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Suddenly a JPEG Patent and Licensing Fee 1223

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the where-have-I-heard-this-before. dept.
Michael Long writes "Forgent Networks (www.forgentnetworks.com) has announced that it owns the software patent on JPEG compression technology, and has stated that it is "in contact" with computer, software, camera, and other digital imaging product manufacturers regarding licensing terms. This ambush of the digitial imaging industry will probably stand as the worst public relations nightmare a company can inflict upon itself."
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Suddenly a JPEG Patent and Licensing Fee

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  • by Anonvmous Coward (589068) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:08PM (#3909511)
    ... I don't think I can afford to have a lien on my porn collection.
    • by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:36PM (#3909866) Homepage Journal
      (* I don't think I can afford to have a lien on my porn collection. *)

      Send it all back to Forgent. Email a few to each employee.

      (begin letter)

      Dear Forgent Employee,

      Attached is some of my porn collection. I am returning it to your company because I inadvertantly used your patented JPEG format.

      The rest is still to follow. My printer is slow. Playmate Debby especially requires a lot of ink because of her unorthodox techniques and tools, as you can clearly see in image #4057.

      Thank You for your patience and understanding,

      [Slashdot User]"

      (end letter)
  • by aslagle (441969) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:09PM (#3909520)
    Look at all the money the .gif royalties made Compuserve...
    • by Prong (190135) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:14PM (#3909595)
      The applicable patent for GIF had to do with LZW compression, and was/is owned by Unisys.
    • I suppose we'll be moving over to .png files for digital imaging?

      Or will someone pop up and try to screw us all with that format too? ;^)
      • by Bonker (243350) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @02:49PM (#3910632)
        Unfortuneately, PNG is not a replacement for JPG.

        Why?

        JPG is a lossy encoding mechanism. It disacrds a significant amount of information in any given image to create smaller file size.

        PNG is a lossless encoding mechanism. It uses several very intelligently designed formulas and structures to very efficiently encode an image to reduce its file-size without losing any image data.

        Because of this difference, PNG files of all but the simplest images will *always* be larger than corresponding JPG files.

        For simple graphics like logos, stylized text, and flat-shaded cartoons, PNG can be made to produce better looking images at lower filesize than JPG or even GIF. For this reason, PNG is idea for making simple graphics for websites such as blocks of color, logos, etc. For photographic or shaded images of any kind, JPG is simply better at producing better image quality at smaller filesizes.

        Now, if you're on any kind of broadband connection, that point becomes pretty moot since the difference between downloading a 10k jpeg and a 100k PNG is less than a second. On modem connections, moving to all PNG would make the internet completely void of all but the simplest graphics.

        IMHO, it's time to build a lossy format for storing graphics similar to Ogg Vorbis. Perhaps the video codec Ogg just released can be used to make reasonable single-framed movies? Anyone familiar with the format care to comment?
  • JPEG 2000? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thedbp (443047) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:11PM (#3909554)
    How about JPEG 2000? Are they claiming any rights to this compression scheme? Because to be honest, JPEG 2000 is FAR superior, and it wouldn't take too much effort for companies to say "screw your royalty, we're producing JPEG 2000 cameras, etc. from now on."

    But this doesn't surprise me. After MS claimed ownership of parts of OpenGL, that sorta opened the floodgates for really sad attempts to bilk more money out of an already financialy strapped populace/industry.
    • Re:JPEG 2000? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MisterBlister (539957) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:45PM (#3909964) Homepage
      But this doesn't surprise me. After MS claimed ownership of parts of OpenGL, that sorta opened the floodgates for really sad attempts to bilk more money out of an already financialy strapped populace/industry.

      You are a sad, sad, person. Microsoft only claimed that they have patents in the area relating to fragment shaders, which in fact they do. They didn't make any threats as far as lawsuits, or in any way try to block to OpenGL ARB from moving forward. What should they have done, said nothing and then brought the issue up 3 years later? Isn't that why we all hate RAMBUS? Microsoft does a lot of questionable things, but you do the Linux/OSS crowd a huge disservice by knocking everything they do without even understanding what is going on. I guess you can't be blamed completely, you're just a Slashdot-sheep parroting what CmdrTaco told you to think...

