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MPEG LA Attempts To Start VP8 Patent Pool

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the motives-as-pure-as-the-driven-snow dept.

Patents 186

Confirming speculation from last year, an anonymous reader tips news that MPEG LA has posted a request for information about establishing a patent pool for the VP8 video codec. "In order to participate in the creation of, and determine licensing terms for, a joint VP8 patent license, any party that believes it has patents that are essential to the VP8 video codec specification is invited to submit them for a determination of their essentiality by MPEG LA’s patent evaluators. At least one essential patent is necessary to participate in the process, and initial submissions should be made by March 18, 2011. Although only issued patents will be included in the license, in order to participate in the license development process, patent applications with claims that their owners believe are essential to the specification and likely to issue in a patent also may be submitted."

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186 comments

Evil & good (2)

ivucica (1001089) | more than 3 years ago | (#35175896)

Ultimately evil, this will at least provide a list of patents that threaten VP8.

Re:Evil & good (5, Insightful)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 3 years ago | (#35175994)

There are a few possible outcomes of this

1: nothing comes of it, either noone has a patent that they can reasonablly claim is essential for VP8 or those that do either want VP8 to stay open or want to continue holding their cards close to their chest.
2: Google looks at the patents and claims they don't actually apply to VP8 at which point a standoff ensues until a court rules on the issue.
3: Google looks at the patents, decides they do indeed cover VP8 and designs VP9 specifically to avoid them.

Re:Evil & good (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35176150)

4. Google looks at the patents, decides they do apply, and offers to buy up the patents?

Re:Evil & good (1)

commodore6502 (1981532) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176152)

#1 can be struck. Even if somebody like MS doesn't hold a VP8 patent, they'll claim they do simply to suppress VP8.

#2 is the most-likely outcome. Fight; fight; fight.

#3 would be bad for google. By the time VP9's specs were established, tested, and released, MPEG4 would be public domain and be an open-source codec itself. (Hence no need for VP9.)

Another alternative:
#4 People will decide this isn't worth the fight, use neither of these two battling codecs, and instead use the soon-to-be public domain MPEG2. (That's basically what happened in the SA-CD vs. DVD-audio war - both lost and people went to free downloadable MP3s instead.)

Re:Evil & good (2)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176336)

Umm....what? MPEG-2 can't stream any decent video at an Internet-friendly bandwidth. DVD isn't even HD and it takes 6 megabits to look halfway decent.

Re:Evil & good (1)

sxpert (139117) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177124)

which is where FTTH comes in... plenty of bandwidth for your mpeg2

Re:Evil & good (1)

hazydave (96747) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177960)

The internet is getting faster all the time. At its best, AVC has about twice the coding efficiency of MPEG-2... so you need 3Mpb/s VBR to look about as good as your DVD at 6Mb/s VBR. But bitrates don't need to scale as resolutions increase. For example, broadcast MPEG-2 in HD is at 19.4Mb/s or less, CBR, for 6x the resolution of that DVD. Most online AVC video is in the 2-4Mb/s range, which means MPEG-2 could look similar at twice that, whatever the resolution. People are even paying real money for things like NetFlix steaming "HD", which is only 720p at 2.8-3.6Mb/s VC-1 (WMV9), slightly less efficient than AVC.

So no, MPEG-2 isn't useful for Blu-ray quality streaming online. But almost no one's very close to that, even with AVC, VC-1, and VP8 options. It's easy to believe that, in a few years, MPEG-2 will be usable for this same kind of limited quality online video. If it needs to... I don't think it gets much support if there's a better free alternative. But in the worst-case patent wars, maybe. Or maybe it's VP3 or MPEG-4 ASP rather than AVC or VP8. That would depend on the specifics of any ensuing legal battle.

It's also worth pointing out, as someone mentioned, that it's quite possible Google could just buy any patent they can't invalidate... depends on who's got it and how greedy they are.

Re:Evil & good (1)

commodore6502 (1981532) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178166)

>>>MPEG-2 can't stream any decent video at an Internet-friendly bandwidth.

Neither can VP8. (bah Dah dum). Thank you, thank you, I'm here all week. ;-)

But seriously: I disagree. ABC's HD stations stream two HDTV channels at just ~7 Mbit/s using MPEG2. The quality looks good to me, and would fit down my DSL.

Re:Evil & good (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177454)

3: Google looks at the patents, decides they do indeed cover VP8 and designs VP9 specifically to avoid them.

Meanwhile.... VP8 loses credibility, and people move back to AAC before Google can finish work on VP9?

Re:Evil & good (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177954)

Wait, what? VP8 is a video codec. AAC is an audio codec. You can't abandon one in favor of the other.

Re:Evil & good (-1, Flamebait)

slew (2918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178074)

Wait, what? VP8 is a video codec. AAC is an audio codec. You can't abandon one in favor of the other.

s/AAC/AVC/

Take your meds please, most folks knew what that meant...

AVC = H.264 = MPEG4 part10

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.264/MPEG-4_AVC [wikipedia.org]

Re:Evil & good (2)

SuperQ (431) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177498)

4: Google files extortion lawsuit against MPEG-LA

Re:Evil & good (0)

hazydave (96747) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177820)

#1 is unlikely. If a patent holder wants to keep VP8 free, they admit their patent, then grant the VP8 project a free perpetual license. That might be a good thing, simply because it might superceed other, similar claims. And as well, if they don't come forward, they could in the future be held by a court to have abandoned their patent in this case.

Does This Even Matter? (-1, Troll)

mlingojones (919531) | more than 3 years ago | (#35175920)

Even if MPEG-LA turns out to be full of hot air, between H.264 and WebM, we're choosing between the lesser of two evils.

