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VLC & European Patents 421

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the going-to-get-worse-before-it-gets-better dept.
CaptScarlet22 writes " VideoLAN is seriously threatened by software patents due to the numerous patented techniques it implements and uses. Also threatened are the many libraries and projects which VLC is built upon, like FFmpeg, and the other fellow Free And Open Source software multimedia players, which include MPlayer, xine, Freevo, MythTV, gstreamer."
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VLC & European Patents

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  • More info (Score:5, Informative)

    by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:27PM (#12169859)

    In the interest of stimulating more discussion, some more information about this subject can be found here [ffii.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:28PM (#12169883)
    You should only use MS media player. Then you wont run into these problems.
  • Correct me if I'm wrong. I remember reading somewhere that MS hold many many patents of code/methodologies used in Open Source. If this is true then I guess Open Source exists only because MS defends the patents passively.
    • MS hold many many patents of code/methodologies used in Open Source

      I have no idea what that means ... please clarify.
    • by Dr. Evil (3501)

      You can enforce patents selectively.

      The GPL clause which forbids distribution of code with additional restrictions, including patents, makes it utterly worthless for most companies to persue GPL'd software for patents.

      If Microsoft wanted to anihilate Linux, I think they could very well do this. But... much of the rest of the industry would unload their patent arsenals on Microsoft until they relented...

      • Why does it make it worthless for companies to persue GPLd software for patent violations? Regardless of whether theres a clause in the GPL saying you cant add extra restrictions like patents, you can easily still have a case where there is a patented implementation within the GPLd codebase, and its perfectly persuable by the patent holder.

        Just because you subscribe to a different point of view than the next person doesnt give you protection.
    • by dyfet (154716) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:46PM (#12170092) Homepage
      You mean things like the infamous "@todo" patent on the use of comments in source code to document future todo items??! Yes, they actually received a patent on that! And I received a tatoo in a special place for that, so they can go and try to license my you know what :).

    • Patents... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ImaLamer (260199) <john@lamar.gmail@com> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:46PM (#12170095) Homepage Journal
      I have not RTFA, but I'm sure almost all of the codecs and the patents that are being discussed are owned by the MPEG group (being they are using MPEG-2 encoding/decoding without a license).

      LAME is already illegal in the U.S. because it did MP3, and I suspect the rest of these projects will be killed off for similar reasons.

      I'm not suprised - when you look for "free mpeg-2 decoders" you don't find much. Well, you don't find anything that is gratis. After careful research you find that open source projects are doing a lot of mpeg-2 work, but they usually don't advertise that fact.

      I didn't say it was "right", but it's not suprising. Really, you can't do anything with SVCD or DVD on Windows without owning a MPEG-2 decoder. If I was someone who made money on selling MPEG-2 codecs, I'd go after VideoLAN too. It's a lucrative business.
    • by grolschie (610666) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @06:32PM (#12170507)
      The patent system is really [newscientist.com], really [wsj.com], screwed [cox.net]!
      • by MacDork (560499) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:59PM (#12172453) Journal
        Ok, so software patents suck big time. What do we do about it? Why not start a Free Patent Foundation (FPF). All patents owned by the FPF are freely licensed to anyone with the following restriction: Any party that makes use of a FPF patent library is required by the license to cross license their entire patent library with the FPF. Using a FPF patent constitutes acceptance of the license. Corporations would simply be blind sided because they are advised to NOT research patents or face triple damages. Now, when they violate our patents, ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US! ;-) Either that, or they have to stop shipping their product. If these companies really do patent 'defensively' as many say they do, then they shouldn't mind a bit now, should they? Once they are in the fold, all patents created by them are added to the FPF. Of course, I'm not a patent lawyer, so feel free to inform me that I'm a clueless moron...
  • by Future Man 3000 (706329) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:31PM (#12169911) Homepage
    I recognize that there aren't a great deal of resources available to the average Free Software programmer, but surely after the deal with GIF a little more dilligence has been put into patent research?

    Don't get me wrong; I'd rather we just do away with patents entirely, but it's a fact that Europe will buy into this system sooner or later. Maybe now's the time to clean up any potentially infringing code or move it to an even more legally-backwards locale?

    • Actually, isn't Europe implementing *some* sort of grandfathering system? If they aren't, then do they realize that they may be causing massive liabilities for their constituants? Forget VideoLAN, this may be a much larger problem.
    • by DaveJay (133437) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:35PM (#12169951)
      ...or move it to an even more legally-backwards locale?

      Actually, considering the nature of software patents, I should think we're looking for a place that is more legally forward-thinking...
    • I'm sure they were aware of it, but if the compression algorithm used in a certain video format is patented, how are you supposed to encode or decode a compatible file without infringing on the patent?
      • I think thats just the point. They don't want you encoding/decoding that file. They want to lock you in to their software.

        Imagine if the only MP3 encoder/decoder combination was the Fraunhofer one? How popular would MP3 be? Would Vorbis or something similar be the de facto standard?
      • Licensing the patent from the owner, my dear Watson...

        Their dream is that you can't play or create content without a properly blessed (read: licensed) encoder/decoder...