  • by Software (179033) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:11PM (#3909563) Homepage Journal
    Forgive the karma-whoring (though I'm capped): Patent availble here [uspto.gov]

    Abstract: The present invention relates to methods and apparatus for processing signals to remove redundant information thereby making the signals more suitable for transfer through a limited-bandwidth medium. The present invention specifically relates to methods and apparatus useful in video compression systems. Typically, the system determines differences between the current input signals and the previous input signals using mean-square difference signals. These mean-square signals are processed and compared with one or more thresholds for determining one of several modes of operation. After processing in some mode, the processed signals are in the form of digital numbers and these digital numbers are coded, using ordered redundancy coding, and transmitted to a receiver.

    • They could say this covers EVERYTHING, JPEG, MPEG, PNG, AVI etc etc etc. What the hell is wrong with the US patent office? I hope some high court has the sense to see that this patent is much to broad and will only stifle development.
      • Look at the year the patent was granted. 1986.

        I hardly think that AVI, MPEG or PNG and some other popular formats were exists or known...

        • by booch (4157) <slashdot2010NO@SPAMcraigbuchek.com> on Thursday July 18, 2002 @03:26PM (#3911019) Homepage
          The JPEG standard wasn't published until 1994. But the JPEG committee was formed in 1985, and it was made up of combined committees from the CCITT and ISO working groups. So it is very possible that they had already come up with this by the time the patent was filed. The technology used in JPEG was generally based on previously published algorithms. I think there's a good chance that there is prior art to invalidate the patent.
          • by hgc (13913) <.moc.ilumys. .ta. .cgh.> on Friday July 19, 2002 @03:39AM (#3915140) Homepage
            I was a member of JPEG from 1992 to 1994.

            This patent was filed by Compression Labs. They were members of JPEG from its inception, but were gone by the time I was a member.

            My understanding about this, gathered from JPEG members that overlapped with Compression Labs, was that Compression Labs failed to mention that they had filed for a patent that might impact the work of the committee. This was in direct conflict with the rules established by ITU and ISO wrt IP disclosure. They waited until the patent was granted before they informed the committee about it.

            Many members at the time felt that Compression Labs had amended their application with information garnered from committee meetings. There was much bad feeling.

            Compression Labs announced that they would not attempt to enforce this patent against JPEG applications. They then stopped attending.

            This is very similar to RAMBUS's behavior in JEDEC.

            This is despicable.

  • by Mr_Matt (225037) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:13PM (#3909585)
    *snort* what is the sound of millions of people flipping these guys off? Most people ignore the GIF compression threats - now we're supposed to fear for JPG suits? What about all the scanners out there whose default settings are to create JPG images? How about the thousands upon thousands of on-line amateur photographers whose thumbnails are in JPG format?

    Let's face it: it was tough to change people's minds to use PNG instead of GIF. Do they really think they're going to make headway suing people for using JPG images? From the article:

    "We wanted to ensure the investment community and the general public are clear about the terms of our valuable JPEG data compression technology, one of the many technologies we have in our patent portfolio," stated Richard Snyder, chairman and chief executive officer at Forgent. "We are in ongoing discussions with other manufacturers of digital still cameras, printers, scanners and other products that use JPEG technology for licensing opportunities."

    Like I said, best of luck. I'd love to see this guy get his ass handed to him by the very large companies who use JPG compression.
    • by FatRatBastard (7583) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:21PM (#3909691) Homepage
      *snort* what is the sound of millions of people flipping these guys off? Most people ignore the GIF compression threats - now we're supposed to fear for JPG suits?

      Nope, they don't care about home user. They DO care about the very large companies that use JPEG compression in thier products, simply because if the patent holds up (I have no idea how valid or invalid it appears to be) those same very large companies will be in hock to the tune of a lot of $$$ to the patent holders.
  • The GIF fiasco led to the superior PNG format, will this promote the use of wavelet compression? Assuming a patent-free algorithm exists ... I know there's a bunch of patents on wavelets ...

  • by Mononoke (88668) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:14PM (#3909600) Homepage Journal
    Do not:
    1. Call them repeatedly at 866/276-FORG (3674) asking if their refrigerator is running.
    2. Pound www.forgentnetworks.com in the ass repeatedly with any scripts you kiddies might be tempted to use.
    Do:
    1. Have them check out that Goatse guy for his espressive use of "their" technologies.
    Thank you for your support.
  • by wowbagger (69688) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:16PM (#3909624) Homepage Journal
    And this is why RAND is unacceptable in any public standard. Any body making public standards should require all participants to provide a license to anybody using that patent for the purpose of implementing that standard free of charge to all.

