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Newest Patent Threat to MPEG-4

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the there-has-to-be-something,-right? dept.

Patents 365

Sachin Garg writes "After the notorious JPEG patent which has made many big and small names pay huge amounts to Forgent (total more than $105 million), PCMag reports that AT&T claims to have a patent covering core MPEG-4 technology and has warned Apple and others of Patent Infringement. Pentax and Nero have already paid them."

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Typical (4, Interesting)

DoddyUK (884783) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687039)

1) Help to form new "revolutionary" file format.
2) Wait for it to take off and become popular
3) Use new file format popularity to hold companies to ransom thanks to the incompetancy of the current USPTO system.
4) ...
5) PROFIT!

But honestly, is this the way for people to get their money nowadays? Claim "prior art" on any patent which seems convenient and then hold any company which uses the format to cut a hole in their wallet? Any patent issues should be resolved before a file format is made readily available, therefore any companies who happen to use the format will know of any pitfalls.

I still admit that this may be nothing compared to the JPEG patent (which about 99.9% of websites use), but it still seems silly, just like any other USPTO story which is posted on /.

Oh, and FP :)

Re:Typical (2, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687236)

But honestly, is this the way for people to get their money nowadays? Claim "prior art" on any patent which seems convenient and then hold any company which uses the format to cut a hole in their wallet?

That's not what prior art means. Prior art is a way of invalidating a patent by showing that the idea existed and was in use before it was patented. If MPEG-4 or something like it existed before the patent was filed, that would be an example of prior art.

You don't need your step 4 (4, Informative)

Soybean47 (885009) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687246)

The point of a "..." or "????" step is that it's not clear how to get from the previous step to the following one. In this case, there's no "..." step. There's just proft.

Re:You don't need your step 4 (1)

DoddyUK (884783) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687322)

But that would remove the obligatory South Park joke if I removed the "..." ;)

Re:You don't need your step 4 (0, Troll)

Soybean47 (885009) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687399)

I think it would just make it more subtle. But perhaps you're right. I'll stop nitpicking now. ;)

Re:Typical (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687488)

is this the way for people to get their money nowadays?

I think you will find that the more powerful government becomes, the more coercion and corruption you will find in the market (as opposed to voluntary association). The winners are those who can figure out how to exploit the power of government. The losers are those who rely on persuasion (voluntary association) to sell their product. Increasingly, the winners will be the bad guys, and the losers will be the good guys. There is no remedy to this problem short of reducing the power of government.

There are two modes of human interaction: voluntary association and coercion. Government is founded on the principle of coercion, whether one wants to admit it or not. (The social contract theory is false, because it is impossible to volunteer to subject oneself to coercion, just as it is impossible to coerce a person into volunteering!) As government grows more powerful, the ratio tilts in favor of coercion. Naturally, the path to financial success will be paved with coercion, not voluntary association.

Welcome to big government, where the crooks are the winners.

And I have a patent for ... (5, Funny)

neonprimetime (528653) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687042)

And I have a patent for Windows Viruses ... so ya 'all better stop writing them or I'll sue your @ss.

Is AT&T Serious?

Re:And I have a patent for ... (4, Funny)

dave-tx (684169) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687055)

And I have a patent for Windows Viruses ... so ya 'all better stop writing them or I'll sue your @ss.

You'll do better if you go after end-users.

Re:And I have a patent for ... (1)

Zeinfeld (263942) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687375)

And I have a patent for Windows Viruses ... so ya 'all better stop writing them or I'll sue your @ss.

It would not be the first.

A lot of companies with DRM schemes patent the circumvention technology so that they can sue companies that come out with decoding tools.

I don't know of a case in virus land, there would be a problem establishing novelty. But there certainly are people who would like to go after certain virus writers who try to avoid criminal liability by having other people distribute their code.

ouch (1)

iosmart (624285) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687044)

well that sucks :( I hope they make some sort of agreement where old, already shipped, software doesn't have to be paid for. hey maybe they'll use the money to fuel AT&T Labs :/

Re:ouch (1, Insightful)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687132)

More likely fuel AT&T Executive Yachts.

Pay Me Instead (5, Insightful)

mfh (56) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687056)

Nobody ever taught me about how lucrative this patent business was in school. Here I am, just a small-time dev working at an electronics shop to support my family. I need to patent something!

I think Nero paid because they don't want to be shut down. AT&T could easily hold up a small company in court for years, bleeding their profits dry. I guess someone just did the math and figured it would be cheaper to pay off the patent mafia.

Re:Pay Me Instead (4, Insightful)

Zeinfeld (263942) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687197)

The patent system is an utter mess but I am not sure this is really evidence of abuse. AT&T may well have a genuine claim, they have certainly spent a huge amount developing compression technologies.

Bell labs was a patent factory, they invested billions a year on research. Bell labs is an example of how the system is meant to work. Spend a non trivial amount on research, get a limited term monopoly in the invention in return.

There are many other patent holders getting royalties from MPEG4, why not AT&T if they have a valid claim?

I am not opposed to software patents in general, just the junk ones, which means at least 98%. The real problem is that the USPTO does not follow the rules it is supposed to. See my blog essay [blogspot.com] .

One of the problems with the current patent system is that there are so many junk patents being circulated by the trolls that the claims of genuine inventors are devalued.