  • H.264 is "open" (it has gone through a standardization process, and anyone can contribute) but patent-encumbered (anyone providing an implementation must pay license fees.
  • WebM is "closed" (the spec is solely under Google's control) but (hopefully) patent-unencumbered (anyone can implement it for free).

Between the two, I would go with H.264 because I think openness is more valuable than patent-unencumbered-ness, but that's just me. Either way, we have to give something up.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35175986)

You don't seem to understand opensource and how this violates the spirit of opensource.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (4, Insightful)

dagamer34 (1012833) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176066)

Businesses don't care about open source. They care about patent liability. Using a codec that can get you sued isn't in their best interests.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (2)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176374)

Using a codec that can get you sued isn't in their best interests.

Since anyone can, will and have sued anyone and anything else over anything, it seems that you are proposing that noone ever user codecs?

Re:Does This Even Matter? (4, Interesting)

mrrudge (1120279) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177632)

I've done quite a lot of professional video streaming via website for large well known companies. They don't know/care/understand open source, they don't know/care/understand patent liability.

They want max bang for buck, where bang is video quality and buck is filesize/lack of streaming problems on a shitty connection.

That's still h264. It's often *stunning* in it's ability to compress quality video. WebM becomes defacto standard when it's a better tool than the alternative.

To compare this to png/jpg. They both have good uses, but jpg does better compression of photographic images, which is why your porn collection doesn't have any png's in it.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177786)

businesses do care about open source. They care about *liability* as opposed to specific patent liability.

using something that you can use any way you want without requiring legal oversight is absolutely in their best interests.

See what I did here? I twisted your falseness to reality.

Unfortunately, patent holders have a veto (1)

ciaran_o_riordan (662132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176072)

The decision will be made by the distros.

Patent encumberedness is what makes your legal department tell you a package can't be in the distro.

Liking openness is a lovely discussion for Sunday afternoons.

Re:Does This Even Matter? yes it does (4, Informative)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176120)

you either do not write codecs
or
you do not expect to be caught writing a H.264 codec.

MPEG-LA is the patent troll/layer firm that wants to collect $ for Software Patents on mathematical equations that compresses bits of information that happens to be a video. If it can scare/threaten/sue people into buying a license to create/use/distribute a H.264 codec then they will have accomplish their goal.

This WebM patent pool is a FUD tactic similar to MS' patents on Linux. You are free to create a WebM codec as much as you are free to write a Linux derivative. not so with H.264.

Re:Does This Even Matter? yes it does (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35176198)

You forgot a choice: they do write codecs, and believe that paying a small fee to the people who came up with the algorithms is a whole lot easier and smarter than spending many years (like the patent holders did) trying to come up with other algorithms.

Re:Does This Even Matter? yes it does (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35176326)

You forgot a choice: they do write codecs, and believe that paying a small fee to the people who came up with the algorithms is a whole lot easier and smarter than spending many years (like the patent holders did) trying to come up with other algorithms.

Way to miss the point about having a stranglehold on mathematical information. I bet you never met a fascist you didn't like and make apologies for.

Re:Does This Even Matter? yes it does (0, Troll)

mlingojones (919531) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176242)

You are free to create a WebM codec as much as you are free to write a Linux derivative. not so with H.264.

I am "free" to implement either codec, no one can stop me. The issue is that with H.264 if I plan to distribute that implementation I must pay license fees to the patent holders.

Both codecs are free in different ways. WebM is gratis; free as in beer; it costs no money to implement and distribute, but not to contribute to. H.264 is libre; free as in speech; you must pay to distribute an implementation, but anyone can contribute to the spec.

Like I said, I think the ability to contribute the codec vastly outweighs the ability to implement it for free.

Re:Does This Even Matter? yes it does (5, Informative)

steveha (103154) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178066)

Both codecs are free in different ways. WebM is gratis; free as in beer; it costs no money to implement and distribute, but not to contribute to. H.264 is libre; free as in speech; you must pay to distribute an implementation, but anyone can contribute to the spec.

No.

WebM has a frozen bitstream standard. You cannot contribute to this standard, because it is frozen. However, you are free to contribute to the support software: encoders, decoders, tools. And there is vast room for improvement of the encoders, plenty of work there to keep you busy.

H.264 also has a frozen bitstram standard. During the development phase, which is now over, you could have contributed to the development process, but only if you could afford the fees to attend the meeting. I am not sure exactly how much that cost, but I saw one posting here on Slashdot claiming it was on the order of $40,000 per person per meeting. In fairness, you could probably pitch your ideas for free to one of the large companies that was sending representatives (e.g. Microsoft, Apple) and possibly get your ideas in anyway.

H.265 is under development now. Go ahead and try to contribute some ideas to it. Please report back here on Slashdot for how well that works out for you.

So, the important thing here is: H.264 and WebM are both frozen standards. Both have free software projects implementing them, to which anyone can contribute. But only one of them is fully free. H.264 is controlled by MPEG-LA, so you can only distribute H.264 (or even use H.264) with their permission, on their terms. If they decide "no H.264 licenses will be offered to Linux users" then the Linux users will have no legal way to use it. (That's a silly, extreme example, and I have no reason to think they will do that. However, they really are asserting that the mere act of using a camera that records in H.264 makes you subject to their whims, which is intolerable.)

Like I said, I think the ability to contribute the codec vastly outweighs the ability to implement it for free.

I'm sorry, but H.264 is frozen too. You are simply mistaken on this point.

steveha

Re:Does This Even Matter? yes it does (0, Flamebait)

bonch (38532) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176586)

The WebM patent pool is not just FUD. One of x.264's developers wrote a technical analysis of WebM [multimedia.cx] and determined that WebM was similar enough to H.264 to step on its patents.