      • Well you don't.

        Not trying to be a prick, but you don't work with it. DVD? Gone! SVCD? Gone! MP3? Gone!

        Widespread adoption is what makes it hard huh? Well develop a new codec with brand new methods and you won't have to worry so much. Go help the vorbis project.
    • During their implementation (which started years ago), they were aware that there were no software patents in Europe.

      Given the number and scope of multimedia patents, the only way to clean up any potentially infringing code would involve rm -rf...
    • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:40PM (#12170014) Journal
      Programmers are generally recommended NOT to investigate patents at all. If they knowingly offend, they pay triple damages when taken to task over it in the US (holy mecca of patent litigation)

      The generally accepted practice in the business world is build it without having any awareness that it was previously discovered or patented, then have your lawyers look for infringement and negotiate a deal. The developers, engineers, etc are generally prohibited from going anywhere near patents.

      Consciously avoid being exposed to other ppls ideas, reinvent the wheel, employ a bunch of people who could be doing something productive to find out after the fact if anyone has invented this before, and then hope that there's enough revenue for your new idea left after you pay to license the patents.

      Kind of puts the lie to the whole "in the interests of progress" thing, doesn't it?

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:53PM (#12170177) Homepage Journal
      I don't believe that it is possible for any significant work of software to be non-infringing on granted patents. Unfortunately, you can't prove that your program is "clean" by searching patents. Modern patents are written to be as vague as possible in order to allow enforcement of the patent on the widest possible range of software - including things the purported inventor didn't think of when filing the patent. So, you can't necessarily find a patent that applies to what you are working on, even if the patent holder would be disposed to prosecute you under that patent. You can't determine that you are not infringing a particular patent due to its vagueness, without bringing a suit against the patent holder to determine the issue. And worse, there are so many granted patents on basics of computer science. These things weren't inventions, there is prior art, but given that it costs up to US$5 Million to defend yourself (Economic Survey, American Intellectual Property Law Association), you will not be able to prove your innocence.

      In other words, unless your company is so big that you can use your huge patent portfolio against all equal-sized or smaller companies, you're hosed. This is a game that only multinationals can win - and that's why IBM and HP lobby for Software patenting in Europe despite their affiliation with Open Source. It's more important to them to be able to dominate the entire computer software industry than it is to work with us.

      Bruce

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 07, 2005 @06:56PM (#12170749)
        Hey Bruce, who is so famous and respected that he'll be moderated +5 for writing anything ;)

        I'm posting anonymously because I have a confession. I hold a degree in both CS and mathematics. I run linux on two of my three home computers and the third is Windows only because I use it as a digital audio workstation. Sorry for the life story; just pointing out that I am a geek.

        Also, I'm a patent examiner.

        With all due respect, some of what you've written is FUD. For example,

        Modern patents are written to be as vague as possible in order to allow enforcement of the patent on the widest possible range of software - including things the purported inventor didn't think of when filing the patent.

        A vague patent is a weak patent. I know this because I examine them. Attorneys know this because they prosecute them. If you file for a patent, the last thing you want is a vague patent. If you're sued for infringement, hope beyond hope that it is a vague patent. If the language of the patent is vague, attack it with 35 USC 112 and have the patent either invalidated or returned to the office for re-examination. If that attack fails, apparently the patent is not vague.

        (The typical response is that the USPTO shouldn't grant vague patents. Patent prosecution is a complex field all to itself and without going into lengthy details, let me assure everyone that the USPTO would love to grant only fantastically strong, specific patents, however that is not always possible because of the outside checks & balances placed on the USPTO (primarily courts, but other influences exist.))

        And worse, there are so many granted patents on basics of computer science.

        With all due respect, I'm quite familiar with the basics of computer science. My areas of expertise include computability and algorithm analysis. I have spent more time staring at FSMs and models of computation than any human should. Do you mind sharing some of these granted patents on the basics of computer science? I look at anywhere from 5-200 computer-related patents every business day and have yet to find them. (Cue the requisite jokes about a patent examiner's inability to find something *rimshot*)

        These things weren't inventions, there is prior art, but given that it costs up to US$5 Million to defend yourself (Economic Survey, American Intellectual Property Law Association), you will not be able to prove your innocence.

        With all due respect, if there is prior art, put it in front of a judge and you have proven that you have not infringed. (Patent enforcement is not a criminal offence, therefore you do not prove your innocence.) It is much easier to say there is prior art than to understand what prior art actually is, let alone prove that prior art existed. Of course, I'm only speaking from the perspective of someone who finds and proves prior art for a living.

        This is a game that only multinationals can win - and that's why IBM and HP lobby for Software patenting in Europe despite their affiliation with Open Source. It's more important to them to be able to dominate the entire computer software industry than it is to work with us.

        Did you know that IBM held a patent for highlighting an input field in a user interface to indicate to the user that the field is mandatory? For crying out loud, they could have shut down the internet. That patent has recently expired, but how does this fit in with the "IBM wants to dominate the entire computer software industry" line of reasoning? Beats me, man.

