News & Views
Twitter gets a patent for its birthday

It’s been a big week for Twitter. It turned seven years old on 21st March, causing the social sphere to reflect on just how far the site has come since founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet on 21st March, 2006. The micro-blogging platform has grown from little known “Twittr” to become a fully integrated part of everyday, with over 200 million active users worldwide generating approximately 400 million tweets daily.

In a commemorative blog post, Twitter’s Editorial Director Karen Wickre described the platform as a “global town square”, a moniker which Facebook must wish it had thought of first. Wickre went on to say; “this is where you come to connect with the world at large. Get on your soapbox to critique elected officials, or go sotto voce to the neighbour next to you. And as in other gathering places, commerce happens too (and jokes and art-making and debating, and – you get the idea).”

In addition to marking its seventh anniversary, Twitter had another reason to celebrate this week – it has been granted an incredibly broad patent which covers the entire micro-blogging model, essentially precluding other networks from following in Twitter’s footsteps.

The patent was originally filed way back in 2008 and describes a platform for “device-independent point to multipoint communication”. Such an all-encompassing qualifier could surely be attributed to pretty much any social network, right? Perhaps the patent goes into more specifics.

From the patent document itself: “The system is configured to receive a message addressed to one or more destination users… The system applies rule to the message based on destination user information to determine the message endpoints, the message endpoints being, for example, Short Message Service (SMS), Instant Messaging (IM), E-Mail, web page output, or Application Program Interface (API) function call.” All of which easily applies as much to Facebook as it does to Twitter, and sounds like something of a death knell for any network whose basic model has anything in common with Twitter.

However, Stan Schroeder over at Mashable believes there is good reason to believe that Twitter “will only use the patent defensively”, as the network pledged in April 2012 “not to pursue offensive litigation over patients without the consent of the employees who created them.”

Speaking to, a spokesperson for Twitter stated: “Like many companies, we apply for patents on a bunch of our inventions. We also think a lot about how those patents may be used in the future, which is why we introduced the Innovator’s Patent Agreement to keep control of those patents in the hands of engineers and designers.”

Nilay Patel at The Verge opined that both Twitter’s new patent and its no-litigation promise are “equally broad”, making future developments difficult to predict, while Verge commenter Rufus M simply called the move “a slap in the face to the Twitter [development] community that helped get them where they are today.”

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