Re:Does This Even Matter? yes it does (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35177222)

The WebM patent pool is not just FUD. One of x.264's developers wrote a technical analysis of WebM [multimedia.cx] and determined that WebM was similar enough to H.264 to step on its patents.

That would be the "fear" part of FUD. FUD = Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. The fear can be real and justifiable and still meet that definition, you illiterate fuck who needs obvious things explained.

Re:Does This Even Matter? yes it does (2)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177514)

No, he said he'd be very surprised if it didn't step on patents because it's similar to parts of H.264 that are patented. He didn't, however, cite any specific patents, nor the claims in them that are violated by specific algorithms in VP8. Until someone does, then it's FUD.

Re:Does This Even Matter? yes it does (2)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177486)

You are free to create a WebM codec as much as you are free to write a Linux derivative

Actually, I'm not entirely sure about this. The patent license [webmproject.org] appears to only apply to:

the contents of this implementation of VP8

So, unless I'm misreading it, you are only granted a license to use the patents with libvpx and derivatives, not with independent implementations. The implementation in ffmpeg (which is faster and smaller) would not be covered. Maybe someone can persuade Google to clarify this.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (5, Interesting)

Omega Hacker (6676) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176182)

Dunno if you've ever actually read any MPEG specifications (I have), but the "open" standards process is not the best deal on the planet. Remember 802.11 "Draft N" and it's 5-year lifespan? That was a result of the standards process being held hostage by every vendor wanting to include their own pet features and patents. Constructing a standard around all those corporate filibusters took far too long, and the resulting standard is bloated and insanely complex. MPEG-4 and related (H.264 such) are stupidly huge standards that support all sorts of arcane features that nobody will ever use except as a) a marketing slide, and b) a patent to toss into the ring.

As per your claim that "anyone" can contribute to the MPEG standards, have you looked at the list of people involved? Every one of them comes from a major vendor or "research" company (or their university proxies) and is paying stupid sums of money to join and attend (meets move all over the planet). The reality is that if I had an idea I wanted to propose for an MPEG standard, hell will freeze over long before I even get a hearing let alone add the feature. Google is far more likely to pay attention to their (codec-savvy) users' comments.

I'll take unencumbered codecs with a single primary party keeping control over the standard every time.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176394)

There is also the fact that, coming from a position of relative weakness, and explicitly disclaiming any patents that need to be licensed in order to independently implement the spec, Google can write whatever spec they want; but they don't have very much leverage, which sharply limits their ability to piss people off.

Neither they nor their users have an interest in an incompetent spec, so interests are aligned there; and were Google to somehow come up with a way to bake anticompetitive evil of some flavor into the spec, there would be absolutely nothing stopping everyone else from shrugging and continuing to use "WebM without 'mustdecodeat50%ofrealtimeunlessuserisrunningchrome' enabled"... They don't have any "hook IP" by which to enforce conformity.

It remains to be seen whether they will gain enough traction for WebM to be relevant; but their unilateral spec is a long way from being dangerous at present...

Re:Does This Even Matter? (2)

hazydave (96747) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178070)

The worst part of the MPEG-LA style open process is that it works to maximize the number of patents that show up in any new specification. Rather than delivering the best technology, it delivers maximally patent encumbered technology that's good enough to meet the requirements of the project. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and in particular, the large companies who have an interest in earlier specs and don't want to be locked out of the next one.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (1)

WankersRevenge (452399) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176260)

Hmm ... I challenge you to provide a feature to this "open" spec and see where that gets you. I'm guessing you won't be able to get past their spam filter. When they mean that anyone can contribute, they really mean "anyone with relevant patents" or "anyone with industry clout". To the everyday coder, this spec is just as closed as the Google spec.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (3, Informative)

rwv (1636355) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176288)

H.264 is "open" like the Microsoft Open Office XML [wikipedia.org] standard is open. There are bear-traps that can prevent you from using it successfully. In the case of OOXML, one of those bear-traps is requiring your documents to interpret "Proprietary Microsoft Binary Blobs".

H.264, being patent protected, means that the patent holder reserve the right to say, "Go pound sand" when your five-year license expires.

WebM is controlled by Google.... but Google has effectively put its patents into the public domain so that ANYBODY can implement a WebM/VP8 video codec.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (2, Insightful)

gnasher719 (869701) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176500)

H.264 is "open" like the Microsoft Open Office XML standard is open. There are bear-traps that can prevent you from using it successfully. In the case of OOXML, one of those bear-traps is requiring your documents to interpret "Proprietary Microsoft Binary Blobs".

I'd call your comparison quite pathetic. h.264 is actually a useful standard. It provides a very, very clear specification for its compression and decompression, unlike WebM. It is widely used with a huge range of hardware implementations. It gives much better compression than WebM will ever have. It was created with the intention to produce the best possible video compression. From a technical point of view it is clearly superior to WebM, and Google is right now trying to force a sub-standard video compression onto the whole world. The OOXML standard, on the other hand, is ten times the size of the h.264 standard. It is full of bugs, unclear, unspecified in many areas, there are no implementations now and there will likely never be implementations (since Microsoft doesn't have any products that match this standard), and all these huge disadvantages are totally intentional.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (2)

HermMunster (972336) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177526)

Document formats are what maintains Microsoft's Office monopoly. Need I say more?

Re:Does This Even Matter? (3, Informative)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177646)

It is widely used with a huge range of hardware implementations.