What's the time limit? (2, Insightful)

pedestrian crossing (802349) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687323)

I think the thing that stinks is that they sit there, knowing full well that they hold the patent, and let the tech go into wide-spread use before informing anyone that they hold the patent.

With trademarks, the rule is enforce it or lose it. Too bad the same doesn't apply to patents...

Re:What's the time limit? (3, Interesting)

Zeinfeld (263942) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687490)

I think the thing that stinks is that they sit there, knowing full well that they hold the patent, and let the tech go into wide-spread use before informing anyone that they hold the patent.

I agree it stinks, in fact I have been working on a part 4 to my essay [blogspot.com] where I make the same point.

The problem is how to get from 'this stinks' as Plankton would say,to solving the problem without creating ways to game the patent system entirely.

One solution would be to have a requirement that patent holders have to monitor major standards efforts in their field of invention, but how do you arrive at a legal definition of a standards effort? How do you avoid the problem of someone creating a bogus standards organization for the sole purpose of creating an exclusion to a patent?

OK I know this particular problem would not make slashdotters upset. However it would likely allow the patent trolls to stop the law being changed.

I am not interested in just debating the problem ad nauseam on slashdot, I want to get it fixed. To do that we need to create a wedge between the patent trolls and the major corporate holders of IP.

If you look at what free software people want and where the interests of the big computer corporations lie there is a huge overlap, probably 95%. The problem is that a small number of ultras insist on all or nothing.

XVID? (4, Interesting)

Danathar (267989) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687058)

How would this affect open source/freeware implementations of standardized codecs like H.264?

Re:XVID? (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687161)

I'm just guessing here, but I would think that unless you could prove that the freeware codecs were true clean-room reimplementations that didn't involve any of AT&T's IP (which it doesn't seem like anyone except AT&T has actually seen), then those codecs might have to get moved off of US servers and onto ones on friendlier shores.

I think the Penguin Liberation Front [zarb.org] would probably be willing to host it.

Re:XVID? (1)

serialdogma (883470) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687198)

No thats copyright and trade secrets, patents apply to anyway doing business in that legal jurisdiction.

Re:XVID? (1)

JTL21 (190706) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687239)

They wouldn't be doing business in the country/countries where AT&T hold critical patents, they would just be a server somewhere else. If people happen to download the software then the downloader may become liable for patent infringement although perhaps only if used for business. Some countries at least allow personal use and research without patent license, just forbid manufacture, distribution, and commercial use.

Re:XVID? (3, Insightful)

cortana (588495) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687207)

A "device" either infringes on a patent or it doesn't. Independent invention is neither a license nor a defence.

Re:XVID? (1)

drakaan (688386) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687254)

Excellent point. Since we're not talking about a device, there's no infringement, then...unless there's an MPEG-4 device of some type that AT&T patented and that Pentax et-al have infringed upon.

Very good example of wht patents and software are a bad marriage.

Re:XVID? (3, Interesting)

NTiOzymandias (753325) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687290)

The behavior of the software, according to current patent law, can be considered to constitute a device. This may include behavior pertaining not to its implementation, but to its interface.

Re:XVID? (2, Insightful)

NTiOzymandias (753325) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687265)

I'm just guessing here, but I would think that unless you could prove that the freeware codecs were true clean-room reimplementations that didn't involve any of AT&T's IP...

This probably wouldn't help in the slightest. Any freeware implementation of a standard has to adhere to a certain level of compatibility, which necessarily includes stuff covered by patents because the standard designers need to hold onto the ability to sue people over it later, regardless of how they reimplement it.

Even a "patent-free" standard is very likely to fall under accidental patent restrictions. And when (not if) it's found that it does, you can't just license a percentage of 0 profit, either; the patent holder will want to recover lost profit, and if that doesn't come out of the price that users pay, it will come out of the developers' wallets.

Hurting innovation (1)

slackaddict (950042) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687069)

Are there any cases of patents actually helping people/companies? Why do I see story after story of companies whipping out their patents and hurting technology by suing and/or demanding massive royalty payments? Can someone point to any good uses of patents?

Re:Hurting innovation (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687160)

Before there were patents, there weren't any multinational companies with huge research teams; there were guys like Whitney and Franklin, who invented things on their own.

Before the patent was invented, if you invented a way to do an existing process or manufacture an object cheaper and/or faster and/or better, you could put all your competetion out of business.

Of course, under this system you would be a fool to let anyone else know how to make a cotton gin or whatever. So what happened was that novel things and processes were invented, and the secrets of these inventions died with their inventors.

The patent system was thus itself invented - you have a limited time monopoly on your invention, but in return you have to let everyone know how it works.

Like everything else, after a couple hundred years it's been twisted by those with the power to change laws. The patent was supposed to do away with the trade secret; now the big multinationals have patents AND trade secrets.

Power corrupts, but it doesn't corrupt people, the people who seek power are already corrupted. What power corrupts is the system itself.

(lame MRC="recruits")

Re:Hurting innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687230)

Mostly right ... the problem is that patents are too easy to get. The bar for non-obviousness is intolerably low.
At least patents have seen the bastardization that copyright law has -- the patent monopoly still has a finite lifetime.

Re:Hurting innovation (2, Insightful)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687238)

The problem with your request is that slashdot groupthink narrowly defines profit as bad, so with such a definition no there are no good uses of patents.

