On Monday, Twitter quietly announced that it had filed S-1 documents for an initial public offering with the SEC. As Twitter filed the documents confidentially, it is not clear if Twitter owns or recently acquired any US patent assets besides those listed at the USPTO.
In April 2012, Twitter announced a “patent pledge” to “not use any patents derived from employee inventions in offensive lawsuits without the inventor’s permission.” At that time, Twitter did not own any US patents, nor did the company have any published pending US patent applications.
While Twitter has continued to expand its user base and increase revenues over the last year in preparation of its IPO, the company’s US patent portfolio has seen little change. Twitter currently owns only two issued patents: US 8448084 entitled “User interface mechanics” and US 8401009 entitled “Device independent message distribution platform”. In addition, Twitter owns a pending US patent application, US 20120089681 entitled “Prioritizing Messages Within a Message Network”.
In addition, Twitter presumably owns the following US patents and pending applications through its various acquisitions. However, none of these references have been legally assigned to Twitter according to the USPTO Assignment Database:
US 8230350 entitled “System and method for managing and displaying data messages”
US 8516374 entitled “Displaying estimated social interest in time-based media”
US 8342931 entitled “Games of chance based on event databases”
US 8187070 entitled “Games of chance based on event databases”
US 20130018896 entitled “Topic and Time Based Media Affinity Estimation ”
US 20120192227 entitled “Cross Media Targeted Message Synchronization”
Regarding patents potentially obtained through Twitter’s other acquisitions, we did not identify any US patents or published applications assigned to MoPub, Trendrr, Marakana, Ubalo, Vine Labs, We Are Hunted, Summize, Cloudhopper, Smallthought Systems, Fluther, AdGrok, BackType, Bagcheck, Julpan, Whisper Systems, Summify, Posterous, Hotspots.io, RestEngine, Nclud, Lucky Sort, Spindle, Mixer Labs, Dabble DB, Clutch.io, Cabana, or Crashlytics.
Interestingly, while Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is listed on one of Twitter’s two US patents, Dorsey is listed as an inventor on 40 patent applications owned by another company he founded, Square, Inc.
While Twitter’s IPO may have some correlations to Facebook’s IPO last year, one clear difference is that Facebook focused on shoring up its intellectual property portfolio prior to its IPO. Facebook acquired roughly 750 patents from IBM and 650 patents from Microsoft (that were originally acquired from AOL) prior to its IPO. Facebook’s patent acquisitions appeared to be a strategic move to reduce risk, protect itself in ongoing litigation, and to alleviate future patent infringement concerns.
It remains to be seen if Twitter will itself now be a target of patent holders as its IPO date looms; if it is, lack of significant patent resources will certainly hinder any counter-claim defenses, and Twitter may have to rely on defensive licenses obtained from patent pools that it belongs to, such as the Open Invention Network.
*Patent applications are typically published 18 months from filing, so there may be pending applications filed by the company that are not yet publicly available. In addition, if Twitter has acquired patents from third-parties in recent months, there may be a delay in the filing and recording of assignment documents with the USPTO.