    Given how patent-encumbered JPEG-2000, MPEG-4 et. al. are, this will seriously interfere with open implementation of these standards.

    Would that that would slow their adoption....
  • by sparty (63226) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:16PM (#3909633) Homepage

    First, they mention owning the patent for all fields of use except satellite broadcast...does that mean that if I'm going to prepare a digital photo for satellite Internet trasmission, their patent doesn't cover it?

    Second, they mention declaring that they have / own / control the patent, but they don't mention who developed the technology. Does anybody know if they just bought the patent from someone? Did they actually come up with the technology? Or did they sign a contract with a patent holder who has given them exclusive licensing rights for certain fields of use?

    JPEG does appear to be patent-encumbered [w3.org], by patents such as this one [sri.com], but I can't find any references to Forgent or the patent number referenced in its press release.

    • I read through the patent listed in the story.

      It is owned by the company listed as a subsidiary of forgent in the news story, and the names of all the inventors are listed on the patent.

      The patent doesnt mention the word jpg or jpeg _that i noticed_ but instead goes deeply into the formulaic algorhythm covering how it is done. Wonder if they are gearing up to jump on anyone who uses a close algorhythm for compression? (wouldnt that suck for all the DiVX developers out there?)

      maeryk
    • "Compression Labs" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Watts Martin (3616) <layotlNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:58PM (#3910094) Homepage

      The referred-to patent is owned by "Compression Labs," which is referred to as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Forgent. Evidently they are (or perhaps were) a San Jose-based company which did indeed do video compression technology; through Google I found a press release from them in 1991 announcing video phone products with AT&T and again in 1993 from AT&T's Paradyne unit. Back then their technology was called "CDV" (compressed digital video) and was, interestingly, described as "based on the MPEG standard." A web page at Cisco referrs to a Compression Labs standard as "proprietary" and distinct from JPEG.

      It's worth noting that in their last reported quarter, Forgent made $15M from a "licensing program based on its still-image compression technology." This is coming to light now, I suspect, because two companies have already caved in and paid for use of the technology, the announced one being Sony [corporate-ir.net], and this gives Forgent legitimacy to bully others with this stick.

      As for mass revolt against the JPEG format, the GIF controversy came to light in 1994. Eight years later and it's still the most widely-used graphics format that provides consistently-supported (if mediocre) implementations for transparency and simple animation. The majority of web browsers in the wild still don't support PNG correctly (and virtually nothing supports MNG).

      • More on Forgent (Score:5, Informative)

        by jon_c (100593) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @03:46PM (#3911176) Homepage
        Forgent networks are a local company here in Austin, TX. The local paper the Austin American statesmen had a story on them a week ago. The company has been suffering huge losses from there main business, when, one day they realized they had some useful patents from other acquired companies. One of which just secured them a deal with Sony, which they made about 15m on (minus 10m for lawyers)

        So the attitude there is to become a "IP" company and milk profits from patents that they hold, they now offer deep incentives for employees that think of patentable ideas, and are (of course) predicting large revenue gains from enforcing current patents. The downside to this is that many of there patents expire in about 4 years, so they better hurry up with the litigation if they want to make any money.

        I should note that Forgent is not a huge company, so there going to have a focused set of civil suites to companies that A: have deep pockets, B: are profiting off patents they own.

        -Jon
  • by cqnn (137172) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:16PM (#3909634)
    Now that JPEG 2000 has finally been standardized, and more companies are starting
    to adopt it as a better JPEG both for compression and image quality;
    can't the industry just tell Forgent to stick their patent where the
    pixels don't shine?

    Yes, I know there would still be a transition period to convert all that Pr0n over.
  • by cskaplan (108764) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:17PM (#3909644)
    Now is the perfect time for us to consider widespread adoption of Zeosync's [slashdot.org] miraculous 100-to-1 compression technology.
    • by pmz (462998) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:39PM (#3909901) Homepage
      Now is the perfect time for us to consider widespread adoption of Zeosync's [slashdot.org] miraculous 100-to-1 compression technology.