However, if we accept that we live in a money driven society and that profit isn't necessarily a bad thing then yes profits have helped many, many products come to market. For instance it is not difficult to argue that the invention of Nylon by the DuPont Company created profits that allowed for increased R&D spending that ultimately turned out Teflon and Kevlar, among other things.

The catch is that we can't run the control experiment so the standard anti-patent comeback to this is that some other player would have developed them anyway. Personally, I think that an anti-patent stance reduces to an anti-business stance, but hey whatever floats your (commie pinko ;) boat.

All that said the USPTO is incompetent and patents like "one-click shopping" and the JPEG and this nonsense are abuses of the system that shouldn't be allowed. A patent should, in my mind, cover things that are actually unique and non-obvious, and a working implementation of the patented device should have to be presented. Oh, and there should be some kind of common property catch where if something you patented has become widely popular and profitable and you haven't acted you can't try to cash in after the fact.

Re:Hurting innovation (1)

Mayhem178 (920970) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687381)

And now you've just seen the typical "/. users think profits are bad" post.

The point that most everyone gets confused on is that profits aren't bad; in fact, I don't think anyone hear is saying that. How you obtain them, however, can be. I could become a real burden on society's ass by pulling an ever-popular mid-90s "hot McDonalds coffee" suing frenzy. Of course, I'd get a bad rep and the kind of notoriety that would destroy my life. Why is it that big businesses should be treated any differently? What real reason would any company have to demand excessive royalties for such common technologies? Surely they aren't doing it to play the part of the "righteous crusader," promoting innovation and independent thinking while at the same time protecting the rights of inventors everywhere.

I'm telling you right now, their motives aren't for profit. Not directly, anyways. They do these things because the USPTO has provided these companies with a nice, legit way to run their competitors out of business, without breaking federal antitrust laws. IP patents are like a trump card for big businesses that they can hold until the final trick and steal the game.

Re:Hurting innovation (2, Informative)

gnasher719 (869701) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687327)

'' Are there any cases of patents actually helping people/companies? ''

In the case of MPEG 4, there are dozens and dozens of patents that all the parties involved have thrown together to create that standard, and they all license them to each other. You can get a license for that whole patent pool relatively cheaply, and I guess for free if you supplied patents to the pool.

The problem here is that AT & T is not in the pool, and that they don't have any MPEG 4 products. Apple or Microsoft couldn't do this kind of thing because they are members of that pool, and by making patent claims they would lose the right to use the other two dozen patents. AT&T has nothing to lose here as they have no MPEG 4 product.

Companies like Apple and Microsoft mostly benefit because the system allows standards to develop _without_ everyone having to check that there are no patents violated. Specialist companies that concentrate on producing that kind of intellectual property benefit because they have a much better chance to get paid; on the other hand, they can't demand extortionate fees because otherwise their stuff will not be made part of the standard. Companies like Nero benefit first because there is a standard, which makes life easier, and second, because they can get licenses for everything quite cheaply.

The whole system suffers if there are any outsiders involved who don't play by the rules.

Good thing (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687074)

The more case like this one we get, the faster free formats will be adopted by the industry.

ffmpeg? (5, Interesting)

Se7enLC (714730) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687081)

What about ffmpeg? I assume that will also be affected, as they provide MPEG-4 compression/decompression. What happens when you try to collect licensing fees from an open source project?

Re:ffmpeg? (2, Informative)

scuba0 (950343) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687129)

They have three options * If stationed outside of US don't bother * Exclude the codec * Pay the money Or maybe AT/T doesn't care about the opensource community because they can't collect any money there. Best option would be to let the opensource projects to roam free.

Re:ffmpeg? (2, Insightful)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687137)

I suppose they could just give a percentage of their profits :)

Re:ffmpeg? (1)

slashbob22 (918040) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687240)

That is where the major problem with open source lies. Corporate Lawyers will not allow the use of Open Source software because of the un-known factor. What happens when someone tries to claim this? The developers usually aren't hurt as much as the deployers. Spread an Open Source application across 50,000 workstations and then find out they infringe on a patent. You'll be paying more then you would have buying some lock-in technology.

While I know these are the risks of software such as this, I am even more disturbed by the bait-and-switch like methods AT&T are using. What would be the most profitable way of claiming on a patent? Wait until you have as many people as possible using it and let the Lawyers go.

NTP, SCO, and ATT; whats with the three letter companies doing this?

Re:ffmpeg? (1)

WWWWolf (2428) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687272)

A wild guess, but I guess they won't be going after them - just people who use ffmpeg binaries for profit (that is, put that thing in their own products). At least that's how things have been with MP3 licensing.

Of course, they could go silly and make license demands like Dolby does with AAC ("don't distribute compiled binaries or we'll get nasty", I think).

Re:ffmpeg? (1)

slavemowgli (585321) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687444)

What happens when you try to collect licensing fees from an open source project?

If there's enough interest in the project, development moves to another country with less braindead patent laws. If there's not, it dies.

Re:ffmpeg? (2, Interesting)

HuguesT (84078) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687540)

Actually, AFAIK the implementation of a patented technology is not per se an infringing use of the patent. On the contrary, patents are there, or at least were there initially, to make implementation of known technology easier (they are meant to make something "patent").

As well, software patents are not valid in Europe, amongst other locales.

Thus, the FFMPEG implementation in that light is not infringing. However *actually using* the FFMPEG library in the US for anything other than research would be. Only people who hold a license to the disputed patent would be allowed to use the FFMPEG library for anything.

