Years ago I worked with the team at Tacoda on the technology for audience based targeting. Some of my work there wound up in a patent that was sold along with Tacoda to AOL. I don’t know if this patent is part of the patents recently sold by AOL to Microsoft but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were. I also worked closely with Joshua on a number of patents filed for by del.icio.us and sold along with the company to Yahoo. Yahoo of course has recently started a massive patent lawsuit against Facebook (fortunately none of the del.icio.us patents feature in it).
In both cases my work on the patents was done to help protect a startup company. But once that company exited the patents were in someone else’s hands who could use them any which way they would want to, including offensively. The bulk of the patents used by trolls (er, non-practicing entities) in lawsuits against USV portfolio companies are patents that were acquired from startups that had failed. The original innovators — the engineers who did the work — lose complete control over their work which has resulted in a number of high profile posts of people distancing themselves from the use of their patents.
I am therefore thrilled that our portfolio company Twitter has come up with a terrific hack of the system: a patent assignment agreement that gives the company only defensive use of the patent. The innovator retains control for any offensive use. What I love about this hack is that companies can adopt it one at a time and that it doesn’t require any change in the legal system (that’s why it is a “hack”). I also love that the company has put the agreement up on github where it can spread virally among engineers. I already know that we have several other portfolio companies that are interested in adopting the same agreement.
So if you are an engineer and care about the drag of software patents, go lobby your company to adopt this agreement. And if they don’t, go work for one that has! At USV we are supporting this new agreement and are actively encouraging our portfolio companies to adopt it.