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Twitter's 'refreshing' patent may cut down on vicious tech lawsuits

With a new 'pull-to-refresh' patent in hand, Twitter could earn itself a wealth of licensing fees for the highly popular touch gesture

With a newly awarded 'pull-to-refresh' patent in hand, Twitter could earn itself a wealth of licensing fees for the highly popular touch gesture.

But rather than let the lawsuits fly, Twitter has promised to only use the patent for legal defensive purposes, as part of its Innovators Patent Agreement. Smartphone makers and app developers can breathe easy--unless they've been launching lawsuits themselves.

The Innovators Patent Agreement (or IPA) is Twitter's attempt to cut down on the number of patent lawsuits flying back and forth in the tech industry. Companies who use the IPA are essentially pledging to only use their patents to defend themselves from litigation or to aid other companies who are under attack.

The agreement is actually written into the patent itself, so it still applies even if the patent gets acquired by another company. The only way to file an offensive patent lawsuit under the IPA is with the permission of the original inventor or engineer.

How this patent works

Twitter first announced the IPA over a year ago, but pull-to-refresh is the first patent to take part. It's an important gesture, used in mobile apps by Apple, Google, Facebook, Foursquare, ESPN, and others. The gesture, invented by designer Loren Brichter, allows users to see new information simply by dragging down on the screen from the top of a timeline.

It's always good to see a tech company pledge not to fight its battles in court, but the IPA does seem somewhat quixotic. So far, only two startups, Jelly and Lift, have promised to adopt the agreement in their own patents. It's unlikely that tech titans such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung will sign on, as they continue to fight patent battles among themselves.

That's not to say Twitter doesn't have some choice words for companies who aren't interested in the IPA. Per the company's FAQ on the agreement:

"Whether the IPA may be right for your organization depends on a lot of factors, including whether your business model is based on generating revenue from patent licensing fees or whether it is based on competing by innovating and providing the best product or service."

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