Twitter has just been granted a patent…for Twitter! A new patent issued today by the USPTO, with the micro-blogging website’s founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone listed under inventors, describes Twitter broadly as a messaging service.

Within the patent, Twitter is sketched as a system and method that is “configured to receive a message addressed to one or more destination users.” Essentially, the patent lists down a service in which users follow each other and messages broadcasted don’t have specific recipients. These messages are displayed to the followers.

Twitter has been patented!

Twitter has been patented!

Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with social networking would realise this is pretty much how Twitter works. The application for the patent was filed in July 2008 and has only been granted five years later.

In effect, this patent will give Twitter a very strong defense against those it thinks is infringing on its services. Twitter will, although, not be going down the road of pursuing litigations against competing services. In April last year, Twitter brought in the Innovator’s Patent Agreement which showed that the micro-blogging service was keen to use its patent only for defensive purposes. It formed a contract between Twitter and its employees saying that the latter would need to grant permission before the company could sue offensively.

“Typically, engineers and designers sign an agreement with their company that irrevocably gives that company any patents filed related to the employee’s work. The company then has control over the patents and can use them however they want, which may include selling them to others who can also use them however they want,” explained Adam Messinger, the then VP of Engineering of Twitter. “With the IPA, employees can be assured that their patents will be used only as a shield rather than as a weapon.”

But this does not mean that competing services will be able to rest easy. They will have to re-evaluate and rethink their products carefully in light of the patent being granted. Any service that can send out messages to unaddressed recipients who follow a particular user will be caught in the limelight first. Facebook’s subscription model, which now uses the term “Follow” instead of “subscribe” could be the first to be in hot waters.

After the patent was granted, Twitter reiterated what it had written during the launch of the IPA, “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,” it said.

With Twitter’s IPO just around the corner, it would be very interesting to see how this patent affects the company’s future in the market. On the other hand, arch rivals Facebook will need to think twice before taking any step, especially since it is also mulling over adding the hashtag, a typical Twitter feature, after having added the “Follow” one.

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