Something crazy happened in Silicon Valley last week. In a bold move to take a leadership position in the so-called “patent wars,” Twitter announced a new policy that allows its engineers to retain ownership of their patents. In the majority of organizations, innovators are forced to give up control of their inventions to the company.

Twitter aims to change that. There is certainly a lot to argue about on this one, but one thing is clear.

Chris O’Brien at Mercury News reports that Adam Messinger, Twitter’s Veep of Engineering, said there’s a recruiting motive behind this whole Innovator’s Patent Agreement (IPA) change. There’s only so many free toasters, scooters, and massages that Silicon Valley tech firms can offer prospective new employees. Because of this, Twitter is looking for a way to differentiate itself from other tech companies by allowing its engineers to keep control of the stuff they invent. In addition, Twitter’s policy commits the company to only use patents defensively, unless they obtain the patent owner’s permission first.

These are certainly bold moves and, as O’Brien points out, not likely to fly in publicly-traded companies, lest the executives be crucified by the shareholders. But it’s likely that more than a few engineers are now thinking differently about a career at Twitter – not to mention the ones already there.

But why does it seem like these Silicon Valley tech firms are the few that seem to “get it” when it comes to recruiting the best talent? A move like this is huge for many reasons. But for one of the primary drivers to be recruiting?

This clearly demonstrates that these tech companies think about recruiting in everything they do, not just as a result of a resignation or some manager’s business plan to add a few more full-time employees. But for them, this is a competitive reality. It’s “business as usual.”

But what about the rest of us?

A recruiting competitive advantage can be created in any kind of company – not just the big bay area tech firms. So why doesn’t this happen everywhere, every day? Why couldn’t a widget manufacturer or a retail store or a pharma firm or the local vet – or any company that needs to hire someone – decide to break away from the pack and do something outside the norm that creates the conditions where the best people want to work?

Why don’t we all think like this?


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