As illustrations of this point, see the VTK, which embeds patented technology such as the Marching Cube algorithm. When compiling the VTK, one can decide to include such pieces of software or not, depending on whether one is a licensee. See also various X11 antialiasing libraries which include code for a hinting interpreter, which is patented and labelled as such in the code. Most distributions turn it off, but it is there and can be enabled in jurisdictions for which the patent is not valid or if one holds a license for example.

OTOH, at the time of the LZW patent Unisys was actively harassing open source implementations of the algorithm, such as with the libtiff library, on the basis that mere distribution of code was usage. This behaviour never got challenged in court.

More like TradeMarks (5, Interesting)

RingDev (879105) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687084)

Maybe I'm completely off base, but I think I remember hearing that if you don't defend your trade mark, you can lose your rights to it. Patents should be the same way, if you knowingly allow your patent to be infringed apon for 3 years and never so much as mention it to the infringer, why should you have the right to sue?

-Rick

Re:More like TradeMarks (5, Interesting)

SchrodingersRoot (943800) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687345)

It's called genericization, or "genericide." If a word becomes used often enough by the public regardless of branding, the courts can declare a trademark a generic word.
Heroin, Allen wrenches, and I think Spandex (Hence the new name Lycra) are all examples of this. There are many more, and there are plenty of companies that have trademarks that would appear to be in danger of "genericide" (the apparent legal term).

Xerox actually was in danger of this, and started a campaign against "xeroxing", strongly suggesting that people instead "photocopy" documents.

the best example... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687440)

Scotch tape.

Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (5, Insightful)

Caspian (99221) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687087)

Christ. Look at the earthshaking technologies that were invented/discovered and/or popularized in the interval from roughly 1860 to 1960: Radio, the telephone, the television, the laser, nuclear fission, the automobile, the airplane, the rocket, the microwave oven, the computer...

Now look at what we've achieved since then. Uhhh..... let's see. Um. PDAs? ... Blackberries? ... Cell phones? (read: radio + telephone)... umm ... well, our computers are smaller now, and faster?...

I cannot help but think that the shift away from R&D, the overreliance on patents like this story, and the constant threat of being sued/bought out by megacorps have combined to slow the pace of human technological development.

The new business model seems to be "obtain patent on a niggling detail of a process or device; sue over patent; profit!". Back in the day, the business model was "Research fascinating new things; patent them; bring them to market; profit." I'm all for a return to the old model...

Re:Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (4, Insightful)

thefirelane (586885) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687191)

Now look at what we've achieved since then. Uhhh..... let's see. Um. PDAs? ... Blackberries? ... Cell phones? (read: radio + telephone)... umm ... well, our computers are smaller now, and faster?...

ummm... did you miss everything that has happened in biology and DNA lately? Electronics has just moved into the incremental consumer phase, instead of being a strict labratory science. Things like DNA sequencing, stem cells, cloning, nano-technology, and genetic engineering are where the real advancements are.

Re:Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (2, Interesting)

Caspian (99221) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687261)

ummm... did you miss everything that has happened in biology and DNA lately? Electronics has just moved into the incremental consumer phase, instead of being a strict labratory science. Things like DNA sequencing, stem cells, cloning, nano-technology, and genetic engineering are where the real advancements are.

That's nice. So where's the cure to HIV? To cancer? To the common cold? Where's the organ cloning plant? Where's the "rewrite the genes of your choice" service? Where's the designer babies shop? Where's the "change your sex with a retrovirus and a massive hormone/stem cell injection" service? Where's the "make yourself into a furry" boutique? Where's the brain transplant clinic? Where's the "grow new muscles in a vat overnight" outpatient graft center? Where's the "upload yourself into a computer" facility-- or, for that matter, even something as limited in brain/computer interaction as a VISOR? Where are the nanites, the artificial T-cell booster shots, the dermal synthesizers?

Oh. Yeah. We can clone cats-- for $30,000. And we're kinda sorta maybe working on some kinda sorta maybe medical treatments that involve genetic engineering. Wowie zowie. Meanwhile, we're still freaking the fuck out about the fucking Flu being capable of mutating and taking out a statistically significant chunk of humanity.

How you can even compare our progress in biological science to our progress in electronics is laughable. We've taken the first few baby steps. Barely. No great breakthroughs that transform the lives of average people, like television or penicillin or power plants or automobiles. Just baby steps.

And to any "pro-business" (pro-patent) types... (5, Interesting)

Caspian (99221) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687213)

Before you start in on your rose-tinted "but we have Teh Intarweb now, and computers are so cheap thanks to the Free Market(TM)" drek...

Yeah? And? Where are the flying cars we were all supposed to have? Where's our fusion energy? (Other than that big fiery lamp out in the Big Room) Where's our moonbase? Where's our Mars colony? Where's my fucking robot sex toy?

We'd have all of this shit by now if humanity were focused more on developing as a species and less on making money with the least possible effort. We need more cooperation as a species-- and note that "cooperation" and "competition" aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. During the Space Race, broad swaths of humanity came together and cooperated to compete-- the West versus the soviet East. What did we accomplish? We went from the first suborbital flight to landing on the fucking moon in less than a decade.

THAT is what humanity can do when its priorities are aligned properly.