        Anyway, just wanted to offer a little counterpoint. I'm that type of computer geek who hates to deal with ACTUAL computers - algorithms and Turing Machines are my playground. Now I examine patents and make serious bank doing it. You can trust that I sleep just fine at night, mainly because I see first hand that the vast majority of the Slashdot/geek/media communities' complaints about the USPTO are, at best, baseless.

        I won

        • by lakeland (218447) <lakeland@acm.org> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @07:31PM (#12171033) Homepage
          If you are sued for infringement, then you have lost. End of story. The cost of invalidating a patent is so high that it cannot be afforded by anybody. So, if you are sued, you are screwed.

          I would like to repeat this ten times to drill it into your head, but I will save space and just repeat it once. In the world we live in, being sued for patent infringement will destroy your business and your life. Ordinary small business do not have the resources necessary to invalidate any patents. The ONLY way to save them is to not grant them in the first place.

          Now return to your scenario. Is it better to have a vague patent, or a non-vague one? Clearly the vague patent is better, because it is easier to start a lawsuit. Sure, you'll probably lose if they fight -- but who cares, only one in a hundred is stupid enough to fight.

          I suppose you could argue that in a hypothetical world where the legal system was affordable, this would not be the case. Well, sorry. We don't live in a hypthetical world, and we write rules to fit with the world we live in.
        • by stor (146442) * on Thursday April 07, 2005 @07:37PM (#12171095)
          Did you know that IBM held a patent for highlighting an input field in a user interface to indicate to the user that the field is mandatory? ...

          You can trust that I sleep just fine at night, mainly because I see first hand that the vast majority of the Slashdot/geek/media communities' complaints about the USPTO are, at best, baseless.

          Hmm?

          We claim: "The USPTO grants ridiculous software patents"

          You claim: "The USPTO grants ridiculous software patents"

          From what you say above it seems the /. crowd are fairly accurate.

          Cheers
          Stor
        • by BlueWonder (130989) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @08:13PM (#12171408)
          I hold a degree in both CS and mathematics.
          [...] Also, I'm a patent examiner.

          Can you explain to me how it could have happened that the USPTO has granted a patent on something which is mathematically impossible? I'm thinking of the compression algorithm which claims to losslessly compress any input to a smaller size, in a way that the process is reversible (US patent #5,533,051).

          Seriously, if you can think of any explanation besides incompetence of the patent examiners how such things can happen, please offer it.

        • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @08:21PM (#12171456) Homepage Journal
          If the language of the patent is vague, attack it with 35 USC 112 and have the patent either invalidated or returned to the office for re-examination. If that attack fails, apparently the patent is not vague.

          With all due respect, if there is prior art, put it in front of a judge

          It's easy for you to say that I should go to court, but the fact is that if I have to go to court, I have already lost. I would have to settle. I can't afford the legal fees to get to the first day of verbal argument. Nor can any other Open Source developer. You should take into account the fact that the courts are a rich man's game before calling FUD on me.

          Regarding basics of computer science, there's a recent one from Microsoft on performing a different action if you press a button twice rather than once that should not have been awarded and IMO the filer purjured himself regarding prior art.

          Thanks for admitting that you would prefer to only grant non-obvious patents. The fact is that your job should be very different. You should be given a lot more time to consider a patent and go to the library. You should have a real triviality test - bringing a problem before a jury of developers to solve within a time limit - rather than the joke of one that you have now. And the people who send you patents should have real jail penalties for the way that they purjure themselves.

          Bruce

          • by Anonymous Coward
            Thanks for the reply. I swear I'm the same AC.. hehe.

            You should take into account the fact that the courts are a rich man's game before calling FUD on me.

            Maybe I was a little ambitious with the use of the term FUD but I stand by everything I said. Yes, patents are a rich man's game. That's part of the cost of doing business in the US. I agree with every comment regarding the cost of going to court, and while that's a problem involving the patent system, this isn't something that the USPTO has authori

            • by Sanity (1431) * on Friday April 08, 2005 @05:42AM (#12174207) Homepage Journal
              I am the CEO of a software development company and I have personally been forced to decide to keep my company from innovating in particular software markets due to patents on obvious techniques (*cough* Acacia *cough*), not because these patents would survive a court challenge, but because we couldn't risk going to court in the first place with such a well-funded adversary. My point is that the harm is very real and it is starting to touch the activities of many many software engineers.
              Maybe I was a little ambitious with the use of the term FUD but I stand by everything I said. Yes, patents are a rich man's game. That's part of the cost of doing business in the US.
              But don't you see that this is the crux of the matter? Getting dragged into court just for trying to innovate shouldn't be a cost of doing business in the US any more than getting dragged before the Spanish inquisition should have been a cost of doing science in the middle ages.

              The fact that it is a cost of doing business is a failure of patent law to meet its constitutional mandate to further the progress of science and it is and will continute to hold back innovation in the US and other countries where patents on software are permitted.

              Software doesn't need patents, copyright provides ample motivation to software developers. The only people I know that have sought software patents only even thought of doing it after they had developed their "invention", thus the patent did not serve as a motivating factor for them, meaning society suffered the cost of the patent monopoly with no benefit in return. In my experience this is always the case with software patents.

