back to article Twitter blew $36m on patents to avoid death by lethal injunction

Twitter spent about $36m buying nearly 1,000 patents from IBM to avoid a perilous legal fight, official paperwork has revealed. The micro-blogging site's annual 10-K filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) includes a note about the patent acquisition, which was part of a $38.5m expense the company logged as …


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  1. Ian 55

    Come on IBM..

    .. which three patents?

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Come on IBM..

      The fact that what Twitter does is considered to have ANYTHING to do with intellectual property just underscores how broken the US Patent system is.

      1. Red Sceptic

        Re: Come on IBM..

        You beat me to it - an intellectually bankrupt business, allowing the intellectually-challenged to air their ignorance for one and all to see. Two great examples from the UK this week. Yes, David Cameron, I'm including YOU in this one ...

    2. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

      Re: Come on IBM..

      @Ian 55: "... which three patents?'

      Come on Ian... :-) Click and you shall find: the patent numbers (and links) are in the Reg article from November that the article you are commenting on links to...

  2. Franklin

    "Nice IPO you got there. Would be a shame if something happened to it."

  3. jake Silver badge

    During the meanwhile ...

    ... me & mine use IRC, Usenet, Listserv and FTP. On my servers.

    Seems cleaner, somehow. As always, YMMV.

    1. busycoder99

      Re: During the meanwhile ...

      XMPP, P2P and SFTP, but to each his own.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: During the meanwhile ...

        The links between my kit & my friends & family are encoded.

        I use the old stuff because it's easier to keep it that way for MeDearOldMum and MeGreatAunt. Far faster to update the security of the link than to re-teach technophobes.

        To date? After almost 30 years, zero security issues. Seems my strategy might actually work.

      2. Suricou Raven

        Re: During the meanwhile ...

        My preferred IM choice is Retroshare now, but not many use it.

  4. a well wisher

    Thats one heck of an up sell

    Need to pay for 3 but stiffed with another 997 !

    Thats worse than a Sky bundle

  5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    36 million bucks for nothing

    Because - is there anything in Twitter that can be considered patentable?

    "Companies in the Internet, technology and media industries own large numbers of patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets"

    Hey Twitter! You cannot "own" a trade secret. You can "hold" it, maybe.

    On second thoughts, you cannot own any other "Intellectual Property" claims either. It's "Intellectual" (until suddenly it isn't - your thoughts are mine, all mine etc.).

    "We presently are involved in a number of intellectual property lawsuits, and as we face increasing competition and gain an increasingly high profile, we expect the number of patent and other intellectual property claims against us to grow," Twitter said.

    Translation: we are not really competing at all, we are just running this protection racket on the side.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: 36 million bucks for nothing

      Why can't Twitter own a trade secret? I can own a trade secret, so can you, Coca-Cola, Thales, the list goes on. You anti-avian bias is disgusting. Is it all birds you hate, or do the blue ones hold a special place in the darker reaches of your soul?

      But I agree the patent buying sprees are stupid. The fact that investors are OK with it is a good indicator of how badly fucked up the entire business environment has gotten. As recently as 2006/7 if a CEO said he was looking into buying up shitloads of patents that may, or may not, be useful to the company a Board Member was selected and flew out to smack the ever loving shit out of him.

      You don't negotiate with strong arm extortionists. Unless patent trolls have learned divination and can read a counter offer in the entrails of family pets and the slag burns from the morning car bombs there are time honored ways of dealing with greasy little lawyer types. None of which require a courtroom.

      Perhaps that's why tech has so many geeky CEO's. They're all a bunch of pussies and it's far easier to push them around than trying to leverage people like Larry Ellison.

      Holy Shit! Check this out. All the big potential investors pulled out of the desktop Linux market years ago right. It's just a few million a year for new investment because nobody believes those companies can hold their own against the giant not Linux vendors. That's certainly true enough, they just don't have the resources. But they could turn that shit around in 45 seconds if they started kicking IP lawyers into the enormous hole they've had dug in the car park. Kind of a This is Linux!!! vibe you know.

      After establishing their position they could offer to discuss an IP licensing/purchase deal, but only after the lawyers and/or owners of the IP swung across the lava pits and badger filled elephant traps on vines. Some CEO's have a 'Discussion Rate' policy where they will only speak directly to people willing to pay the CEO's hourly rate equivalent (at 1hr minimum then 15 min intervals). The Linux guys could do the same but demand really hot women/men/beings instead of salary equivalent (that wouldn't be much money).

      Desktop Linux would become the OS of not pussies everywhere. They should get on it. It's theirs to lose.