      Darn, it looks like Zeosync has gone and compressed themselves out of existence. Or, more likely, they are just so small that the web server can't find them!
  • Wha? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by idfrsr (560314) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:18PM (#3909649)
    If you don't collect licensces for your patent immediately, (i.e. within a reasonbale time frame) why do you get to do it years later (after everyone started using because it was free and efficient)?

    Shouldn't your patent expire if you don't do anything to collect on it?

    My new investment strategy is going to be patents. It certainly seems to be the only thing worth any money besides real estate. Surely there are patents sitting around that you can invest by buying them...
    • Re:Wha? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ajakk (29927) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:29PM (#3909797) Homepage
      Amazingly, you can't do it. It is called the equitable defense of laches. Laches says that if you have an unreasonable delay is bringing suit against someone, you can't get any damages for their infringement of your patent during your delay. Your patent doesn't expire, but it become very limited in who you can sue with it. You can read MUCH more about laches at this site [converium.com].

  • by lingqi (577227) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:18PM (#3909650) Journal
    check it [uspto.gov] out...

    it's kinda long. will talk more when i go through the damn thing.

  • I say it again (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Restil (31903) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:21PM (#3909692) Homepage
    Why does patent law allow this? JPEG has been around for YEARS! This is not something that somebody started using yesterday. This company sat on its hands while it waited for the format to become so entrenched and standardized that the rest of the world would have no choice but to accept some form of licensing agreement.

    I say, if you have a patent on something, you have a limited amount of time to claim infringement after the infringement is discovered. This way, the overall damage is minimized and other formats can be adoped or created if necessary. If this company honestly didn't know it had a patent on JPEG, it probably was a waste of money to begin with.

    Its one thing to allow the most obvious ideas to be patented, but its quite another to allow someone to take advantage of a patent to fleece entire industries. That's borderline fraud.

    -Restil
    • by dpilot (134227) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @02:05PM (#3910177) Homepage Journal
      IANAL, but...

      This whole thing seems familiar, not just with GIF but with Rambus and the SDRAM/DDR standards.

      At the time, one of the writings mentioned a thing called "Equitable Estoppel." My interpretation was that if you had a patent that was becoming an industry standard, you had to begin notification "promptly," and to allow it to become a standard and *then* begin notifying/litigating was legally naughty.

      Rambus is still around, though a shadow of their former arrogance. (I understand that the people are still just as arrogant as ever, they just don't get the press.) In some ways, notably submarining and patent-stretching Rambus was worse. But at least once they had stretched their original art to look like it covered SDRAM and got it issued, they were prompt in filing suit.

      It looks like this company deserves no less.
      • by TekPolitik (147802) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @07:16PM (#3912837) Journal

        At the time, one of the writings mentioned a thing called "Equitable Estoppel." My interpretation was that if you had a patent that was becoming an industry standard, you had to begin notification "promptly," and to allow it to become a standard and *then* begin notifying/litigating was legally naughty.

        Bearing in mind that equitable estoppel is a very new area of law (well, less than a century old anyway) that differs in the different common law jurisdictions, the basic principle behind it is that if:

        1. One party adopts an assumption (in this case that the algorithms were not patented);
        2. That party, in reliance on that assumption, acts or refrains from acting (such as by selecting JPEG over GIF or PNG), in such a way that they would suffer detriment if the assumption were denied (such as by having to pay unexpected royalties, or having to remove functionality that their customers have come to depend on);
        3. The other party with legal rights (such as a patent) has played some role in the adoption of the assumption, either by encouraging it, or acquiescing with knowledge of the other party's actions (such as by sitting on your hands knowing that people are choosing JPEG in the belief that it is patent free) - it isn't necessary for the other party to know of their rights (so not realising they had the patent or that it covered JPEG won't prevent the estopple from arising); and
        4. In all the circumstances it would be unconscionable for the other party to insist on their legal rights.

        then the party who has the legal rights can be prevented (estopped) from enforcing them.

        Now, this varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and bearing in mind that in the United States there are 50 jurisdictions (or 51 if you count Louisiana, where I don't think this applies at all), some of the details will vary depending on where you are.

