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MPEG-LA Considering Patent Pool For VP8/WebM 399

Posted by kdawson
from the who-you-callin'-unencumbered dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Well, that didn't take long. Larry Horn, CEO of MPEG-LA, the consortium that controls the AVC/H.264 video standard, says the group is looking at creating a patent pool license for VP8 and WebM, Google's new open source, royalty-free HTML5 video format... So much for a Web video standard unencumbered by patent issues." We talked about VP8/WebM a couple of days ago when Google open sourced it. Reader Stoobalou points out another late-night email from Steve Jobs, who was asked to comment on VP8 vs. H.264. Jobs laconically sent a pointer to the technical analysis we linked before, where the poster says "VP8 copies way too much from H.264 for anyone sane to be comfortable with it, no matter whose word is behind the claim of being patent-free."
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MPEG-LA Considering Patent Pool For VP8/WebM

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  • Screw them. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:35AM (#32292324)

    Sounds good: Let's get the patents that MPEG-LA claims might affect VP8 out in the open. Let's get an explicit listing of exactly where they think it infringes. And then we'll fix it.

    This as opposed to Microsoft's approach to everything else, and Apple's approach so-far, of obliquely threatening that someone may someday find something that vaguely infringes some potential patent by some unknown party.

    • Let's get the patents that MPEG-LA claims might affect VP8 out in the open.

      The last article linked to an analysis of VP8 [multimedia.cx] that pointed out its striking similarity to H.264 Baseline [ytmnd.com]. So I guess you can start with the H.264 patent list on mpegla.com [mpegla.com]. Removing these patented parts would turn it into Theora, which is closer to DivX (MPEG-4 Part 2).

      • by Nicolas MONNET (4727) <nicoaltiva@gmail . c om> on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:30AM (#32293930) Journal

        AFAIK VP8 was designed with avoiding infringing patents in the first place. The easiest way to do that is to exactly like h264, while changing enough so as to be different from at least one claim of each patent. IIRC if you can show you're not doing something exactly like the claim, you're not infringing. That doesn't work when the patent is too vague, but then the patent owner faces the risk of having his patent rejected and/or having prior art.

        • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Friday May 21, 2010 @01:22PM (#32295404)

          The key is whether they are too similar on the specific claims. Everything surrounding the claims section (which is a small fraction of the patent) is just fluff or description that has no bearing on the legality of it.

          For example, MP3, if taking a broad view, is very similar to H.264. They do the same thing (compress media), and share most of the same concepts. In fact they are both rather similar to ZIP files. Yet on the very specifics of MP3's patent claims and H.264, they are quite different.

          The same can be true of VP8, it's not the generalities that matter, it's the specific. They can be 99% identical, but if that 1% is all the specific claims of the patent, then it doesn't infringe.

          This also bites a lot of people the other way - two technologies can be extremely different, yet if the patent's specific claims apply, then it doesn't matter it's still infringing.

  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:37AM (#32292340) Journal

    When do the patents expire and the invention fall into the public domain?

    - "Sometime after both you and your grandchildren are dead."

    Well that's a bad plan.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Actually, IIRC, it is about 20 years after the patent has been granted. You probably mistake it with copyright that is currently 70 years after the author's death.
    • by natehoy (1608657) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:50AM (#32292542) Journal

      You're confusing patent and copyright. The last of the h.264 patents should expire around 2025. Approximately 15 years from now.

      I'm very much hoping (and it's very realistic to expect) that I will be alive at that point, and so will my parents. If you got a kitten today, it might not make it, though. Sorry.

      Given my daughter's current age, it's likely that any potential grandchildren wouldn't even be born by then.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:56AM (#32292646)

        The last of the h.264 patents should expire around 2025. Approximately 15 years from now.

        That does, of course, assume no-one manages to successfully lobby for increased patent terms any time during the next 15 years.

      • by orasio (188021) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:35AM (#32293184) Homepage

        You are right about the 15 years.

        Anyhow, h.264 will be about as useful 15 years from now as Intel Indeo is right now.
        Patents on nineteenth century machines kind of made sense, because they might have helped moving some industries forward. Of course, patents did last a short amount of time compared to the usefulness of the invention. Right now we are still using combustion engines, and for the most part of the time they had no patents.
        Patents in software, right now, cover a lot more than the lifetime of the invention. That way, they are useless to the general public.

        It's not that you and your grandchildren will be dead, it's that patents will expire long after the technology becomes obsolete.

    • Well I'm sure that the current companies paying royalties could put some money into a hitman fund to kill both him and his grandchildren, and hasten the patent expiry...

      It'd be cheaper in the long run.

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:40AM (#32292388) Homepage

    AV is really the area worst affected by software patents. The media talks a lot about "silly patents", but they're *not* the real problem. MPEG-LA holds over 1000 patents - no amount of raised standards will solve this problem. Patents on playing video have to be declared null and void.