            • by mmurphy000 (556983) on Friday April 08, 2005 @06:17AM (#12174328)
              Yes, patents are a rich man's game. That's part of the cost of doing business in the US. I agree with every comment regarding the cost of going to court, and while that's a problem involving the patent system, this isn't something that the USPTO has authority to change.

              Sure it does.

              You indicated in your earlier post that the reason USPTO grants a lot of patents is because of the checks and balances, including courts. If courts forcing USPTO to grant patents is indeed what's going on here, then USPTO can start going to court more, to put the burden of "proof" on the shoulders of those requesting the patent.

              The "burden" in this case is cash. Yes, patent cases are civil cases (today) and the legal "burden of proof" lies with the patent-holding prosecution. But, as Bruce and others have pointed out, the defense would get bankrupted first in many cases.

              Lets suppose instead that the USPTO granted a narrower set of patents, plus those they're forced to by a court (plaintiff in this case being the rejected patent-seeker). Yes, it cost the patent seeker money to bring the suit. They get the benefit of having their newly-minted patent be declared valid by a court before they go trying to use it to squash competition.

              The net effect would be fewer patents granted in general (many rejected firms wouldn't bother with the court case). Small business will likely get fewer patents in the aggregate, as they won't want to fund the court case to force USPTO to grant the patent. But, I argue that there are far fewer small businesses seeking patents than there are small businesses who could get sued for patent infringement, so small business gains on the whole.

              Oh, and IANAPENDIPOOTV (I Am Not A Patent Examiner, Nor Do I Play One On TV)...

        • by McDutchie (151611) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @08:34PM (#12171551) Homepage
          Did you know that IBM held a patent for highlighting an input field in a user interface to indicate to the user that the field is mandatory?

          Did you know that you just proved Bruce's point in your attempt to refute it?

        • by acegas (322596) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @08:38PM (#12171583)
          I have no idea how you can review 200 patents in a day and be able to deeply understand them and their implications, much less do the research necessary.
          Props for giving us an inside look though
        • Did you know that IBM held a patent for highlighting an input field in a user interface to indicate to the user that the field is mandatory?

          And that patent is obvious to practitioners in the field...

        • #5,249,290, assignment of client requests to the server process having the least load.

          #4,924,411, A word processor that has a feature that allows you to specify that a portion of the text should be shaded - such as may be useful when revising a manual - by enclosing the relevant text within commands that turn shading on and off.

          They're just examples of course. Maybe they're not obvious, but to a layman they just sound... very, very wrong.

          It would be nice to hear a professional opinion: Were those paten

        • by Wolfbone (668810) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @10:20PM (#12172249)
          "With all due respect, I'm quite familiar with the basics of computer science. My areas of expertise include computability and algorithm analysis. I have spent more time staring at FSMs and models of computation than any human should. Do you mind sharing some of these granted patents on the basics of computer science? I look at anywhere from 5-200 computer-related patents every business day and have yet to find them. (Cue the requisite jokes about a patent examiner's inability to find something *rimshot*)"

          Rather than fill this post with links to a myriad RLE and other compression patents, discrete transform patents, Djikstra algorithm variants, memory management algorithms etc. etc. I'll just say this: Congratulations! - it's not every day one comes across someone who knows more about computer science than Donald Knuth. [mit.edu]
        • by SillyNickName4me (760022) <dotslash@bartsplace.net> on Friday April 08, 2005 @08:46AM (#12174894) Homepage
          Since you seem to be well informed and actually involved in this process, you might be able to answer some questions here:

          > Did you know that IBM held a patent for highlighting an input field in a user interface to indicate to the user that the field is mandatory?

          Could you explain why in the world that patent was granted? There is no check on something being obvious anymore? Or does the fact that something happens to involve a computer automatically make it new and non obvious?

          Just to be utterly clear here, hilighting mandatory fields on a paper form has been used for longer then computers exist.

          Could you explain how Microsoft managed to get a patent on using xor to make a cursor blink? (this is an obvious method for anyone who ever did a little bit of assembler coding at the very least)

          Can you explain the famous Amazon one click patent and it not being dismissed inmediately because of being utterly obvious? (this seems to be the most valid one of the 3 mentioned in this post actually)

          Can you point us at any software patents that actually comply with the requirement of providing enough information so that a practiser in the field the patent applies to can reimplement it based on the text of the patent?

          Thanks for your corrections but it still makes no sense at all.
    • by pla (258480) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @07:10PM (#12170881) Journal
      I recognize that there aren't a great deal of resources available to the average Free Software programmer, but surely after the deal with GIF a little more dilligence has been put into patent research?

      Um... Why?

      Some will take this as a troll, but I mean it in all seriousness when I ask "So what?"

      The current patent minefield leaves NO room for independant implementations of any software concept any of us have ever heard of that that didn't originate either with-or-before Turing, or directly from the Open Source world. And even for those, it wouldn't surprise me to hear about some astoundingly trivial and ancient technique suddenly under patent, by companies that have adopted "extortion racket" as their business model (small enough fish can't afford to fight back).

