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Tweetie Acquisition Finally Gives Twitter a Patent Application

Twitter has been an anomaly in the high tech world as it doesn't seem to file patent applications. But now Twitter is the proud owner of a patent application, all because it acquired Atebits, which made the Tweetie iPhone app and Mac desktop application. It's not yet the same as having a granted patent, but it does show that Twitter might not be so ready to dismiss the usefulness of owning patents.

For a long time, Twitter has never had a patent application show up under its name. When I wrote about this, one patent attorney emailed me to say that there were multiple ways a company can keep a patent application under wraps. Still, that alone would make Twitter fairly unusual. Even Apple, as secretive as in the industry, applies for patent applications under its name.

Twitter announced that it acquired Atebits in April. When one company buys another, it usually gets all the assets, including patents and patent applications. But it seems that Atebits owner Loren Brichter had applied for a patent called User Interface Mechanics. And on September 13, 2010, that patent application was assigned to Twitter.

Here is the abstract from the application:

Methods, computer readable media, and apparatuses for providing enhanced user interface mechanics are presented. In one arrangement, a scrollable list of content items may be displayed. Input associated with a scroll command may be received. Then, based on the scroll command, a scrollable refresh trigger may be displayed. Subsequently, the scrollable list of content items may be refreshed in response to determining, based on the scroll command, that the scrollable refresh trigger has been activated. In at least one instance, it may be determined that the scrollable refresh trigger has been activated in response to determining that the scroll command was completed while the scrollable refresh trigger was fully displayed.
This isn't a blockbuster patent, but it is important because it could indicate a change in Twitter's relationship to protecting intellectual property. My guess is that the lawyers wanted to application turned over for two reasons: to maintain a clean transaction and to be sure that no one in the future could use a patent granted on the application against Twitter.

However, the thing to watch is whether Twitter abandons the application, effectively giving up trying to own that particular invention, or continues to follow it. The latter would be a sign that Twitter management might have decided that it's best to have patents that could act as a bargaining chip should someone else sue you for infringement of their patents.

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