Carl Straumsheim has a good piece out on the Khan Academy patent Inside Higher Ed today. Much of it is a primer on the uses and limitations of defensive patents, but there is a piece on the specific nature of the patent pledge that Khan Academy has signed that I missed. The pledge, originally created by Twitter, is quite similar to my own proposal in a number of ways. It turns the decision-making regarding offensive use of the patent over to another party and, importantly, the agreement travels with the patent, even if it changes hands:
The IPA is a new way to do patent assignment that keeps control in the hands of engineers and designers. It is a commitment from Twitter to our employees that patents can only be used for defensive purposes. We will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission. What’s more, this control flows with the patents, so if we sold them to others, they could only use them as the inventor intended.
Shame on me for not doing my homework.
The big difference between this pledge and the one I propose is that I am suggesting that the third party be a trust rather than the inventing engineer. This has several virtues. First, engineers die, and not all of them are going to be equally vigilant in protecting education. Can the engineer sell this right to somebody else? Can the right be inherited? If it isn’t inherited, is the patent then unencumbered? Giving the rights to a trust lays this concern to rest. It also creates a proactive deterrent because the trust could sue anybody that is asserting an ed tech patent.
What I take from the details of Twitter’s pledge is that my proposal is probably legally viable. The original pledge just needs to be adapted to serve the specific needs of education.