      Software like VLC and MPlayer know perfectly well that they violate a countless number of patents, and the authors just don't care (and if you really think they all live in Europe, I'd like you to show me "Connecticut" on a map of Europe). Any legit project that makes use of their source code needs their head checked, but projects like VLC don't care about infringement. And users thereof don't, either.


      The corporate world, and the governments that pander to it, needs to realize that a growing number of people simply don't care about copyright or intellectual property in general (or to extend this a bit, about drug laws, speed limits, Terri Schivo, the outcome of our quadrennial tweedledum-vs-tweedledee popularity contest, and so on). The more they buy laws that result in serious congnitive dissonance when compared with physical reality, the less people take all laws seriously.


      Software patents in Europe will have absolutely no effect on "our" world. The CEOs can all fret about the impending end to their current business models, the congresses/parliaments can all pass laws as fast as they like, but we will win. This particular "setback" just means that we'll start seeing a LOT more projects coming out of the Vanuatu's newest territory, Michigan. And in a decade, we might well have a large volume of software written on Saturn's newest moon, California, despite not even having a lunar colony by then.
  • MPlayer too... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Einherjer (569603) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:35PM (#12169956) Homepage
    On a sidenote, mplayer has the same message on its website. have a look: http://www.mplayerhq.hu/homepage/index.html [mplayerhq.hu]
    • Multimedia is a patent minefield. All important techniques and formats are covered by broad and trivial patents that are harming progress and alternative implementations, such as free software multimedia players.

      That really is a mischaracterization of what the truth is. It should read:

      Multimedia is a patent minefield. All invented formats are covered by patents that are harming progress and alternative implementations, such as free software multimedia players.

      It's not that the simple things are patent
    • from that site:

      The European parliament will now be taking the last stand against software patents in a voting for which an absolute majority is needed. Such a majority is hard to come by in a parliament with a low attendance level.

      But not all is lost yet as long as you decide it is time to make a difference and take action. This is our last opportunity to fend off software patents worldwide, there will be no second chance for the foreseeable future.

      Signing petitions [eurolinux.org] will not suffice. Contact your local
  • ...in Europe? I thought that this is possible only in America.

    I am not being ironic, could someone clarify this?
    • They are about to become patentable in Europe under new legislation for the EU, and due to world wide treaties (that mainly benefit the US in this case) foreign patents will apply here in the EU when the Patent laws are enacted.
      • by thanasakis (225405) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:48PM (#12170126)
        Thanks! But isn't it an oxymoron that projects and software that are around for years will become illegal suddenly? I mean, presently, nobody has the ability to patent an algorithm in Europe. So, imagine someone in Europe that has thought of an original algorithm for, say, image compression. He is the first to think of it, but naturally he can't patent it. A year later, a company in America goes an patents the same technology. Now suddenly the EC decides to pass this stupid stupid stupid law. The original inventor would be in danger of getting sued for using something he originaly invented.

        • Its a case of Grandfathering the older code in, but how do you prove how old code is? Interesting question. In your scenario, it can and probably WILL happen, but the European developers code can still be used as Prior Art to nullify the American developers patent in either the US or the EU courts. Just because you couldnt patent the thing here, doesnt mean it looses its ability to act as prior art.
          • It doesn't matter though. Unless you are large company if you are sued you lose. Defending yourself against these software patents are very expensive and for a small business you are probably going to go bankrupt anyways. It doesn't matter who is right in the slightest it just matters who has more money.
          • In your scenario, it can and probably WILL happen, but the European developers code can still be used as Prior Art to nullify the American developers patent in either the US or the EU courts.

            Assuming you can afford the millions of dollars that it would cost to defend yourself in a patent infringement case, of course.
  • OSS Developers will have to start migrating to the US to develop free software????
  • by superrcat (815508) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:37PM (#12169982)
    It should be legal to reverse engineer/use patented techniques when it is used to enable integration and compatibility in a non-commerical manner. Using patents to stiffle integration and compatibility should be considered a violation of fair use.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:37PM (#12169986)
    Patents which exist solely for the sake of preventing compatibility aren't "innovation."

    One modern video codec is as good as any other. They're just all different implementations of the same basic mathematics. They all produce similar quality from similar file sizes. Businesses do the same stupid thing every time: patent one particular method (which is not necessarily better than any other method) of encoding, distribute EITHER the decoder to recipients or the encoder to content producers, whichever is easier for your business, and thereby bully the other group into paying for the use of your amazing "technology."

    Gah. It's all bullshit.
  • More about patents (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kaamoss (872616)
    The general concencious is that software patents are mainly stiffling the ability for new software to be produced. Here's an interesting tid bit about problems with software patents. It's a really interesting read I suggest it. Here it is http://perens.com/Articles/PatentFarming.html [perens.com]
  • this patent madness (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bogaboga (793279) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:38PM (#12169999)
    " VideoLAN is seriously threatened by software patents due to the numerous patented techniques it implements and uses.

    Let us get the names of those entities that are threatening with software patents. I will be very willing to join the effort to turn these companies the SCO route. My fear though, is that VideoLAN and other OSS companies will simply shift production to Asia where patents are not that well respected. This will mean that the US will be left behind. We are not doing that well in cell phone technology already. Asians and Europeans seem to be very advanced. We all know that the cell phone technology we are now getting as Americans is kin-of old if one compares it with what the Asians are doing now.

