Twitter is a great way to spread important information quickly, including perhaps emergency notifications. Law.com reports today on a lawsuit from a Texas-based emergency broadcast technology company alleging that by designing its system in a way that allows Twitter to be used for emergency broadcasts, Twitter has violated the litigant's patent.You might think that
Sorry RedCross, sorry Center for Disease Control, sorry protesters in Iran - by alerting people to life and death situations over Twitter, you're party to piracy of intellectual property. You ought to be ashamed, and sign up for the services of TechRadium Inc. right away!
TechRadium, according to Tresa Baldas on Law.com, "argues that it has patents covering the process for simultaneously notifying large numbers of people about emergencies through multiple communication gateways, such as cell phones, pagers and e-mail. The company develops and sells the technology to schools, businesses, governments and the U.S. military but not Twitter."
Twitter Could Change
Twitter co-founder Evan Williams said specifically in one of the meetings that TechCrunch posted notes from that "Twitter is not an alert system."
Those same documents made it clear that the Twitter Terms of Service are subject to extensive revision as well. It wouldn't be a surprise at all to see those Terms changed to prohibit use of Twitter for emergency broadcast purposes. Everyone would assume it's for liability concerning the verification of such emergency broadcasts, but it could put a stop to the lawsuit the company faces as well.
Emergency Broadcast Systems Are a Social Good
In the meantime, perhaps we can use Microsoft's beta emergency broadcast system Vine. Perhaps TechRadium should go sue Microsoft instead.
It's a real shame; Twitter has always seemed like it would make a good emergency broadcast system.
The logic of intellectual property really doesn't make sense here. Typically patents are said to be important because they protect the profit of innovators, giving them an incentive to innovate and the rest of us the benefits of their innovation. Emergency broadcast systems get built for reasons other than just profit, though. See the US federal government's several alert systems, for example.
For what it's worth, it sure seems like it would be a good idea if Twitter was another tool available for emergency broadcasts, among its many other uses.
You can find ReadWriteWeb on Twitter, as well as the entire RWW Team. But don't expect us to alert you to anything really important! (That might be illegal.) Please follow: Marshall Kirkpatrick, Bernard Lunn, Alex Iskold, Sarah Perez, Frederic Lardinois, Jolie Odell, Dana Oshiro, Steven Walling and Lidija Davis.