  6. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

    "if a CEO said he was looking into buying up shitloads of patents that may, or may not, be useful to the company"

    It's become a form of gambling. With holds, folds and bluffs. Just as investment banking has transformed over the years - towards the casino, away from the banking.

    1. Don Jefe

      You're correct, it is simply gambling. I guess that's what I find so strange. My earlier, hilarious, observations aside, the idea of speculative corporate finance is just foreign to me.

      It truly is speculation, not a managed risk or experiment or incremental revenue generation or anything other than, as you say, gambling. It's actually the worst sort of gambling, where the participants believe they have a 'system'. In my experience, the gamblers with the 'best' system are also the ones most likely to ask for enormous unsecured loans and keep falling into the hydraulic press and losing fingers.

      Maybe I'm just too old to understand it and that's the way things are done now. But when I was justifying financial outlay to Boards, and now serving on the Boards of a few good size companies, spending money on a 'maybe' that contained no user serviceable parts inside just wouldn't fly. Take very expensive risks, do something just grossly ostentatious and/or hilarious, that's fine. That's what the money is for right? But spend a bunch of money on something you can't manipulate, improve, repackage, refine, resell, rent, lease, lend, weaponize, eat, smoke or fuck? Nope. Not happening.

      If that's how they want it that's perfectly fine. But man, it sure does look like a lot of extra work and expense for these guys to run around constantly scared of somebody taking everything away from them.

  7. Hungry Sean

    why exactly is IBM portrayed as evil here?

    at $40k per patent, they're not exactly making a ton of profit over the costs of filing, compensation for their employees, legal fees, etc. Now twitter has a horde of 1000 patents they can defend themselves with. And volume matters when people start threatening litigation-- easy to have a team of laywers pound out defenses against one or two patents, much harder to conclusively fight 1000. Regardless of the patent system being completely screwed up, it's with us and it seems to me like Twitter probably came out well ahead on the deal.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: why exactly is IBM portrayed as evil here?

      To be fair to IBM, they have spent decades, and many, many billions of dollars, researching, engineering, building and scaling the blueprint every evil organization in the galaxy builds on. Accept no substitute.

      You know how it makes you uncomfortable when Ned the Butcher brings everybody in the neighborhood steaks at Christmas but the fact that he's been doing it for 25 years and his children don't appear to age but their hair color seems to change every year is just unsettling. It's kind of the same with IBM. When tape reels were the 'it' product you could actually hear the villagers who, literally, made the tape scream as their life was drained away. So yay for flash storage huh.

      But as far as patents go, having a bunch of them is a two-way street. Obtaining new patents isn't expensive. It's really, really cheap if you've got in-house counsel. But managing them is extraordinarily expensive. Over the lifetime of the average patent you'll spend more on care and feeding of it than you get out of it. Unless it's something really, really unambiguous and very specific it won't actually do much to ward off attacks. That's part of the problem, patents, specifically tech parents, aren't very specific. You ask five people what a patent covers and you'll get five expert opinions and 3.357 opinions that stretch the limits of the language the patent is written in.

      At any rate, having a shed full of patents doesn't keep you from being sued. I would argue they did the opposite actually. People (trolls) will devote enormous resources to determine how you interpret your patents then draft C&D's that zig zag through your interpretation and demonstrate how your patent does not cover their patent. Would you like to license or buy the patent outright, or move to litigation. What started out as a reasonably effective way to protect your investment is now a liability.

      A decent analogue are countries/cities/city-states with well developed road networks. If you've got a lot of good roads you can move around easier and completely alter the economics of manufacturing and logistics. At the same time an invading force can roll right up to your door on the same roads and do it very efficiently because you've had the foresight to publish these wonderful maps. The Eisenhower Interstate System here in the US is a great example with lots of extant information about how they've dealt with the defensive weaknesses caused by a system with a primary role of defense.

      Those things reflect directly onto modern IP problems. With the Interstate System they have designed it so that huge sections of the country can be cut off to trap invading forces or to serve as a protected forward base of operations. Even the types of bridges, type of guardrails, road surface composition, clean and waste water networks and huge hydroelectric dams that generate electricity as a neat side effect of a defensive emplacement. It's a road system, the worlds largest improved airfield, a weapon and a safety measure (and so much more). It is also mindnumbingly expensive to build and maintain.

      Our Interstate System is, without a doubt, the most effective tool in the Federal governments toolchest. The threat to stop funding for the Interstates in any given state is the default method of ensuring State compliance with Federal wishes. The national drinking age, seatbelt laws, educational programs, some of the more insane gun laws as well as racism, sexism, hate crimes, health care, all have national acceptance because Interstate funding was threatened.

