Twitter has patented a "device-independent message distribution platform", effectively patenting Twitter.
Officially filed in 2008 and granted on Tuesday by the US Patents and Trademark Office, the patent protects a messaging service in which users follow each other and send messages that don't have specific recipients as opposed to a broadcasting system such as a mailing list or RSS feed.
But the firm say the patent will be used solely for “defensive” purposes as the company introduced an Innovator's Patent Agreement (IPA) last year which promises not to use patents from employee inventions in "offensive litigation" without approval from the employees involved.
"Like many companies, we apply for patents on a bunch of our inventions," said a statement from the company. "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."
Patent and trademark attorney Withers & Rogers says the announcement marks a watershed in the way in which such businesses are seeking to protect their innovations commercially.
John-Paul Rooney, partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers, said: “Patents in the online and digital space have become extremely valuable as they provide commercially-recognised assets which can attract investors and further protect the market position of the company.
“The fact that Twitter has publically announced that they will not litigate against any infringement aggressively under the terms of the IPA is a brave move and indicates that it is more about protecting innovation than going on the warpath.
“However, other social networking platforms must be sure to check that Twitter’s patent protection does not extend beyond the US and, if required, seek licence agreements for any Twitter-owned technology they are using.
“On the upside, competitors should also recognise that Twitter’s move to protect its technology opens the way for others to find ways to improve on it and find a way to give their platform a competitive edge.”
The patent lists Twitter founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone as its inventors.
Following the announcement Stone tweeted: “Look Ma, I'm officially an inventor (my dream as a kid)!”