Quoting from wikipedia: AMD, ARM, and Broadcom have announced support for hardware acceleration of the WebM format.[31][32] Intel is also considering hardware-based acceleration for WebM in its Atom-based TV chips if the format gains popularity.[33] Qualcomm and Texas Instruments have announced support,[34][35] with native support coming to the TI OMAP processor.[36] Chip&Media have announced the fully hardware decoder for VP8 that can decode full HD resolution VP8 streams at 60 frames per second.[37]

It gives much better compression than WebM will ever have.

No. VP8 already has better compression efficiency than h.264 and at the same time being on par in quality with h.264. From the technical point of view, WebM has the potential to be a lot better than H.264.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (1)

Lotunggim Ginsawat (689998) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178156)

No. VP8 already has better compression efficiency than h.264 and at the same time being on par in quality with h.264. From the technical point of view, WebM has the potential to be a lot better than H.264.

Uhmm... no. Unless of course you have sources for that claim. As for hardware support, which model from ARM/AMD/Broadcom has support for WebM? For example, even the latest ARM Cortex A-15 that will come out next year doesn't support WebM. When will we find support for WebM from ARM? 2015? 2020?

Re:Does This Even Matter? (1)

crmarvin42 (652893) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178326)

but Google has effectively put its patents into the public domain

When did this happen??

AFAIK, they open sourced the IMPLEMENTATION, not the underlying rights granted by patents. Now, I don't EXPECT them to be suing anyone over the relevant patents they purchased from the original developers when they bought VP8, but that doesn't mean that they can't.

Re:Does This Even Matter? (1)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177534)

It doesn't matter who developed a spec, what matters is the freedom you have to implement it... WebM lets anyone implement it, h.264 requires patent licenses in order to implement it.

Both specs are finalised, so noone can contribute to them anymore. Any contributions made would become part of a future spec, and there is nothing stopping you contributing to WebM and making future versions of the codec with or without google's cooperation.

/. News Networks (1)

Even on Slashdot FOE (1870208) | more than 3 years ago | (#35175942)

Corporations collaborate to create a new wall to bar entry into the video codec arena. A surprisingly number of obvious implementations will be covered by at least one of the VP8 patents, and the judges chosen to try the cases will not have a clue how either video codecs or patents work.

Re:/. News Networks (2)

denis-The-menace (471988) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176154)

And the judges will live in Texas, the IP wonderland of the USA.

Re:/. News Networks (1)

cforciea (1926392) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176784)

Not just Texas. There are, in fact, a few of us that have risen from savagery and become civilized here. They live in backwoods East Texas, which has much more in common with the folk in the swaps of Louisiana than us city folk in big Texas cities where our judges might have half a chance in hell of knowing what a video codec is.

VP8 Patent Pool and Licensing (1)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 3 years ago | (#35175956)

OK, so I'm sure everyone knows VP8 is the video codec for WebM.

So, this is essentially a step in killing WebM's major advantage over H.264? That advantage being a royalty-free codec...

Re:VP8 Patent Pool and Licensing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35176012)

OK, so I'm sure everyone knows VP8 is the video codec for WebM.

So, this is essentially a step in killing WebM's major advantage over H.264? That advantage being a royalty-free codec...

they're going to try to, problem is I'm pretty sure that google thought of this when they bought On2 and has been carefully researching to make sure that it doesn't infringe on any patents they don't own.

Re:VP8 Patent Pool and Licensing (1)

fusiongyro (55524) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176620)

Try, yes, but they didn't do a very good job. [multimedia.cx]

article 377 (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176722)

I've read article 377 that you linked. But I've also read replies to that article, and it appears that the places where VP8 is allegedly inferior to H.264 main profile are precisely the places where On2 worked around a specific patent. That's why VP8 uses 4x4 and 16x16 blocks in a lot of places, as a lot of patents appear to be specific to the 8x8 transform size.

Re:VP8 Patent Pool and Licensing (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176646)

Which is virtually impossible, but I'm going to wager that they've got patents to cover everything that VP8 does. As in all the VP6 patents plus all the ones for whatever they added. Which doesn't necessarily mean that they're safe, but I'm guessing they have enough of a war chest of patents to smack anybody foolish enough to try and claim infringement.

Re:VP8 Patent Pool and Licensing (1)

HermMunster (972336) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177656)

I would agree that Google knows precisely which, if any, patents they may even remotely infringe. A question that comes up in my mind is whether MPEG-LA, or anyone else, has gone to Google informing them of infringements while demanding royalties. In other words, could they claim willfulness?

Given On2's history they have shown a high degree of integrity and willingness to research and implement their technology in such a way as to be unencumbered.

The member companies of MPEG-LA may have other patent issues to deal with if they begin pressuring Google, and their allies. Don't be too shocked if a patent war breaks out where some big guns come to the table against MPEG-LA.

This is clearly a case where MPEG-LA is using this as FUD to destroy any confidence the industry may have in their competition.

Re:VP8 Patent Pool and Licensing (1)

dzfoo (772245) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176704)

Your comment assumes that there are no external patent claims or that any provided would have no merit. If VP8 is indeed encumbered by third party patents--and they can prove it--wouldn't you agree that WebM has then no advantage over H.264 by essentially becoming a legal liability to its users?

Now, I emphasize that those are the conditions of the argument, not facts. However, having Google on one end claiming that the there are no patents encumbering VP8 is still not a fact, and does not prove it either way.

If MPEG LA is able to find any patent holders with claims on VP8 technologies, then it would mean that Google was wrong in its assertion. If they cannot, then VP8 should remain untarnished and its merits and advantage vindicated.

So, this is essentially a step in killing WebM support if indeed there are patent claims against it.

            -dZ.

