Twitter Grows its Patent Portfolio via Acquisitions

We last reported on Twitter’s patenting efforts back in 2013, when the company had announced its patent pledge.  At the time, Twitter owned only two issued patents. Since then, the company’s patent portfolio has grown tremendously, thanks mostly in part to Twitter’s acquisition of over 900 patents from IBM in 2014. The IBM patent acquisition was a result of a settlement stemming from patent infringement claims asserted by IBM against Twitter.

Twitter currently owns 972 US patents, with 943 acquired from IBM. Out of the remaining patents, a number were acquired from Allied Security Trust, a defensive patent holding company which helps its members mitigate the threat of NPE litigation. The Allied Security Trust patents include 7 patents originally owned by AT&T related to interactive and electronic advertising, and 4 patents originally owned by NEC Corporation related to augmented reality shopping and e-commerce technologies. One patent was obtained from Tweetie, LLC, a company Twitter acquired in 2010. The remaining 17 patents are organic Twitter patents resulting from applications that the company filed itself.

Twitter’s first organic patent, US 8,401,009, entitled “Device independent message distribution platform”, names Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as an inventor. The patent claims a priority date of July 2007, roughly a year after the company was founded in March 2006.

Twitter currently owns 17 published, pending US patent applications as well. We noted a few interesting applications below, such as US 20150331563 entitled “System and method for evaluating sentiment”. The application relates to providing sentiment ratings for various products and services. Fig. 4 below from the application shows a user interface for inputting sentiments:

US20150331563A1_Fig_4_EnvisionIP

Another Twitter patent application, US 20150362917 entitled “Messaging-enabled unmanned aerial vehicle”. The application is directed to UAV’s which can stream video that is incorporated into Tweets. Below is a Fig. 2 from the patent application:

US20150362917_Fig_2_EnvisionIP

Twitter’s patent portfolio, including its published patent applications, indicate that the company may foray more into e-commerce, and offer various retail-oriented sharing, reviewing, and purchasing functionality.

Compared to other social networking and social media players, Twitter has a very small organic patent portfolio (patents that it obtained as a result of its own patent application filings). However, a common theme among the major social networking platforms is very clear: they all can thank IBM for the vast majority of their patent portfolios. A staggering 97% of Twitter’s patent portfolio consists of IBM patents. LinkedIn made a large IBM patent purchase in March 2015, acquiring over 800 IBM patents. These patents make up 73% of LinkedIn’s portfolio. SnapChat, which acquired 10 patents from Yahoo recently, also acquired 245 patents from IBM in January 2016.  The IBM patents constitute 89% of SnapChat’s patent portfolio.

Facebook is the largest patent holder of the group we analyzed, with 2,233 US patents. 696 of these patents were acquired from IBM, while another 640 were original AOL patents acquired from Microsoft. The IBM patents make up 31% of Facebook’s portfolio, however, 70% of Facebook’s entire portfolio is a result of third-party patent acquisitions, notably from IBM and AOL.

IBM_Patent_Acquisitions_EnvisionIP

The graph below highlights the reliance that these social networking companies have placed on acquiring third-party patent portfolios. Facebook leads the group with only 30% of its portfolio resulting from its own R&D and patent filing efforts. LinkedIn has also done a relatively decent job in obtaining its own proprietary patents. However, Twitter and SnapChat have to-date relied primarily on patent acquisitions to grow their portfolios.

Organic_versus_Acquired_Patents_EnvisionIP

SnapChat also owns 9 published, pending patent applications. LinkedIn has an impressive 271 published, pending applications that it originally filed, and Facebook has 1,234 of the same. Twitter and SnapChat may consider taking Facebook and LinkedIn’s lead and use their third-party patent acquisitions only as a base for defense patenting. However, in order to stay competitive and introduce unique offerings on their respective platforms, these companies should continue to file patent application on their own proprietary technologies.

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