  • by qwp (694253) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:40PM (#12170019) Homepage Journal
    If this project disappears then it will be a huge step backwards for digital multimedia. On every system I use this is one of the first packages I install. One cannot trust quicktime or windows media players.

    it is semi odd that Europe is anti media players in Windows, and then they are threatening to slay free media players. Seams like a double standard.

    • it is semi odd that Europe is anti media players in Windows, and then they are threatening to slay free media players. Seams like a double standard.

      Maybe they don't like digital multimedia in Europe so they want no media players available at all. It seems like that is what they are going to wind up with.

    • Way to take a very narrow view of whats happening. The EU is anti media player in Windows because a number of companies say it hurts them, and they can get a large cash injection from it. They arent 'threatening to slay free media players', they are however 'threatening to implement software patents', which is an entirely different thing, the only thing joining the two cases is that media players may be affected in both cases.
  • Given that Microsoft is firmly entrenched in the media and content industries, as are Apple, Dolby, Fraunhofer and others, is it really any surprise these days that a lot of patents are being trodden on these days? Hell, even foobar2000 [foobar2000.org] must be stepping on a few peoples' toes.
  • patents? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John Seminal (698722) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:43PM (#12170059) Journal
    can someone explain patents to me, because i am baffled.

    if i see a video stream, and decide to write a program that takes any chuncks of "000000000" and replace it with a "01", and so forth, and that is my way of compressing a file, but someone else programed that before me and filed a patent, does that mean i can't use that kind of code?

    it is stupid to me to have patents on things that anyone can think up. what happens if a professor at a university thinks up something, but does not patent it. he teaches it to students, and they are free to use it. 2 years later a start up company in california has an employee who thinks up the same simple idea, and has it patented. what does that mean? that the original professor can no longer use it? that his students who might have used that idea in projects now have to remove it?

    what is the purpose of patents. it seems to be very anti-competitive, and creates monopolies.

    • Re:patents? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jimicus (737525)
      That's the whole point.

      It's easier to understand in an engineering context rather than a software context. With, say, the latest Dyson vacuum cleaner, any idiot from Hoover can go out and buy one, figure out how Dyson built it then churn them out in some factory in China for a quarter the price.

      It's very difficult to prove one way or the other whether or not Hoover developed the idea independently or outright copied it. Therefore, the system makes it illegal to use the same technology regardless of whet
  • The solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:44PM (#12170060)
    1) Only play unpatented formats. 2) Make sure utilities are available to translate to those unpatented formats but don't own them. Just release them free out into the wilds of the internet where they will never entirely disappear despite efforts to squash them. 3) Encourage all encoders to only use open formats. --- Within the next 5-10 years, you will not be able to get content short of video taping it off a screen. They are going to have it completely locked down. It won't be because of technology per se but technology combined with severe legal penalties for circumventing that technology. They will send encoded audio and video streams that will be decoded as close as possible to the point where it becomes audeo and video. Picture a solid state combination speaker code and decoding device impossible to separate or patch into.
  • just when they start to get used in the corporate world, the corporate world is killing them through patents ...
  • Hosting? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nizo (81281) * on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:45PM (#12170074) Homepage Journal
    Why can't all these software packages just be hosted in outer mongolia (or somewhere where the patents don't apply that actually has hosting)?
  • by Vip (11172) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:45PM (#12170079)
    You just threaten that it breaks one of your patents, it ties up the developers into looking at the code and the patents. Development will be slower because of tied up resources, and you can attempt to kill it off. Even if the claim is bunk, you still make them lose much development time.

    While it's probably not what DTS is after, they really don't compete with MPlayer, perhaps other companies will try it.

    I'm just surprised DTS would even bother. After all, if your decoding capabilities are built-in to the most commonly used players, wouldn't that give prospective clients more incentive to use DTS? *shrug*

    Vip
  • Kopete, too (Score:5, Informative)

    by praseodym (813457) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @05:52PM (#12170170) Homepage
    Kopete [kde.org] has a warning message on its site as well.
  • im confused (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mr_tommy (619972) * <tgraham@NOSPAm.gmail.com> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @06:00PM (#12170244) Journal
    So whilst writing a letter to my local MEP, I did a little research around the subject - and stubled upon this speech [eu.int].

    "Before concluding, I would like to say a few words on the substance of the proposal, since Parliament will now need to turn its attention to this. The Commission proposed to clarify the legal rules on patentability for software-related inventions. This does not include computer programs or other software as such. It means inventions that make a technical contribution and that are truly novel. Such inventions are present in a number of everyday consumer goods such as cars, mobile telephones and domestic appliances. The Commission's intention in making its proposal was to avoid the patenting of pure software and make a clear distinction between the European Union and the United States. Nothing that is not patentable now will be made patentable by the directive.

    The current rules in the European Patent Convention leave patent examiners very wide decision-making powers. There can be different interpretations as to whether an invention can be patented. This leads to uncertainty for businesses. Small and medium-sized enterprises in particular are negatively affected by the lack of clarity in the existing rules.