Now, it's Megacorp A versus Megacorp B versus Megacorp C, and they're all so busy playing chess with patents and lawsuits, they can't be bothered to innovate. It's fucking sickening.

Re:And to any "pro-business" (pro-patent) types... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687312)

Amen.

Re:Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (2)

quokkapox (847798) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687260)

Sorry, but the new paradigm is designed to exclude the individual inventor from profiting.

Don't worry, this won't last long because the revolution is imminent.

We (the people of the world) are all simply going to ignore IP law. And we'll share our knowledge over the Internet. With technology designed and manufactured IN YOUR FACE.

The world is changing, either get with it or get left behind.

Re:Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (2, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687275)

To be fair, you should compare equivalent stretches of time; 1960 was 46 years ago, so look at 1860-1906, and you'll see that more than half your list goes away. And some of the changes that have taken place since 1960 are, I think, just as important -- as far as computers go, they're so much smaller and faster (and, just as importantly, cheaper) than I think you're looking at a difference in kind, not just degree.

But overall, I agree with you. The suits have thoroughly bought into, and convinced judges and politicians (including the US Supreme Court) of, the fundamentally wrong idea that money is the driving force behind scientific and technological progress. The simple fact is that the kind of person who is capable of creating something genuinely new is also usually -- not always, but usually -- also the kind of person who wants to see that "something" widely available much, much more than he wants to get rich off it. Scientists and engineers don't, as a rule, expect to get rich; if that were their primary motivation, they wouldn't be scientists or engineers. This is something the suits will never, ever understand ... but then, if they understood such things, they wouldn't be suits, either. And so the world is run by people who don't actually understand much of anything except the rules of their own made-up game.

Re:Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687443)

"1960 was 46 years ago, so look at 1860-1906..."

You are assuming that technology growth is linear. I don't think it is.

-

Re:Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687497)

You are assuming that technology growth is linear. I don't think it is.

I don't think it is either, but to say, "the pace of innovation is slower now than it was then" when "now" and "then" are two different lengths of time is simply a bad comparison. If I had to guess at a good functional description, I'd say it's either stochastic-exponential or stochastic-logistic; obviously I'd prefer to think it's the former, but there's always the possibility that it's the latter, and we're reaching the point where the curve flattens out.

Re:Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (2, Funny)

tgd (2822) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687297)

You really need to read up on the history of that period where IP is concerned.

The battles were far bigger and far bloodier over pants in the 1800s than they are now. The innovations you mentioned were *obvious* to many people of the time. It was common that patent applications on a new product would beat a competitor by hours. Lawsuits were rampant, technologies crushed far more often than now.

Particularly read up on the development of the telegraph and electric systems in the US. Those were both especially bloody IP battles, although a lot of industrial developments were too.

Re:Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (2, Funny)

tgd (2822) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687331)

*hangs head*

The battles were far bigger and far bloodier over pants in the 1800s than they are now.

Yes, mock me now. You all know what I meant, though.

Re:Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (1)

the chao goes mu (700713) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687379)

Battles over pants? I don't recall those from my history books.

Re:Is it any wonder innovation is slowing? (1)

codifus (692621) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687298)

Or could the slowing of innovation be inevitable due to saturtaion? Don't we live in a been there done that world, much more so than ever before?

Caveman days, fire and the wheel are invented. There was soooo much to invent back then that even the simplest inventions were remarkable. The earth is round. OH MY GOD!

1860s to 1960 - the birth of the electronic age. There was so much to invent in electronics; transistors, ICs, lasers, microwaves, digital audio and video, etc. It was the wild wild west back then.

2000 and beyond - my guess is that this is the birth of quantum era. It's still in it's nascency, but we are just so totally saturated with electronics that it's so hard to find something new. Look at the Blackberry lawsuit. Looks like RIM borrwed technology from someone else.

Food for thought

CD

Xvid question (1)

mysterious_w (905180) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687093)

Would open-source mpeg4 codecs such as xvid be vulnerable to AT&T's patents?

MPEG-4 was introduced over 7 years ago... (2, Insightful)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687100)

...so why did it take AT&T this long to argue that someone is violating one of its patents?
Isn't there something fishy about this?
Or is suing 'late in the game' now the norm for patent lawyers?

Yes, that's the whole point. (5, Insightful)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687126)

Or is suing 'late in the game' now the norm for patent lawyers?

Sue early: people say 'Ah, well we'll just use some other video codec, then.'

Sue late: people say 'Shit, we've committed our whole business to this technology. Better pay up.'

There's more profit to be had this way, which is why it's done like this. What, you expected some ethical or technical reason?

Re:Yes, that's the whole point. (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687190)

There's more profit to be had this way, which is why it's done like this. What, you expected some ethical or technical reason?

Good point...now to find out who I can sue to make a quick buck.
Maybe that kid in 9th grade who always copied the answers from my tests?
I hear he is a really kick-ass scientist now.

Re:MPEG-4 was introduced over 7 years ago... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687169)

Keep in mind that there the proud company we once knew as AT&T is long gone. The entity that calls itself "AT&T" is now just slimy old SBC with a new name. That might partly explain "why now."

Patentt this! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687101)

Patent this!

Will Dirac be ready in time to rescue us? (3, Informative)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687104)


Some information on Dirac can be found here [sourceforge.net] and here (PDF warning) [bbc.co.uk] .

We can always go back to using FLI ! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687106)

Now that the Unisys LZW patent has expired ;)

Next gen codecs (3, Interesting)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687110)

I guess Dirac [sourceforge.net] 's time has come.