Re:VP8 Patent Pool and Licensing (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176816)

The small faint glimmer of hope that I still hold wants Google to use this pool as a shopping list.

Re:VP8 Patent Pool and Licensing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35177016)

Patent claims.... is not the same as *valid* claim... A 5+ year court battle with Mblh (Mega billable legal hours) will be required to determine that.

Only lawyers will win.

Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (5, Insightful)

ciaran_o_riordan (662132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35175976)

There have been previous threats about Theora, but nothing happened. This could be FUD bluff too.

MPEG LA has over 1,000 patents which it says are needed for an implementation of MPEG H.264.

Most current efforts around software patents talk about quality and bad patents, but none of those efforts will make a dent on a thicket of 1,000 patents. It's unlikely they're all obvious or that prior art exists for them.

* http://en.swpat.org/wiki/MPEG_LA [swpat.org]
* http://en.swpat.org/wiki/WebM_and_VP8 [swpat.org]
* http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Audio-video_patents [swpat.org]

There was a time when the problem was killer patents - RSA, public key encryption, gif - but today the problem is always thickets. Raising quality won't solve the problem, we need to clearly exclude software from patentability.

Re:Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (2)

One Louder (595430) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176148)

There have been previous threats about Theora, but nothing happened. This could be FUD bluff too.

One interesting difference here is that they're going up against someone with deep pockets. If they can't find something substantive, MPEG-LA is risking a "slander of title" claim, and Google might consider making an example of them.

"slander of title" - sounds interesting (1)

ciaran_o_riordan (662132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176364)

> MPEG-LA is risking a "slander of title" claim

Has that been used in the past against a patent holder??

Re:"slander of title" - sounds interesting (1)

One Louder (595430) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176720)

Has that been used in the past against a patent holder??

Not that I know of. "Slander of Title" is really a real estate law concept, however, SCO made an interesting attempt to use to enforce an alleged copyright claim. In their case, it turns out they didn't actually *have* the title they were claiming was being "slandered" by Novell. However, there really didn't seem to be anything fundamentally wrong with the reasoning - the consequences of claiming you own something you don't has substantial legal history behind it. In this case, it may actually require that MPEG-LA explicitly claim they "own" part of VP8, through a patent, in order to be actionable (assuming, of course, that the claim is false).

Re:"slander of title" - sounds interesting (3, Interesting)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176738)

The answer is yes, I did find at least one instance, and according to the article it is possible to win such a suit. This charming lawsuit [blogspot.com]
 
 

Chamilia’s slander of title claims also failed. Allegations of patent infringement can be slander of title if they are false, reasonably calculated to cause harm, and result in special damages.

That's an excerpt from the article relevant to the topic.

Slander of title on Groklaw and FindLaw (2)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176964)

Has [a claim of slander of title] been used in the past against a patent holder??

Have you asked Google [google.com] ? The first result is a Groklaw article from the SCO v. IBM era [groklaw.net] . It cites an article on FindLaw [findlaw.com] ; the link there is broken, but I found it with Google [google.com] . Slander of title is the malicious publication of false and disparaging words by which special damages were sustained, causing a plaintiff who owns the property disparaged to lose a sale. FindLaw's article cites Prosser and Keeton (apparently Prosser and Keeton on Torts) that patents or other intangible property may be the subject of such a claim.

Re:Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (1)

silanea (1241518) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176520)

From what I have read about the issue it is my understanding that most patents in the media codec area are somehow extensions or refinements of other patented methods. Which would mean that instead of 1,000 individual patents one would be looking at a card house of legal technicalities that would fold if the fundamental patents everyone else built upon were invalidated. Could someone in the field comment on whether that really is the case?

Re:Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35177330)

Not so, some random fundamental patent being invalidated doesn't do anything about the validity of refinements.

E.g. I patent "A red bike", later you patent "A red bike WITH A SPOILER". It's subsequently found that red bikes were obvious, previously published, or otherwise unpatenable. This doesn't mean that the addition of a spoiler wasn't a worthwhile and patentable enhancement. You'd have to evaluate the spoiler patent on its own.

The reason that the H.264 patents are almost all no issue for VP8 is that there is a constant tension between making a patent easy to get and enforce by making it specific and making it general enough that someone might actually infringe it.

For patents created in the process of developing a standard codec the patent doesn't need to be general at all. Instead the patent describes _exactly_ what the codec _requires_, and you can be sure that everyone will implement it just so because they must in order to inter-operate with the standard. This way the patent is very safe from invalidation so it's cheap to enforce, and it's much easier to get it through the USPTO process. It won't, however, read on another codec that differs even in small ways so long as the authors were careful to avoid the patents. It's often as simple as changing the order of two fields in the bit-stream to avoid several patents at once.

There are, of course, a few more fundamental patents. But these have increased vulnerability to invalidation so no one is eager to try enforcing them, and the folks at google (formerly On2) have been making video codecs commercially for something like 20 years, their codecs are on hundreds of millions of devices, without any known litigation against them or their customers for patent infringement. So It's safe to say that they know more than a little bit about playing this game.

Re:Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (1)

hazydave (96747) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178286)

Yes, that's exactly right. A patent is supposed to be for a specific implementation, not a general idea. The highly paid patent attorneys like to write patents in very complex language that seems to be very specific during the review process, but then naturally reads on everything once the patent is granted.

The process of building these new specs, however, tends to avoid that. As A.C. up there points out, the goal is a reproducible spec, and it's at least possible the work that got that patent was intended specifically to get into the new spec, so it's very specific to that project (AVC, AAC, whatever).