  • HTML5 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by damicatz (711271)
    This is why no one is going to seriously use the HTML5 video tag. What advantage does HTML5 offer over Flash for web designers when you have to worry about supporting multiple codecs because no one can agree on a standard codec to use. On the other hand, if you use Flash, pretty much everyone (except those subject to Steve Jobs' Dictatorship) can view your video and you don't have to worry about supporting multiple codecs. So now you have to worry about The HTML 5 tag is a poor standard; a typical result
  • On2 video patents (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EvilMonkeySlayer (826044) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:48AM (#32292500) Journal
    You know, On2 has been around a while now in the video codec game. I wonder how many patents they hold that MPEG-LA are violating with their video codecs. If MPEG-LA goes up against Google/On2 chances are they'll retaliate with patents that MPEG-LA is infringing upon.

    I'm surprised no one has thought of this (at least all the news posts I've seen), that MPEG-LA may be opening themselves up to some pretty serious patent retaliation.
    • Oh and just so you know doing a patent search I can barely come up with a half dozen patents held by On2. That hardly sounds like they'd be able to make any "serious" patent retaliation.

    • Re:On2 video patents (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:15AM (#32292916)

      Quite so. Google now owns every On2 patent, and except for the ones in VP3 (Theora), which On2 already basically relinquished, Google has exclusive control over those licenses.

      Google are a search company, and they are very, very good at it. They routinely search millions of terabytes of data in seconds. They have a patent search database: http://www.google.com/patents - and presumably have international data as well as USPTO data but don't yet make that public.

      It is reasonable to assume that before they spent $100 million buying On2 for the sole purpose of being able to know a video codec is clean, they could have done an exhaustive patent search. Exhaustive. As in every extant US patent prior to the date of On2's patents. They could quite reasonably have done so. They have the resources to do so, all of the data, a very good search algorithm, and a lot of smart people. Frankly, nobody else, including MPEG-LA or any of its members, could have reasonably done so, and would scoff at whether it was even possible. They very probably did exactly that—that's my guess, anyway. They won't guarantee you, because they're not in the business of selling you insurance (and of course, MPEG-LA are, hence the "nice codec you got here, shame if something were to happen to it" tone).

      But I'd bet a fair sum that VP8 was specifically designed by On2 to skirt, but carefully avoid, every MPEG-LA patent (which is why it uses a standard DCT, and why it doesn't have B-frames). (Remember you have to infringe all of the claims of a patent to be infringing.) If On2 had infringed an MPEG-LA patent, MPEG-LA would have been on the attack years ago.

      Unless, of course, they know an ugly truth. Maybe H.264 infringes on an On2 patent, and MPEG-LA don't have a licence for it.

      Google are now in a position to simply say that they will license those patents to anyone under the license they just published, of course—which simply prohibits any meaningful retaliatory strikes against WebM—and not under any other license. If you want to use H.264, fine, no problem by them, although you'd need an MPEG-LA licence as well. As long as you don't attack WebM or anything in it.

      Presto: mutually assured patent destruction defuses the situation, and VP8 gets just as good an assurance as MPEG-LA have.

      Also, you know, they kind of own YouTube. You know, the site that serves more video than everything else combined. If your browser, say, Safari, stops working with YouTube, people are not going to view it as a problem with YouTube, especially given Google Chrome is built on the same core but is significantly faster.

      VP8 doesn't look too bad. It isn't quite x264 quality but it's way better than Theora, it's vastly faster to decode than H.264 is in software, hardware stuff is already on fab and possible with many of the same parts and extensions (any Android phone will be able to do it, and will in 2.2 I think). The encoder is kind of poor, but will get much better after a bunch of open-source tinkering I think. It prefers blur to block, which is much better when you're talking about a small screen too; really, H.264 can be overly grainy and blocky and in many cases tries to be too sharp. VP8 is good enough for the web, and it's open, and though it isn't going to be evil, it does has a powerful gorilla protecting it now.

      Also, y'know, by the by, so does Matroska and Vorbis.

      Win-win. Bring it on.

      • Re:On2 video patents (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Qzukk (229616) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:30AM (#32293128) Journal

        But I'd bet a fair sum that VP8 was specifically designed by On2 to skirt, but carefully avoid, every MPEG-LA patent

        This. There's absolutely no other reason why the spec would "borrow" so much from h.264 and yet come out worse... unless they started with h.264 and removed everything that was patented.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Fzz (153115)

        But I'd bet a fair sum that VP8 was specifically designed by On2 to skirt, but carefully avoid, every MPEG-LA patent (which is why it uses a standard DCT, and why it doesn't have B-frames). (Remember you have to infringe all of the claims of a patent to be infringing.)

        No, that's not how patents work (and yes, I've successfully contested a few in court). You infringe a patent if you infringe all the terms of any single claim.

