If you're thinking about copying the way Twitter works, you might want to get a good lawyer: the technology at the core of the social network is officially patented.
As first reported by The Verge, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Twitter a patent today for what it termed a "Device independent message distribution platform:"
A system (and method) for device-independent point to multipoint communication is disclosed. The system is configured to receive a message addressed to one or more destination users, the message type being, for example, Short Message Service (SMS), Instant Messaging (IM), E-mail, web form input, or Application Program Interface (API) function call. The system also is configured to determine information about the destination users, the information comprising preferred devices and interfaces for receiving messages, the information further comprising message receiving preferences. The system applies rules 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. The system translates the message based on the destination user information and message endpoints and transmits the message to each endpoint of the message.
The patent was granted to Twitter co-founders Jack Dorsey (who is also the co-founder and CEO of the mobile payments company, Square) and Biz Stone (whose real name is Christopher Isaac Stone).
Dorsey, of course, is no longer actively involved with Twitter's day-to-day operations, though he is still the company's chairman.
As The Verge pointed out, though Twitter now has its patent in hand, the company is unlikely to proactively sue anyone who might have violated it. "It's doubtful the company will pursue any litigation against competing services with it now that it's in hand," The Verge wrote. "The company has very publicly promised to only use patents defensively, and last year introduced the Innovator's Patent Agreement to codify that promise and require permission from its employees before suing offensively."
But, it's clear that competing companies like Facebook need to take a closer look at their products if they want to avoid the wrath of Twitter's lawyers.
After the patent was granted, Stone tweeted, "Look Ma, I'm officially an inventor."