        But yes, equitable estoppel might be a valid defence to this patent claim, subject to proving that the aggressor knew people were adopting JPEG because of a belief that it was patent free

        IANALY,TINLA

    • by rolofft (256054) <rolofft&yahoo,com> on Thursday July 18, 2002 @02:34PM (#3910481)
      This issue [bpmlegal.com] isn't unique to modern times or the computer industry. A patent lawyer named George Selden used a vague patent to force people who built cars in the 1800's to pay a licensing fee. It wasn't until Henry Ford challenged that patent [134.48.50.238] in 1903 that the auto industry took off.
  • by kisrael (134664) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:21PM (#3909696) Homepage
    Damn...I thought the whole point of JPEG was that it was a free and open standard, that it was designed by "Joint Photographic Expert Group" with that in mind from the getgo. So...what the hell happened? Is this likely valid? Did the JPEG group purposefully use a patented standard, or is the situation muddier than that?
    • Cant answer that directly, but I could certainly see the algorhythm being dumped out there with a eula or agreement that sometime (like, 15 years) in the future it could be charged on a royalty/license basis.

      Would make great business sense.. after all.. the razor blades are the expensive part, the handle is free. The algo was free, enough that people started building all manner of devices (blades) around it, and now they want a piece of that pie.

      It *is* a lucrative market, too. As long as it was just people creating on PC's jpgs and sending them to other people, there was really no point to licensing it, but once you think about digital imaging as a business, thats quite a cash cow, IF the judge doesnt smack you down.

      Maeryk
  • Unlawful patent (Score:3, Informative)

    by MarvinMouse (323641) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:24PM (#3909721) Homepage Journal
    Previous work

    Excellent JPEG INFO FAQ.
    http://www.faqs.org/faqs/jpeg-faq/

    The JPEG standard was designed by the "Joint Photographic Experts Group"

    This patent is either totally off base, or someone is playing games with the patent system. There is no way that this patent will stand up as is.
  • This is a US parent (Score:3, Informative)

    by oliverthered (187439) <olivertheredNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:24PM (#3909723) Journal
    Did the WIPO get there evil little way and make US patents that would not be granted in other countries applicable in those countries?

    In the UK/europe you cann't (yet) patent
    Gene sequences,
    Computer Software
    Business Models
    etc....

    So why the hell should countries that don't allow that kind of patent bother to act on them.

    Move all your R+D &co out-side the US when you want to avoid US laws like DMCA and stupid patents

    Even better lobby the government whatever county you in not to accept those stupid patents.

    I have never read the JPEG patent but using applied first principles I could probably come up with several lossy/non-lossy compression algoithms that violate that patent. There no real added value in applying first principles.

  • by jayhawk88 (160512) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:24PM (#3909728)
    Man, what I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall in the meeting where these yahoo's go into Redmond and tell Microsoft they owe them a royalty for every version of IE, Office, and any other program that can read JPG's. They'll be lucky if Ballmer doesn't have their company bought or sued into the ground by the time they get their parking validated.
    • by kingkade (584184) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:50PM (#3910006)
      Balmer's a big fella. It'd be funny if he went into a Chris Farley-like rage and tried to suplex the twiggy lawyers that brought this to them. Bill would just be sitting back in the large leather chair with a white persian cat, penting his fingers together like Mr Burns, watching the carnage ensue.
      Maybe this is how MS bullies all the lawyers from companies that fight against them :P
    • Wrongo (Score:3, Informative)

      by Gumber (17306)
      What will likely happen is that Microsoft will look around and come up with a patent that they own that Forent or Compression labs is violating and they will come up with a cross-license agreement.

      This is the big reason the patent system is screwed. The little guy, and that may well include Forent in this case, has no leverage against the big guys.
  • Expiration (Score:3, Insightful)

    by namespan (225296) <namespan@elitema ... minus herbivore> on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:26PM (#3909751) Journal
    If the patent has existed since 1986, doesn't it expire at the end of 2003?

  • by erlkonig (15872) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:28PM (#3909778) Homepage Journal

    You can look at the online version of the patent [164.195.100.11] on the US Patent Office's website [uspto.gov]. Note that the patent process for this one was started 16 years ago in 1986 (stuff 4698672 into the Patent Number Search box on the search page [uspto.gov] to see this), which would certainly limit how much longer it could be pursued.

    To me, the patent seems to largely be focussed around runlength encoding in digital video - not that this always has any real bearing on how a specific patent can suddenly become profitable. That patent itself states:

    The present invention relates to methods and apparatus for processing signals to remove redundant information thereby making the signals more suitable for transfer through a limited-bandwidth medium. The present invention specifically relates to methods and apparatus useful in video compression systems.
    [...]
    The patent describes a single-pass digital video compression system which implements a two-dimensional cosine transform with intraframe block-to-block comparisons of transform coefficients without need for preliminary statistical matching or preprocessing.