        The claims of a patent are independent unless they say otherwise. Often they s

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:05AM (#32293586)

      Google is not stupid. They have a lot of smart people working there. They also, as with any company, have a plenty large legal staff. Given that they bought On2 some time ago, this is clearly not a spur-of-the-moment kind of decision. They've considered this. Well that tells me that they have come to the conclusion that either VP8 doesn't infringe, or that they have the resources to fight it.

      Something else to remember is that while it might infringe on some patents, perhaps those patents are invalid, perhaps there's prior art. Now, who would be able to find that sort of thing the best? Probably someone who had access to a lot of information and was good at data mining. Well, that would be Google. They are the kings of data mining, they have access to more information than, well, probalby anyone except maybe the NSA.

      So perhaps they looked at the MPEG-LA patents and said "Well, all of the ones VP8 might infringe on have prior art out there, so we can get them shot down."

      Whatever the case, I bet this was a reasoned, thought out, move. They didn't just say "Hey, let's open source some shit for fun!" Also please note the coincides with their Google TV stuff. Google wants in to the video distribution market in a big way, they've been working on this and planning.

      Now that doesn't mean they'd be successful. This could all get fought in court, Google could lose, etc. However they have the resources, in terms of money, brainpower, technology, and so on to fight. I'm guessing they think they can win.

      Apple is just scared because they were starting to believe they were going to become the kings of all media, that everything would have to come through their devices, and Google is now threatening to take that away.

  • Fight fire with fire (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mukund (163654) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:08AM (#32292814) Homepage

    There are ways to fight software patents within the current legal system.

    Create a very large patent pool, but one that isn't defensive. All it takes is for every single company with commercial interest in free software to pool their patents together. Let's call this the good-pool. The companies donate legal fees to this entity. Now,

    1. Wait for _ANY_ other software patent licensing pool to be created, such as the MPEG-LA. Call this the bad-pool. Such a group basically consists of companies that have 'donated' their software patents for threatening/suing others and getting paid. Once such a pool is formed, go after the member companies by asserting relevant patents from the good-pool. Don't wait to defend, but go on the offensive. Also, if any individual company threatens/sues another company with software patents, the good-pool again goes on the offensive.

    After some time, no company will dare join a pool, or threaten another company again. This works, except for patent troll companies that have no valid business, but that of suing others. We'll come to this in a moment.

    2. Software engineers in the community *read the patents in the bad-pool*, and engineer methods very similar to such patents, but those that do not infringe claims in the patents. This is not so tough. Most software patents are ridiculous. Create a wiki and provide alternative methods to avoid each patent.

    After some time, no company will dare join a pool again.

    In the case of patent trolls, where the company's only reason for existing is to sue others, follow the money. Find out who's behind the company. Even if litigation happens, and there's a payout, the matter doesn't end there. Find out who is benefiting. These people definitely have investments in other companies. Use the good pool to sue these other companies.

    Note that this approach is much like the MPEG-LA licensing pool and does not involve companies giving up patents to the pool.

  • Yet another reason software patents should not exist. Someone develops software it should be a copyright, period. Patents for what is blatantly obvious is just plain wrong. There will be a point where every bit of software is patented and no one will be able to develop anything better. For the US and any other country with software patents they are screwing themselves. New and better things will be developed outside of these countries and be sold outside of these countries and that patent protection becomes

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:57AM (#32293462) Homepage
    This is just like all those anti-gun politicians who won't go anywhere without their armed bodyguards. Hey, they don't believe in carrying guns personally, but you know, there are bad people out there...
  • by WWWWolf (2428) <wwwwolf@iki.fi> on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:46AM (#32294118) Homepage

    (Warning: Contains far more than usual amount of fuming.)

    There's only one chance to make a first impression. MPEG-LA just used theirs, in relation to the WebM. And good grief, what did that reveal.

    The MPEG-LA wants patent-encumbered video format as a web standard. That'd allow them to rake in the money. The whole "H.264 is free of charge for time being" thing is a giant big smokescreen. Google is already allowing VP8 to be freely used in perpetuity; in light of that, what other purpose than long-term plan to start charging for the whole thing would MPEG-LA's patent pool have than to start charging for the stuff after all? If they really wanted a free standard, they'd just leave Google alone.

    This attitude alone, in my opinion, weighs far more than any technological merit H.264 has. MPEG-LA not in to produce any sort of amicable, altruistic solution to the whole thing. They're not interested in creating a standard that could be used royalty-free. Take any further tokens of niceness with a grain of salt.

    Pardon me for getting a little bit cynical here: Part of me wants to say "December 31, 2015 is the day people will start paying for H.264 Internet production and streaming", but since the chance that we'll ever see a HTML5 video standard due to bullshit just like this is close to zero, it's all academic anyway and nothing remarkable will ever happen.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party. -- Dennis Ritchie

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