      The same is true with IP litigation & related. Those issues are steadily shifting business control away from executive management and Board oversight towards the lawyers & bean counters. Anybody who has ever dealt with accountants and lawyers running something knows that's the absolute worst idea possible. Hell, look at big accounting and legal firms, most of those aren't run by accountants and lawyers. Sure, they may have gone to school for that and even practices for a while, but they are business people. Kind of like Bush MkII isn't a cowboy because he lives on a ranch and he isn't a Major League Baseball pitcher because he tossed a few first pitches at games.

      The steady erosion of actual business focused business management and the shift towards IP is bad for everyone, but most of all it is really bad for the consumer. The big corporate CEO's aren't exactly bastions of moral character and high ethical standards, but you can work with them. They go in knowing they're going to have to negotiate, choose their battles and run everything right to the edge of disaster, but they also know that their customers are the source of their money. No customers, no business. No business means no lavish parties or topless cocaine carrying waitresses. Lawyers and accountants never, ever understand that relationship. They see everything from the standpoint of 'Take from Others', whereas CEO types see everything from the standpoint of 'trade something for something (as lopsided as possible obviously). It's a subtle, but crucial difference. Lawyers and accountants only trade invoices and subpoenas and expect you to pay them for the privilege.

      It needs to stop. There are far, far, far worse people than even the most aggressive CEO's, fund managers and 'activist shareholders'. If the trend continues we will all end up paying for less than nothng and being forced to buy the subscription to receive nothing updates. There are reasons you rarely find lawyers and accountants with offices anywhere near the offices of CEO's. Even the blackest of souls hate lawyers and accountants. You do not want them running things.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    twitter just forgot to file

    Staff actually dreamed up all those patent idea while smoking weed from the rooftop garden, but forgot to file the next day.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Patents, Bitcoins, what's the difference. They are all worth something to somebody.

  10. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    To mis-quote Frank Zappa

    "You can't be a real company unless you have a CEO and a patent. It helps if you have some kind of a business plan, or an actual product, but at the very least you need a patent."

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: To mis-quote Frank Zappa

      Version 1.0,

      It has come to our attention that you are engaging in the public, unlicensed use of our property as well as appropriating distinct elements of our property and presenting them in a manner which could lead others to, incorrectly, believe you have collaborated with us or our property and provide the false impression such use was authorized by us, our property or licensees.

      By replying to this notice you agree to remove any references to, or use of, our property from the Internet. We have calculated the value of the unauthorized use of our property and we have applied a discount to that value with the understanding that you will follow the procedures above and will not repeat such behavior in the future. Your status as an individual, and the fact you accepted no payment for the use of our property, have entitled you to a 50% reduction in the amount due. Total Due after discount and including filing fees is $765,345,433,122.53. Failure to include payment in that amount will be considered an act of wanton and shameless theft and you will be persecuted appropriately.

      If you choose not to reply to this notice please be informed that your family will unable to breath after the water pumping operation at the abandoned coal mine is complete. The mine filling is the result of a court ordered safety precaution to prevent unauthorized entrance to the mine where several deep pools of heavy metal rich water could cause drowning. The operation should be completed within 36 hours.

      A good faith deposit of $13,000,000 and seven (7) live Human infants less than 48 hours old will entitle you to an additional 17 minutes to transfer the balance remaining on your account.


      ZappCo Records and Mining - Purveyors of Fine Music, Bitumen, Compact Assault Rifles and Custom Branded WaterBoarding Accessories including 100% Asbestos Mouth Cloths, Heavy Metal Rich Spring Water as well as Inflatable Water Wings, Quick Dry WaterBoarding Attire (including modesty friendly head and face coverings for Semitic religious doctrines) and Kosher Pomade.

      1. jake Silver badge

        @ Don Jefe (was: Re: To mis-quote Frank Zappa)

        Why, exactly, are you trying to misdirect this thread?

        Your comments have absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter.

        Frank would have looked at you and shaken his head in disgust.

        1. wikkity

          Re: @ Don Jefe (was: To mis-quote Frank Zappa)

          > Frank would have looked at you and shaken his head in disgust.

          Frank would, but his widow has a different take on things.

        2. Don Jefe

          Re: @ Don Jefe (was: To mis-quote Frank Zappa)

          That's fucking rich, eh? I believe it would do you a lot of good to think about what you have done there. Operator injury has always been the biggest problem with using the petard. Even with perfect conditions the intersections of variables are, at best, inconsistent and tend to lean toward the catastrophic.

          By far the worst sort of injuries are those where pride and self esteem leak out the huge hole the operator has blown in their logic. Such a sad, sad thing to watch. It's like watching a puppy whine and lick its mother and not realizing she will never wake up again.

  11. zen1

    Wile E. Coyote vs. ACME, Inc.

    Do a search on it, THAT is what our collective legal systems have been reduced to.

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