    It'll be interesting, and rather sad, to see if this actually get applied against JPEGs....

  • Ironic (Score:5, Funny)

    by CorwinOfAmber (39299) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:43PM (#3909933) Homepage
    The press release has many GIF images on it. I wonder if they paid UniSys any royalties?
  • by Jailbrekr (73837) <jailbrekr@digitaladdiction.net> on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:45PM (#3909951) Homepage
    http://www.c3.lanl.gov/~brislawn/JPEG.0003/tsld002 .htm

    A brief history of JPEG, which started in 1985. I think it can be fought on the premise that the patent was based on the work of the consortium, and not the work of the person who filed the patent. First to invent, not first to file.
  • by Gumber (17306) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:45PM (#3909959) Homepage
    Patent terms are 20 years from filing date. They filed this in October 86, which gives them about 2.5 years.

    I imagine they can sue for back royalties. Anyone know if that right expires along with the patent?
  • Investor relations (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ch-chuck (9622) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:45PM (#3909961) Homepage
    Thought this might be the last gasp of a distressed company, but Forgent Networks (NASDAQ:FORG) isn't doing too bad stock wise, for the year it's up 250%, down 12% for the month and up 12% for the week, currently 4.385; 52 week high 5.67, low 0.80.

  • by mybecq (131456) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:48PM (#3909988)
    I'm a little rusty on my JPEG technology, but this seems to fail on several points:
    • The present invention specifically relates to methods and apparatus useful in video compression systems. It focuses on intra-frame compression technologies, incl motion detection and compensation, etc.
    • This patent seems to only cover lossless transmission. (Removing redundant data, not removing information.)
    • It uses Huffman-coding after performing statistical analysis, run-length encoding, etc, but not details on cosine transforms, which JPEG uses.
    It appears that other patents they reference describe existing systems which use cosine transforms with lossy compression...
  • Why they do this (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:49PM (#3910000)
    Having been on the receiving end of a patent threat, here's what we learned about this "industry":
    1. Lawyer's call it "The Last Sport of Kings". Why? Because it takes from between 2 to 4 million dollars, US, to effectively defend or litigate a patent infringement suit.
    2. Because of the high cost of defense or litigation, patent holders use this cost as a weapon to force capitulation by firms that don't want the costs of defending themselves, regardless of merit.
    3. Because of the above, patent holders will typically target small companies first, extort licensing fees, and then use those fees to progressively fund attacks against other potential violators.
    4. Once a patent is out, it is presumed that everyone knows about it. That means if you infringe the patent, you are open to damages for the time that you infringed the patent. The exception is that if the litigator bought the patent, they only get to sue from the time that they owned it.
    So, what does that mean? You can bet that if they owned the patent the entire time, they very deliberately let widespread adoption of Jpeg's go forward, knowing that they could afterwards sue and probably settle with a number of graphics products producers, since even if the producers stop using their patented products, they were in violation of the patent for a long period of time.

    Oh, and yes, IANAL.

  • by WildBeast (189336) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:50PM (#3910011) Journal
    In other news, God has announced that he owns the earth, in fact he goes as far as to claim ownage of the whole universe. So in addition to worshipping him day and night, we're also required to pay him a licensing fee.
  • Public Domain (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fascist Christ (586624) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:52PM (#3910031)

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see how you can patent something already in the public domain.

    And with how long JPEG has been around, you would think they would have raised the point earlier of the unliscensed distribution of their technology. That is, of course, unless the whole point was wait until everybody uses it and then enforce the patent.

    If you want to enforce a patent, you need to enforce it from the beginning. Also, anything that is a standard needs to be released to the public domain.

    This is obviously a scam. It would be interesting to see how it plays out.

  • by OppressiveGiant (558743) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:57PM (#3910089) Homepage Journal

    Doesn't JPEG stand for Joint Photographic Experts Group [jpeg.org] ? Isn't this the group that came up with the JPEG format in the first place?


    According to JPEG what most of us believe to be JPEG files are actually JFIF which are royalty free thanks to C-Cube Microsystems. So Forgent Might not be due that much in royalties after all.


    This might be a good thing after all. The restrictions on GIFs spawned a much better file format (PNG). This could do the same for Lossy Images.