A slightly different spin derives from the very fact that this kind of spec creation maximizes the number of patents that go into the spec. These are not organically created specifications, it's every interested party trying to get their two cents in. So the patents are sometimes silly -- they are often doing regular things in obscure ways, just to get the patent. You need that patent to build a compatible encoder/decoder/whatever, but you don't need it to do the same kind of thing in an incompatible project.

Re:Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (1)

gnasher719 (869701) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178234)

From what I have read about the issue it is my understanding that most patents in the media codec area are somehow extensions or refinements of other patented methods. Which would mean that instead of 1,000 individual patents one would be looking at a card house of legal technicalities that would fold if the fundamental patents everyone else built upon were invalidated. Could someone in the field comment on whether that really is the case?

That isn't true at all. Let's say X is patented, and it may or may not deserve that patent. It may be really too obvious for a patent, for example. I invent Y, which is an improvement on X, and get a patent. That means my improvements over X were worth a patent. It doesn't matter what X itself is worth. If you manage to invalidate X, then my improvements over X are still the same as they were before, and they deserve or don't deserve a patent, totally independent from X.

Re:Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (1)

yuhong (1378501) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176882)

Don't kill software patents just to use H.264 though. Kill software patents because it is ridiculous that an algorithm is patentable just because it executes on a computer.

Re:Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (2)

wilsone8 (471353) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177666)

Don't kill software patents just to use H.264 though. Kill software patents because it is ridiculous that an algorithm is patentable just because it executes on a computer.

I never understood this one. If anything, clever algorithms should be the ONLY software I am allowed to patent (one-click is not clever, GIF's compression was). These people worked hard to come up with a novel idea that they then want to make money from. What is wrong with that exactly? Why SHOULDN'T they be able to patent them? We let people patent novel ways of building a mousetrap. If my mousetrap is virtual, why is that any different?

Re:Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178444)

I think the argument is essentially that algorithms are math, and have always existed. They are discovered, not created.

Just as we cannot patent a naturally occurring chemical that gets discovered, we cannot patent an algorithm that gets discovered.

Additionally, the virtual mouse trap is far cheaper to build, rebuild, refine etc.

Re:Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (1)

hazydave (96747) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178340)

Or how about enforcing actual patent law. Algorithms are not patentable. Only implementations. One of the big problems is that patent cases seem to accept overly broad claims, rather than very strictly reading the claims, as embodied in the actual implementation, on any potential violator.

Re:Might be a bluff, otherwise we've a lot of work (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177402)

Theora never had the backing from a major player that it would have needed to be considered a threat. WebM has Google, which means it it worth noticing. In deciding which standard will dominate (and not just in video), marketing and endorsements matter more than which is superior.

Dilute your patent with MPLA (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35176008)

If you think you have a patent to use against Vp8, signing it over to MPEG-LA is the last thing you should do. Look at their other pools, the few good patents are swamped by the dross. The earnings from your patents get shared with troll patents of no value.

Even the CEO of MPEG-LA HAS A SEPARATE patent pool all for himself largely undiluted? His MobileMedia Ideas LLC, is like a patent pool, only he's bought patents and controls the pool.

If he won't throw those patents into the diluted pool, neither should you.

http://www.osnews.com/story/23258/MPEG-LA-owned_Patent_Troll_Sues_Smartphone_Makers

Re:Dilute your patent with MPLA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35176356)

What patent pool are you suggesting that MobileMedia Ideas should join? They aren't suing over video codec standards like MPEG2, VC1, H264, or any of the other patent pools that MPEG-LA operates. It doen't make any sense for them to be part of those pools, and probably would be accepted if they applied. They are a patent troll for sure, but I don't see how their behavier discredes the idea of patent pools. No one should be surpised that licenseing H.264 doesn't also protect them from patent lawsuits unrelated to H.264.

Re:Dilute your patent with MPLA (1)

dch24 (904899) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176594)

What was your point again? Did you really want to discuss alternative patent pools?

What patent pool are you suggesting that MobileMedia Ideas should join?

Fine then, let's discuss alternative patent pools. Oh, wait:

blah blah blah ... suing ... blah blah blah ... other patent pools that MPEG-LA operates ... blah blah blah ... I don't see how their behavier [ed: lol] descredes [ed: rofl] the idea of patent pools ... blah blah blah ... doesn't also protect them ...

Never mind. Your non sequitur spouting of MPEG-LA propaganda is too much. I can't stop laughing.

Re:Dilute your patent with MPLA (5, Insightful)

horza (87255) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176700)

It is surprising to me, and a sign that MPEG-LA has thrown in the towel and this is a last desperate throw of the dice for H.264. I expected MPEG-LA to be extolling the virtues of H.264 such as better quality and lower bit rates, large amounts of established hardware encoders and decoders, etc. By trying to now establish a VP8 patent pool they are telling the world at large that WebM is just as good as what they have. As it's patent free, with a current patent pool of 0, it looks like WebM might move from the web world into the consumer device world too.

Phillip.

Re:Dilute your patent with MPLA (2)

digsbo (1292334) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176814)

By trying to now establish a VP8 patent pool they are telling the world at large that WebM is just as good as what they have.

In addition, they're telling the world they're not going to be extending the royalty free-period on H.264 beyond the ten year period already established.

Re:Dilute your patent with MPLA (1)

Zelgadiss (213127) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178014)

Or they can just make decoding for internet streaming royalty free forever.

That will solve everything, and everyone can move on with their lives.

They lose a bit of income, but they still make tons from everything else, decoding for other applications and encoders.

It's the logical thing to do. /sigh

Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35176020)

At least now we can start preferring quality (H264) over ?. The user wins.