Re:Next gen codecs (3, Informative)

WWWWolf (2428) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687330)

Or rather, Theora's [theora.org] time, which not only is actually implemented in multiple popular cross-platform player softwares (VLC, RealPlayer) and has a nice converter (ffmpeg2theora), it's also - hopefully - proven to be free of patent issues. =)

Re:Next gen codecs (2, Informative)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687551)

Unfortunately, though, it's not really a next generation codec. The underlying algorithms are all rather aged. Admittedly, so are MPEG-4s, but it'd be better for the open source movement to put their weight behind something both free and with a real future, rather than something already showing it's wrinkles. With it's large archive of content, and it's fingers in the DVB pies, the BBC is in an excellent position to push Dirac to the forefront.

~sigh~ (2, Insightful)

TerminalWriter (953282) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687118)

You know, the more and more I read stuff like this, the more and more I think that open source, general public liscense is the way to go.

Re:~sigh~ (1)

WinterSolstice (223271) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687173)

You know, I'm starting to agree with that sentiment. I never seriously considered Ogg or anything like that before but I will start to do so.

Time to take technology out of the hands of corporations and give it back to the inventors :)

-WS

That doesn't help (1)

Solandri (704621) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687441)

That's how JPEG was introduced - an open and royalty-free graphics format. It still didn't help keep the patent hounds [wikipedia.org] at bay.

Re:~sigh~ (1)

interiot (50685) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687481)

GPL doesn't protect software authors from patents. GPL doesn't prevent RedHat from creating a submarine patent and not telling anyone about it until a number of companies have based their business strategy around it.

Age (0, Redundant)

xeoron (639412) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687141)

How old is this patent that AT&T owns? The article does not seem to say.

Let it drown (0, Flamebait)

tknn (675865) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687145)

I am all for this kind of stuff. Let the system suffocate enough that corporations finally realise that the patent system only helps lawyers as is. Then we will see reform. When you see legal fees outstrip R&D revenues, then things will change and not until then. Plus every patent war like this is another call to use open-source.

It won't drown (2, Insightful)

RossumsChild (941873) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687256)

corporations finally realise that the patent system only helps lawyers as is. This won't happen because under the current system, a company with patents to enforce can turn their legal department into a profit center--i.e. the lawyers make more money for the company (in licensing fees--extortions from smaller companies, and so on) than it costs to keep them employed, so the corporations see a positive bottom line, not a negative one.

Re:It won't drown (1)

tknn (675865) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687382)

That is probably true despite the rent-seeking nature of those profits (an obvious effect of granting monopolies). The worst part of course being as we force IP regimes on everyone, nobody can show how anti-innovative this whole thing is by leapfrogging and out-competing us.

Re:Let it drown (2, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687364)

I think you better think twice about all that. It's easy to say 'down with the man,' especially when you ignore what the man's doing for you.

When there's more money to be had in patent-mongering than in R&D, nobody is going to bother to do R&D. And I don't care how much of a FOSS zealot you are, there aren't any free projects that approach the scale of the big commercial research projects. You aren't going to go on Sourceforge and start a project to develop the next silicon wafer technology. Development takes a lot of money, and a lot of time, and a lot of expensive equipment, and to be honest, sometimes just requires putting a lot of smart people in a room together for a while. That kind of stuff is funded by corporations -- in the semiconductor and technology sector, in the pharamaceutical sector, and probably in lots of other places. That's not to say that 'lone wolves' don't do important bits of invention, but innovation -- fitting those bits together along with existing technologies -- is not something that's easy (or frankly, always fun; which is why they pay people do it) to break up and work on in a distributed-collaborative environment.

Governments aren't going to pick up the ball here either. Nor, I think, would we want them to -- anyone who's been paying attention shouldn't have been surprised about the recent "revelations" that research at NASA gets politicized. Can you imagine the right mess we'd be in, if some Senate committee handed out all the awards to do drug research in this country? (No doubt we'd have Viagra that would make your penis eight feet long...)

Unless you want technological development to come to a grinding, screeching halt, you want private corporations to want to develop new stuff. What we need to get rid of are these parasitic non-developers (to be fair, I'm not sure where AT&T fits into all of this) who are destroying the incentive to innovate and develop by companies that actually do useful work. They are the really dangerous ones, and if you look at the companies who do useful stuff (IBM, for instance) and generally play nice with others, they have some of the most realistic proposals for patent reform.

In short, when I hear people on Slashdot writing stuff like "fuck the system" and "down with patents," it reminds me of a suburban teenager driving their mom's minivan, while wearing a Che Guevera t-shirt. It may score you points with your buddies, but I really doubt that you want what you're advocating, if you saw where it would leave you.

Re:Let it drown (1)

tknn (675865) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687400)

Nice reply, to bad you didn't notice that I called for reform, not elimination of patents. We could make them shorter to minimize their damages, but it would be better to make the bar for granting a patent much higher or perhaps make the challenges much easier.