  • by bigfatlamer (149907) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @01:58PM (#3910098)
    The patent dates back to 1986, before everybody and their dog was going around patenting every half-baked idea that fell out of someone's ass, so it's quite likely that the patent is legitimate (or at least as legitimate as these things get). The problem is that they've sat on this patent, not requiring licensing or enforcing it for the past 15+ years and only now, when every company on the planet that makes something electronic is using JPEG as their compression scheme do they decide to enforce it.

    IANAL but I know that in order to be able to license copyrights and trademarks for a fee, owners are required to pursue infringement when it happens, otherwise they basically lose the right to the trademark/copyright. Is there a similar provision for patents? It's not like some bizarre little no-name company is the only one to have been using JPEG compression for the last 16 years...it's been all over the place. Shouldn't they have had to enforce this patent sooner in order to be able to license it now?

    That said, this company (Forgent? Who the fuck are they?) is basically going up against Sony, Kodak, Adobe, Microsoft, etc. Are they really so stupid to think that these guys are going to just spread their cheeks for them without a fight? I don't think so.

    E

    ps...I just noticed this [theregister.co.uk] link over at El Reg that mentions that Sony already ponied up. Wussies.
  • by jcr (53032) <jcr@nOspAm.mac.com> on Thursday July 18, 2002 @02:05PM (#3910172) Journal
    If these people have a patent on DCT and huffman coding (which isn't likely to be valid if tested in court, but that's another matter), let's all just adopt JPEG 2000 as soon as possible. Wavelet coding is superior, anyway.

    -jcr
  • by TheOldCrow (260653) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @02:07PM (#3910204) Homepage
    Yet again something that will be tossed out under the Doctrine of Laches:

    "Laches is recognized as an equitable defense available to defendants in patent infringement litigation under 35 U.S.C. Section 282 (1988). Laches enables the infringer to avoid liability if the patent holder delays too long before commencing litigation. The doctrine flows from the longstanding, fundamental legal principle that equity will not protect those who sleep on their rights."

    Reference: The Doctrine of Laches and Patent Infringement Litigation at URL:

    http://tinyurl.com/pzt

    Original URL before tinyurling:

    http://www.converium.com/web/converium/converium .n sf/articles/5731FF9F4372B6ED85256B43006EA07D?OpenD ocument

    Crow /**/
  • by serutan (259622) <.snoopdoug. .at. .geekazon.com.> on Thursday July 18, 2002 @02:11PM (#3910248) Homepage
    Read their page and you'll know:

    "Forgent and a national law firm, who has made and continues to make a significant investment to develop Forgent's IP licensing program, are the sole beneficiaries of the patent license revenue."

    Hmmm, notice that the law firm is not named. Maybe anonymity is in its contract with Forgent. Just in case you feel compelled to comment to Forgent, here's the contact info on their page:

    Forgent Media Relations:
    Hedy Baker, 512/437-2789
    hedy_baker@forgent.com
  • I used to work there (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Krellan (107440) <krellanNO@SPAMkrellan.com> on Thursday July 18, 2002 @02:19PM (#3910324) Homepage Journal
    I used to work there! Compression Labs (CLI) made equipment for digital video compression. They were the company behind the short-lived AT&T "videophone" that appeared in the early 1990's. Their main bread and butter was video conferencing systems for businesses and hotels. They were dedicated boxes on wheels, complete with TV and camera and computer, that looked like those old TV carts you see in schools. The idea was that you rolled them to whatever meeting room your company used, then hooked up to a T1 or ISDN line for the videoconference. They also made some other units, such as standalone systems for permanent installation, but the wheeled systems were the most popular.

    Unfortunately as the generic PC became faster and better at handling video, there became less and less of a need for dedicated video compression hardware. The company started losing sales and going downhill. Compression Labs did have an industry niche, a very easy to use system that was completely turnkey, but as with so many things, low cost won out in the end.

    VTEL, a competitor, bought Compression Labs. VTEL made similar videoconferencing machines, but they were integrated with a PC. They were harder to use, but had PC niceties such as the ability to share PC files and access over the videoconference. Unfortunately they weren't selling very well either.

    I left the company around the time CLI was bought out by VTEL. It seems they've renamed themselves to Forgent, and set up a business model of providing services instead of selling boxes. Probably a smart move. It is a dumb move to enforce this patent, though!