    I would like to remind Members that, in the absence of a directive, patents will continue to be granted. If patent offices decide to grant patents for pure software, then expensive procedures before the Courts will be the only option for those who wish to object.

    Those of you who have been directly involved in working on this proposal know as well as I do that this is a very complex area. Any modifications will need to be carefully examined. The directive cannot be turned on its head. We need to maintain a proper balance between stimulating innovation and making sure competition is not stifled."

    I'm a little confused...
    • Re:im confused (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Flyboy Connor (741764)
      What you must keep in mind with such speeches is that they are designed to convince people to vote for something on the basis of what the speech claims that something is about, while it is really just the opposite. That is exactly what is happening with the patent directive in Europe. Everybody claims that they are against software patents. But half of the politicians say that you should vote against the directive because it allows software patents, while the other half says you should vote for it because i
    • Re:im confused (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bruce Perens (3872)
      Computer programs as such means that you can't patent a computer program, you can only patent using a computer program to do something. Other language for this is that the program must have a technical effect. So, programs that employ a particular algorithm but don't do anything will be protected. This does not seem to be a very useful protection.

      Bruce

    • I've writtent to my MEPs.

      Conservative party are FOR patenting software. The letter was a disgusting patronising excuse, and tries to worm out at the end suggesting they want a 3-year 'review' clause.
      (from Nirj Deva)

      Green party are AGAINST patenting software. They also mention consulting with Alan Cox and Richard Stallman. A very well written response.
      (from Dr Caroline Lucas)

      The Liberal party are AGAINST patenting software. A short letter saying they've heard the fears of small businesses are will definat
  • Fair Use? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by techfury90 (806273)
    What I think should be done is patents should be modified to include a "Fair Use" like clause. Under this idea, F/OSS software, as long as its for "personal use" can use patented technology without having to pay licensing fees, but if its sold or used commercially, or if said program is a commercial application, then said program (or the user of it) requires a license. Now excuse me while I go patent this concept....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 07, 2005 @06:32PM (#12170513)
    In the long term there is NO WAY we can keep the EU or any other part of the world from approving patents on software, because politicians will always care about the interests of whom/what put and keep them in place, ie corporations not common people. The point is that we're slowly approaching the critical level where the concepts of doing "the right thing" and "the legal thing" take opposite directions and become mutually exclusive until we'll be forced to make THE choice.
    The real question is not if, but when the moment arrives, are we ready to act as pirates? Because that's the point "they" are leading us to.
  • No threat (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NekoXP (67564) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @06:45PM (#12170646) Homepage

    This website plastering is just scaremongering, FUD of the worst order, to
    try and make people run off frightened and contact their local politicians
    about it.

    Nobody threatened VLC, MPlayer or FFMPEG with shit. If anyone wants to use
    the code commercially they will no doubt buy a license to do so, the advantage
    here is that there is a simple way to get some working code, which allows more
    people to get to a point where they need to license.

    It's a distinct advantage to patent holders (no requirement to maintain their
    own source code base etc., and an entire market of willing customers which
    would otherwise not exist) and the patent holders know it.

    Neko
  • by thomasvs (600635) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @07:37PM (#12171091) Homepage
    I am one of the GStreamer [freedesktop.org] developers. I'm flattered we are in this list, but we don't really belong there. GStreamer is under much less of a threat than the other projects mentioned here.

    Why ? Because GStreamer was designed *from the start* to be pluggable. The whole patent issue is one of the main reasons why GStreamer is designed the way it is. Sure, it took a lot longer to get to a point where stuff starts to Just Work, because we wanted to make sure we would be around when the shit hits the fan.

    So while a lot of other projects chose to ignore the whole patent problem, and a lot of projects used the GPL as a license (which indeed is not compatible with patents), making it possible for any distro to ship them, we had the focus of making sure that the GStreamer platform is pluggable to the point where the libraries can be put in or taken out without breaking the applications. It's also one of the reasons why GStreamer, from the start, has been LGPL - because that allows distributors to ship a complete stack of GStreamer applications legally in places where software patents apply (like, say, the whole US). Fighting software patents is a great idea. Waving the problem away as if it's not there is not.

    Also, with the arrival of Fluendo [fluendo.com], a company building stuff on top of GStreamer, (and also a company I happily work for :)), people will be able to get codecs for the patented formats in a legal way, if they chose not to run the risk, or if they want to be legally safe.

    What does this mean in the end ?

    • Distributions can finally ship a multimedia platform in a legal way; see the up-take on Totem and RhythmBox for example. Flumotion [flumotion.net], Fluendo's streaming server with support for royalty-free codecs, is a new project and already it is gaining quite an uptake.

      Very few distros have taken the risk to ship one of the other projects, for legal reasons. (Apparently the mighty Debian ships Xine, and while on any other non-free subject lots of noise is made, this one seems to be left alone because it's a big deal).

      It is no coincidence that projects like mplayer, vlc, and xine do not get shipped by most distributions. In fact, coincidentally, Fluendo did a press release [http] on this very issue yesterday.