Re:Let it drown (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687442)

The problem with this idea is that there's no real incentive for the corporations to go along with reforming the system, no matter how bad it gets, because it's a tragedy-of-the-commons situation. Is this kind of IP absurdity bad for everyone in the long term? Yes. Is it good, in the short term, for AT&T (or whichever bunch of jerks is claiming ownership over mathematics this week?) Also yes. The only way it's going to change, as much as I hate to say it, is from above -- i.e., patent (and other IP) reform by law, not by behavior. Specifically, what needs to happen is that governments need to say:

  • No, you cannot patent math;

  • No, you cannot keep copyright indefinitely, nor can you keep re-patenting trivial re-implementations;

  • No, you cannot sue everyone who mentions you or your trademark in any context whatsoever, especially if there is no way any reasonable person could be confuse them for you; and

  • No, you cannot park on what you consider to be a particularly valuable piece of IP and wait for it to become popular and then start suing people when you should have known all along that they were using it.



Of course, that would require that the people making the rules for the USPTO and similar bodies not be under the thumb of the same people who are causing the problem in the first place. Good luck with that.

Ah the lovely patent society (3, Insightful)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687150)

We moved from a manufacturing based economy to a "service" based economy.

Now it's lovely that we are moving on from even that, and can earn money by letting others do the hard work and implementation while we can sit at the patent office all day and submit vague, obtuse applications (that read like and are about as specific as Nostradamus predictions, he predicted Hister you know!) to gain a monopoly on "methods", "software", etcetera all in the name of "innovation" (because without patent, there wouldn't be any you know. Civilization started when Romulus and Remus instituted the first patent office.....)

A great time to be an American. It's also nice we are exporting this type of mentality to the rest of the world too.

Re:Ah the lovely patent society (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687339)

that read like and are about as specific as Nostradamus predictions, he predicted Hister you know!

Ah, a fine example of Gorflin's Law!

;)

How long have they been sitting on this? (2, Insightful)

uab21 (951482) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687168)

Perhaps I am confusing my types of Intellectual Property, but don't you have to show that you are actively defending your IP, or you give up your rights to it? TFA didn't list the patents involved or the dates they were granted, but if violators have to pay triple damages for 'willful' disregard, shouldn't the patent owners lose rights to damages if they willfully allow infringement until they know that the other companies are over a barrel?

(Yes, I know this is /. and software/algorithm patents are eeeevil to their core. Bad USPTO! Bad! But allowing the system as it currently exists, aren't there safeguards against stuff like this?)

Re:How long have they been sitting on this? (3, Informative)

yeremein (678037) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687237)

Perhaps I am confusing my types of Intellectual Property, but don't you have to show that you are actively defending your IP, or you give up your rights to it?

You are. Trademarks must be defended, but patents don't have to be.

Re:How long have they been sitting on this? (1)

uab21 (951482) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687356)

Trademarks must be defended, but patents don't have to be

Got it. So the system is set up with long term protection (17 years?) to encourage companies to hide their prior art until the time that they can jump out from behind the figurative bush (Bush?), yell "Gotcha!" and demand everything that someone else has worked for - likely completely independently.

This doesn't foster innovation - this fosters corporate muggings.

Re:How long have they been sitting on this? (1)

Benanov (583592) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687301)

That's the problem--trademarks must be defended; patents have no such requirement. I do remember that on Groklaw the principle of laches was applied to 30-year-old patents, rendering them "untimely" but 30 years is a loooooooooong time. It means UNIX in its earlier forms must have done it. (The patent in question was extended a few times.) This is why "IP" as a term is grossly inaccurate--it's like saying mangoes, apples, and tomatoes are part of a "fruit basket." All are technically fruit but you don't really mix the three.

Re:How long have they been sitting on this? (2, Insightful)

aug24 (38229) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687369)

You're thinking of Trademarks. Patents don't work that way, but they damn well should.

If a company knows it has a case - against anyone at all - and doesn't pursue it within a reasonable timescale, then that should be a defence for anyone and everyone else.

(My 2p)

Justin.

Patent warfare (3, Interesting)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687184)

Surely Apple's been in the game long enough that they've got something in their IP portfolio to sting AT&T with, and thus enter a cross licensing deal, rather than licensing it straight out?

Re:Patent warfare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687432)

Apple maybe has, but new firms don't. So this is a nice method to ensure only the old boys can stay in bussiness.

Recouping merger bribes (1)

thaerin (937575) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687187)

Considering what they likely paid (read bribed) the FCC to allow the merger with SBC, I imagine their using this patent claim to reline their pockets. If it looks and sounds like a submarine patent...

at&t - "Your world. Delivered ... by our painstakingly slow, tiered Internet services. We pwn your world!"

the worst part is.. (2, Interesting)

Intangion (816356) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687209)

when these big companies pay up to some little patent troll it just gives the troll more ammo to use against other companies, if NO one paid they should hopefully quickly run out of money for all the lawsuits, but the more money they get the more lawyers the more people they can sue ;(

Re:the worst part is.. (3, Insightful)

tinkerghost (944862) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687494)

Problem is AT&T is what in the top 5 largest companies in the US? I'm sure they can hire a staff of ambulance chasers just to handle this one issue. If they are on staff, then no 30% legal settlement for them - just a bonus for each company they get to fork over cash.
Also, I do not believe there is an enforcement provision in the Patent system - although yes there is on trademarks - if you let people use them, you are seen as having allowed them to fall into public domain.
IINAL but I think that what should be patentable is:
* Physical objects or individual components: a new type of car transmision or even just the shift mechanism.
* Specific processes: you make asprin by doing steps 1-58 in this exact order - protects drug patents etc.
What should NOT be patentable:
* An idea: ie: Moron trying to patent a storyline.
* A general process: making asprin - in any way shape or form.
* Anything built with prebuilt components: No patenting that nifty LEGO robot. No patenting web page design. No patenting software.

