IBM says Twitter infringes pre-Twitter patents

Early patent

Twitter, one of the world’s most innovative tech and media companies, should pay up for using web and advertising technology that was patented before Twitter even came into existence. Well, that’s IBM’s version of events.

In an update to its S1 filing that comes days ahead of its IPO, Twitter disclosed that IBM is demanding licenses for three patents issued in 2006 and whose applications date from the mid-1990’s or before. They include a method for retrieving URL’s as well as one for “presenting advertising in an interactive service,” that includes the following picture to describe the invention (note floppy disks at bottom right):

IBM patent screenshot

IBM filed for the above patent in 1993 on the basis of an earlier application from 1988. This process, known as “continuation,” allows patent owners to refine and expand their claims at the patent office while still maintaining the “priority” date that identifies them as the first inventor.

In the case of software and other computer-related inventions, critics claim patent terms — which grant patent owners a 20 year monopoly — are too long, and that the overall system is ill-suited to sectors like technology where inventions quickly becomes obsolete.

In its filing, spotted by TechCrunch, Twitter says it believes that it can rebuff IBM’s patent demands (IBM has not filed a formal lawsuit).

Twitter has been a vocal advocate for patent reform. In the last two years, it has stood up to so-called patent trolls and also offered its engineers a guarantee that their work won’t be used for vexatious lawsuits down the road.

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