    • Source does not have to be "crippled" to be shippable. Other projects get their tarball mangled to remove all questionable code, causing lots of bug reports, ... Take XMMS in Fedora as an example - people complained loudly about the removal of MP3. Actually, Red Hat had the guts to make a stand and decide "we can't legally ship this, and we should stop pretending it's not a problem."
    • GStreamer had some discussions with the FSF (here's the result [freedesktop.org]. In a nutshell, it is vital for a complete framework (ie, all parts of its stack) to not be GPL (or GPL, with an exception clause for GStreamer - see our licensing advisory [freedesktop.org] for more info). The GPL is not compatible with patents. A distro can not risk shipping a stack of libs/plugins/applications where one of these is GPL.
    • "For sale" distributions will finally be able to ship proprietary plugins for these patented codecs, as well as playback applications, and DVD playback, *and it will finally be legal* on Linux.
    • Apart from Sorenson (who outright refuse - or are not allowed - to license code to anyone but Apple), codec companies are turning around, taking note of Linux, and Fluendo is stepping up to make sure that those who really want these proprietary codecs can buy them.
    • Here is what you can do. People need to realize that, jus
  • by rice_burners_suck (243660) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @08:31PM (#12171527)
    I really think that the USPTO needs to get better ways to analyze patents before approving them. First of all, patents fall under all sorts of categories of scientific inventions. Say, mechanical, chemical, software, electrical, etc., etc., etc.

    So this is what the patent office does: For every category under which your invention falls, the patent office has a number of "experts" to whom it might refer. These experts can really be anybody who can demonstrate in-depth knowledge of a field, perhaps by meeting certain criteria set by the patent office, through tests of sorts. These experts would be paid by the patent office and given access to resources needed to analyze and research a patent application, in addition to the current patent researching procedures. The experts would then have the opportunity to swing the outcome of the patent application into one of several directions, such as "no", "yes", "need to be more specific", etc.

    There wouldn't be just one expert assigned to a particular patent application. There would actually be a number of them, all of whom would cast some sort of vote to determine the outcome of a patent application. How many experts will have access to a patent application will depend on how many experts are signed up to review applications for the affected fields, how many applications are being reviewed, etc. When you file an application, you never know who or how many will review it. None of the experts will know who any of the other experts working on an application are.

    Many safety precautions will be put into effect to make sure that the system works. If you think that all experts will vote "no" on all patent applications because it's something they might want to do themselves, the patent office will require an explanation of why the patent application is being rejected. This will be reviewed by the office's normal staff, who currently do all the work of reviewing patent applications. If you worry that companies will file zillions of patents for the same thing in an effort to make one of them get through the process, this can be fixed by keeping track of applications filed by particular organizations, with the office's normal crew rejecting duplicates that are too similar. If you are worried that experts will not put enough effort into reviewing applications, you can throw applications at them that have already been rejected as if these are new applications, to see if you get the same outcome. In fact, patents would, in this way, undergo a certain moderation, kind of like comments posted here on /., and there would be a sort of meta-moderation system in effect.

    Hopefully, this would allow lots of people to spend, say, a few hours a week--PAID hours, mind you, paid for by the applicant--researching new patent applications in addition to current office research efforts. This will act as a filter to prevent a lot of crud from getting through.

    This means several bad things will happen: Patent application fees will go up for the "lone inventor" working in his garage, while big corporations don't give a flying darn, but this can be fixed by implementing several changes:

    • First, if an individual filing as a person, there would be a certain "lone inventor" rate. The patent office might not cover the complete research process, but there really aren't THAT many lone inventors who actually file, in comparison with corporations.
    • Second, if a corporation files, the fees would be computed in part by taking a base fee and adding a small percentage of the company's net income averaged over the past several years, allowing certain credits for companies that have innovative policies, such as paying employees to perform any research they wish for, say, 10% or more of work-paid time.
    • Third, once a patent is issued, the patent holder will be required to pay a certain "patent-tax" of sorts to the patent office, to cover research for other patent applications and the research required for them. This patent tax would NOT be levied on
  • by uprock_x (855650) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @11:07PM (#12172495) Homepage Journal
    ...is just ignore patents, carry on regardless and make great software.

    I know it all seems terribly seriously and gloomy, but when you have bad laws the only way they are killed or rendered impotent is if a large chunk of people reject it in everyday life and that's what people need to (carry on) doing. The FOSS community needs to harden it's resolve, stop flipflopping around and whining and just stay true to it's goals.

    The 'law' has failed many many people throughout history and delivered incredible injustices and attrocities on humanity. It is not an absolute righteousness handed down by God or whatever creator you believe or don't belive in. It has certainely failed the FOSS movement, which needs to start looking beyond whatever the current law is now.

    I suspect VLC and MPlayer are trying to drum up some sympathy and are shooting themselves in the foot a little bit with their "it will all end soon" messages (great software though they both are). And remember it was always pointed out to Slashdot by some here that Europe would not be the bastion of justice and morality some in the US thought it would be when it came to patents etc. Unfortunately the EU is riddled with corruption.

    Just go forth and continue to make your software and distribute it by whatever means necessary. Because if you really believe in your heart you would let nothing or no one stop you.

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