. Patent litigation lawsuits are all the rage in Silicon Valley these days, and they can cost companies billions.
Twitter says it's taking the high road with its patents, though. Unlike companies like Yahoo, the microblogging pioneers promises to pull out the patent card only to defend itself against trolls. If Twitter wants to take the offensive against another company over intellectual property, a new policy at the company actually requires employee approval. So if you're thinking of inventing a new service that counts "broadcasting an update message" among its features, go for it. Twitter leads us to believe that it probably wouldn't sue you. But you'll never know unless you try!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.