Looks like "legal racketeering" to me (5, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176098)

Nice shiny-looking coded you've got there. It would be a pity of something bad were to happen to it. You know that you won't have to worry about any of these legal threats if you just license h.264, and it's just a small fee. For a short time, we've even waived the fee, just for you!

I know what MPLA is doing is technically legal, but spiritually it's corrupt. The patent system is broken, from many directions. For the other way around, my employer is routinely trolled by NPEs.

Re:Looks like "legal racketeering" to me (2)

PHP Wolf (629571) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176222)

Your employer is routinely trolled by NullPointerExceptions?

Re:Looks like "legal racketeering" to me (2)

dpilot (134227) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176632)

I'm not sure if I have to say this, but "Non Practicing Entities", meaning companies that hold patents, but don't actually make anything related to the patents. For companies with patents, the normal way of things is to cross-license, because what they really want is freedome of action in making products. That's not the case for NPEs - they're just out to tap someone else's revenue stream. (The previous may be an unfair statement - maybe some of them actually are out to protect small independent inventors. Not the ones I've seen, though.)

And perhaps you were just pulling my leg, in which case I grant you one free "Whoosh!"

Re:Looks like "legal racketeering" to me (1)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176266)

Yes, it is legal racketeering. There are patent trolls everywhere.

MS saying that they wouldn't sue companies for shipping Android if they also ship some WP7 handsets? It's all over the place.

MPEG-LA hasn't waived any fees for a short time. They still have the same fee schedule for H.264 as ever. It's free for some uses (and recently that period was extended to forever), but for many commercial uses it costs money and that's hasn't changed.

If (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176166)

If I were evil, an evil of the variety that only lawyers can hope to attain, I would very much enjoy making THAT announcement. "The Googlers think they're getting around us with this? We'll stick it to the googles! We have ways......"

patent and copyright law in bad need of reform (5, Insightful)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176186)

Patents today are massively abused. Originally developed for the purpose of encourage innovation. tnhey actually squelch it. Many innovations improve on a previous idea. Patents make it difficult for independant developers to improve on and rrefine an idea. Patents have been turned in to a way to squelch independant innovation and create monopoliies, and stagnant technologies which are difficult to improve on or use independantly. Patent holders often charge licence fees so high they preclude independant use or refinement, make the technology too costly to deploy and limit its use, or they do not licence the technlogy at all, gaining a monopoly on ideas.

Both copyright law and patent law badly need reform. Software patents need to be prohibited altogether. Other patents need to be required to be licenced to other persons, for a reasonable percentage of profits (if there is no revenue there would be no fee). Copyrighted works no longer under production or distribution will also be made public domain immediately and must comply with the same reasonable licencing requirements.

Re:patent and copyright law in bad need of reform (1)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176432)

I agree that there needs to be reform, but I disagree that video compression algorithms shouldn't be patentable. The patent terms just need to be realistic with regard to how fast the industry moves. Not 15 years or something.

Re:patent and copyright law in bad need of reform (1)

horza (87255) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176716)

Mathematics has been around for quite a while now.

Phillip.

Re:patent and copyright law in bad need of reform (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35177612)

So have physics. Engineering a machine is pretty much just applied physics in much the same way that algorithms are applied mathematics. Why should one be patentable and not the other?

Re:patent and copyright law in bad need of reform (1)

Draek (916851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177728)

Why? most other kinds of math aren't patentable, I don't see why this one should.

Re:patent and copyright law in bad need of reform (1)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177806)

It's not the math itself, it's the particular implementation of it.

Re:patent and copyright law in bad need of reform (1)

Draek (916851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178302)

Particular implementations are covered by copyright, not patents.

Re:patent and copyright law in bad need of reform (3, Interesting)

DCFusor (1763438) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176798)

Yes, for quite awhile now patents of all kinds (not only software) are used by the shortsighted large players to exclude any competition from smaller ones. The big boys make a show of suing one another, but then settle out of court with some cross license deal.
.

The net result is that they no longer have to do any real innovation, and simply fight over a slice of the existing pie, rather than make the size of the pie as a whole bigger. Sure, they hate one another, but they fear any outsider who might come along with something new. Such an outsider has no chance against them, as it costs $1-10 million and years in court to get even an obviously bad patent thrown out. Multiply that by the number of garbage patents the bigs hold and the situation is untenable for anyone new coming along with a great new thing.
.

Further, it's an assault on open source software, because those of us who write it cannot afford to defend against things like this, and it's almost impossible to write many lines of code without running afoul of some patent claim.
.

Even google is catching this from Oracle at this point, despite Oracle's frequent past urging for Java to go completely free. Now that they own it, it seems they believe that some patents give them the rights to anything running on a VM of any kind (look out .NET and Perl!).
.

We are witnessing the best law money can buy (surprised?) -- but it's not even the best law for those promoting it, because they are so shortsighted that they are actually going to create their own demise if they can't force this sort of thing to happen in every single country that has a market.. As one can see from the news, this is precisely what they are trying to do, and with some success.
.

The true corrosion comes when anyone small does do something truly nifty. This leverage by the bigs means they can simply steal the new stuff while bankrupting the originator over all the stupid patents the bigs own. This of course means there is no incentive for that small guy to do anything nifty and humanity stalls out.
.

It's hard to see how this system can be fixed in reality, as the bigs spend enough on politicians to perpetuate whatever they desire, and there's no reason to believe that throwing the bums out (as if we had a choice other than another set of bums) would do any good -- the new boss would wind up just like the old boss. It's the alternate version of the golden rule -- them with the gold make the rules. Where we failed is letting them get all the gold in the first place, now it's probably too late to do much of anything.
.