    While CLI had a lot of good patents, they applied mostly to video and the way it was compressed before transmission and restored after reception. They used the H.* standards for digital video transmission, but there is a lot of leeway in how you process the video signal at both ends to make the most use of the bandwidth, and this is where CLI's patents came in.

    I don't believe this patent could apply to still images such as JPEG. Reading the patent, I see it mentions successive video frames quite often. Maybe there are some parts that deal with JPEG-like encoding methods, but IANAL. Honestly, I don't believe this patent can be valid, especially after the company submarined for so long and is only now claiming enforcement. They were a company I was once proud to be a part of, and it makes me sad to see them stooping to this level.
  • by diabolus_in_america (159981) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @02:28PM (#3910428) Journal
    Sure, HP and Kodak can switch the files formats of their digital cameras to something other than JPEG. As well, Adobe and Macromedia can even eliminate JPEG support from their product lines. They could then avoid paying patent royalties on all future sales of those products.

    But, that will not save them from having to deal with all of the revenue generated by previous versions of those products over the years. That could potentially be a boatload of cash that these companies will have to fork over because of Forgent's decision to enforce their patent.

    Two things could stand in the way of Forgent and the truckloads of cash they are dreaming of:

    The gap between the time the patent was granted and the time of enforcement. We are talking about over a decade of time that Forgent, for all practical purposes, chose not to enforce their patent on JPEG encoding. There is a concept of tacit approval that companies such as Adobe could call into play when this goes to court. And since Forgent has stated on their web site that a "national law firm" is involved, you can bet this will go to court... soon.

    Extending the concept of tacit approval, the defendants could claim they would not have used the patented technology in their products if they had known the patent would be enforced. The fact that it was not enforced, during a reasonable period of time after the patent was granted, makes this argument a solid one.

    Forgent better hope that the national law firm they hired can claim a plausible reason why it took them so long to enforce this patent. If not, then it will likely be thrown out for all products using the JPEG format up until the date that Forgent decided to enforce it. If that happens, then the flow of money from this will be reduced to a trickle of what it could have been.

  • by StevenMaurer (115071) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @02:57PM (#3910717) Homepage
    I have a combined ten patents issued and in process in this specific field, so I believe I can call myself an expert in this matter.

    The claims in this patent cover digital streams which tend to come in tuples, possibly with appended data. Something like this:
    (1,4) (1,3), (1,6), (4,6), (3,6), (9,6)

    It specifically claims the separation of these tuples into separate run-length encoded streams.
    In my example above, it might be:
    (3x1, 4, 3, 9)
    (4, 3, 4x6) ... where the 4x6 is a run length encoding.

    There are some further claims about coding signs and amplitude, and some table lookup mechanism to support the above.

    The trouble is (for the patent holders), this is in NO WAY how JPEG works.

    JPEG divides a video stream into blocks (8x8 and 16x16) of pixels, and runs them through a descrete cosine transform. Basically, this turns the representation of the picture into level and percentages of vertical and horizontal waveforms of various frequencies. It then quantizes these values (reducing their size and precision), and orders them from low frequency to high frequency. Then it subjects the whole thing to a run-length algorithm optimized to eliminate zeros (which high quant values tend to do). JPEG is a lossy algorithm that takes advantage of the fact that our eyes don't pick out errors in high frequency components as well as we do low frequency.

    About the only claim this patent that's similar to JPEG is the Run Length Encoding. But that is covered by prior art that goes back forever.

  • Alternative to JPEG (Score:4, Interesting)

    by teetam (584150) on Thursday July 18, 2002 @04:45PM (#3911608) Homepage
    Many years ago, I did some work on an alternate lossy image compression technique based on fractals. It had some pros and cons when compared to JPEG and could have developed into one of the viable alternatives.

    But, guess what? The most basic and fundamental of concepts in this field was covered by patents. This drove all companies and researchers away from the field. Today, I hardly hear about it.

    The whole concept of patenting an algorithm is stupid. I am sure there are thousands of other promising areas where further research could have greatly enhance our lives - except that greedy patents make it impossible to pursue research in that area.

    People who argue that patents give incentives to innovators fail to realize that an idea is only a spark. It can realize its full potential only if a lot of further research and development is done on it. However, the very same patents serve as deterrants for people who want to do further research.

    Patents halt innovation, not the other way around!

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