As for this whole wait-until-it's-a-standard-then-sue ploy, I say if you don't enforce your patent within 2 years of being aware of someone starting to use it, then you have tacitly liscenced it to them. In this case, AT&T has known from the beginning that MPEG4 infringes on their patent - they did nothing. They have therefore tacitly liscenced their patent to the MPEG consortium for this use. New uses may of course require a new liscence, but you shouldn't be able to go back and retroactively enforce patents like this.

slashdotters write your congress person AND senato (2, Insightful)

meatbridge (443871) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687273)

r! Seriously this is how the elderly get things done.

Re:slashdotters write your congress person AND sen (1)

SchrodingersRoot (943800) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687433)

Seriously this is how the elderly get things done.

The elderly get things done??
.
.
.
Wait...was that what they were doing during the election? ;)

But seriously, this might be a good idea, though I don't know that it would have much effect, since in this case (unlike, say, RIM/NTP), the congresspeople probably don't have much of a vested interest to care. And the number of people that care about this issue are probably a relatively small percentage of a constituency. Ignorance, and whatnot.

Re:slashdotters write your congress person AND sen (1)

robertjw (728654) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687498)

...in this case (unlike, say, RIM/NTP), the congresspeople probably don't have much of a vested interest to care.

I bet most of the congresspeople have iPods.

Hooray! (1)

erveek (92896) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687289)

Ma Bell is feeling like her old self again!

Re:Hooray! (2, Funny)

meatbridge (443871) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687325)

save the celebration until the FTC and FCC allows SBC and verizon merge.

A bit late in the game, isn't it (3, Insightful)

stunt_penguin (906223) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687309)

If a company is going to force this kind of licensing patent issue on another company, then they should be obliged to issue this kind of legal action within a number (say 90? 120?) days of first learning about any infringement. This company has clearly waited until MPEG-4 is hugely popular, having been implemented in popular technologies like Qucktime, the PSP, in HD DVD codecs (I believe in the form of H.264), Nero Digital and Xvid..........

If a company with any patent rights had asserted its right in the first place, then maybe they would be in the right here, but to allow a technology to grow for a number of years and then assert your claim to large amounts of money is immoral and should be illegal.

What if a company like Apple submits and then counter-sue the company for deliberately allowing a free lunch then asserting it's patent, causing financial and legal pain to Apple et. Al.

It's like a bar giving out water to customers and then trying to back-charge for it when they're halfway through the evening, under threat of kicking them out of the bar otherwise.

Re:A bit late in the game, isn't it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14687429)

They are, however under US law the time period is 6 years. They can still sue though, and try to weasel out of it by saying they didn't know, or have their lawyer try to come up with some other excuse for the delay.

I think XviD has only been around 4 or 5 years now...

SBC (3, Informative)

chill (34294) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687338)

Please note that AT&T here really means SBC. SBC purchased AT&T not too long ago but kept the AT&T name. It is run by the same cocksucker who thinks Google, Yahoo and other content providers are getting a "free ride" on his infrastructure and wants to charge them for the right to travel his wires -- peering be damned.

  -Charles

Last line in the article (1)

TheTarget24 (796896) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687358)

Hillary said. "Think about video technologies. That's certainly one area we're looking to expand our capabilities for video."

See AT&T is not after money! The last line in the article certain explains it all.

What underlying technology? (2, Interesting)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687361)

Either its the article or AT&T, but all I could glimmer from the article is that AT&T hold the patent on some underlying technology of MPEG-4? What is this mysterious 'underlying technology'? It would be nice if there were more specifcs, but until I see it just sounds like FUD.

old AT&T is now part of SBC (renamed to AT& (2, Informative)

RocketJeff (46275) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687383)

First, the article stares that the original letter about this was sent back in December of 2005 - this is before the merger/rename was completed. This means that we can't blame SBC (now renamed to AT&T) for starting this.

OTOH, knowing how the 'new' AT&T (aka SBC) has handled things before, I don't think there is any hope of them just letting this go and ignoring that they have the patent. If anything, they now have more money and lawyers to persue other companies.

AT&T or SBC? (3, Interesting)

Verteiron (224042) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687423)

Didn't SBC recent buy AT&T? SBC has pursued bizarre patent claims like this before, I wonder how much of this is SBC looking through AT&T's patent portfolio and thinking, "Hmmmm...."

If I'm right we can expect a lot more of these from "AT&T" in the near future.

Call me stupid, but how does AT&T have a claim (2, Interesting)

Vokkyt (739289) | more than 8 years ago | (#14687514)

I will admit, patent knowledge is not something I can claim as a strong point, but a little bit of googling as to AT&T's patent on the coding of MPEG-4 brought up a lot of FAQs about MPEG-4, but not a lot of mention about AT&T. In fact, the only thing I can find relating AT&T to MPEG-4, after digging through a couple pages on Google, is that AT&T now is claiming a patent. Why isn't AT&T more prominently mentioned in a lot of these FAQs on MPEG-4 (one specifically having a section dedicated to who owns the patent)? If they had the patent, why didn't they let people know that the proprietary use of it was patent infringement? And, above all else, what specifically did AT&T contribute to MPEG-4?
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