Too Big To Fail is a rotten concept, and if that is really true for absolutely any enterprise, it should be priority one worldwide to force those too big to fail to break up. Period. Not regulate how they act once that is true -- make it not possible to be true. But, as we say here, goodluckwiththat.

Wrongness (1)

cforciea (1926392) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176216)

I grok wrongness.

Legal Authority Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35176314)

Since when does the MPEG LA have the legal right to form a pool around the patents?

Re:Legal Authority Question (1)

crmarvin42 (652893) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178018)

Since when does the MPEG LA have the legal right to form a pool around the patents?

As soon as any holder of a patent that applies to VP8 decides that they want to join the MPEG LA patent pool.

The right belongs to the patent holder, MPEG LA is just offering to help them monetize their rights. That's all MPEG LA ever does. They are a one stop shop for licensing patents in pools at "Fair and Reasonable Prices". Nothing stops a patent holder from excluding their patent from the pool and pursuing licensing deals, and lawsuits against all possible infringers on their own. It's just much easier to let MPEG LA handle all of the bloody details for a small cut of the profits from the patent.

They are just a middle man. This is simply a solicitation to possible customers for their services. If no one bites, then nothing will happen and VP8 (WebM) will continue to be royalty free (unless individual patent holders decide to pursue action against Google on their own).

I expect the patent pool to form, Google to get sued, and then Google to pay the licensing fees to MPEG LA out of their own pocket to make WebM truely royalty free for users. I don't think they are promising indemnification now becuase they want to keep the final bill as small as possible, and revealing their intentions would make final negotiations more difficult.

Ultimately though, I don't care. Neither technology costs me anything (directly), in the handful of comparisons I've looked at H.264 trumps WebM, I've got a huge library of H.264 content already, and all of my hardware supports H.264 and not WebM. I'm not into technology for the ideology (that's why I'm into politics ;).

What the hell is this shit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35176328)

They seem to be using their codec to get others to participate, which seems better than waiting to get sued, but that's for their own benefit. Do the MPEG LA want everyone else to do all their legal work for them in the guise of "participation"?

Look at the Additional IP Rights Grant license (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35176350)

If you read the license of WebM Google already has a patent clause... For some reason in all the hurray that is something that is overlooked. There is also the false notion that Google would protect users against patent cases, that isn't the fact. Read the Additional IP Rights Grant (Patents) part of the license.

http://www.webmproject.org/license/additional/

From the moment anyone (doesn't need to the MPEG LA) somebody has a clear case of infringement you will loose all the rights and you have the same story as with h.264 as you will need to license... . I said it from the beginning and I say it again, this has nothing to do with patents, money (it is Google) or "don't do evil" (china) and in the long run the winner will be Adobe/Flash... .

Re:Look at the Additional IP Rights Grant license (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35178284)

You've misunderstood it. The licensee, and only that licensee, loses all rights forever if _they_ make any VP8 patent claim against anyone. E.g. No one that ever distributes VP8 can join this pool, because they can't actually assert their patents even if they do have a patent covering VP8. Google's patent grant is an enormous gift to the public because it not only protects google but it also protects everyone.

Because of overall industry pressure most of the obvious big players have already distributed VP8 even if they don't realize it, and most of the rest will in the next coming years. So the only parties which could join this pool are non-practicing entities (patent trolls), because they're the only ones who can be sure they haven't relied on google's grant.

Re:Look at the Additional IP Rights Grant license (1)

John Betonschaar (178617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35178496)

[quote]You've misunderstood it. The licensee, and only that licensee, loses all rights forever if _they_ make any VP8 patent claim against anyone.[/quote]

The legalese in the VP8 licensing terms is pretty dense so I'm not pretending to be able to see it for what it's worth, legally, but the way I read it, it says something along the lines of 'if you facilitate any patent litigation suit against VP8 you will loose any right licensing or using it'. Signing a patent cross-licensing agreement with MPEG-LA to be able to continue selling your VP8-products when the shit hits the fan might very well constitute 'facilitation of patent litigation against VP8' since you'd be pretty much acknowledging VP8 infringes MPEG-LA patents if you did that.

Anyway, the risks alone will prevent manufacturers from investing millions (if not billions) of dollars in VP8-based products anyway. Compared to just ponying up the H264 royalties and getting a better codec that is safe from patent claims in return, going the VP8 route makes no sense at all from a business point of view. Which is exactly why Google is acting royally stupid here, trying to force sub-standard technology under the pretense that it is 'free' and 'open', but not wanting to take responsibility for it when it turns out they are wrong.

This is good! (1)

Tim12s (209786) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176536)

This is good... no, its GREAT!

This will produce a clear and decisive list of patents that must be challenged by VP8.

The alternative is to produce an eco-system around VP8 which will be shattered and hung out to dry in 10 years time.

-Tim

Re:This is good! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35177004)

Or it will result in MPEG LA being able to say "All users of VP8 must pay royalties to us. By the way those royalties are bigger than H.264 which we would prefer you to use" if they manage to get some patents into the pool that VP8 won't be able to overcome.

Re:This is good! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35177136)

It wont be decisive list. It is purely volentary to add your patent to this pool. Someone with a real showstopper could keep it a submarine patent and sue sepperately.

Dear Google (1)

drb226 (1938360) | more than 3 years ago | (#35176760)

Dear Google,

Please wait patiently until March 18, 2011, and then confront this patent pool head on. We really need some closure on whether WebM is really going to be unencumbered by patents. The swift progress of internet innovation will be forever in your debt if you can definitively clear this up. Thank you.

kind of like the mafia (1)

t2t10 (1909766) | more than 3 years ago | (#35177384)

Pay us so that we can "protect" you.

wankers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35177592)

Fuking wankers that's what they are

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