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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 @08:35AM (#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.

  • by Mad Merlin (837387) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:40AM (#32292392) Homepage

    Except for the fact that Google has already placed themselves in the crosshairs by using VP8/WebM themselves. Are you worth more than Google? Didn't think so.

  • by Errol backfiring (1280012) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:41AM (#32292396) Journal
    No they don't. the thing is that MPEG-LA tries to control whether you are violating patents. That is a completely other thing.
  • HTML5 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by damicatz (711271) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:41AM (#32292406)
    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 of a standard by committee. The whole point of the web is to be able to display the content on any platform. Allowing people to use proprietary patent-encumbered codecs as part of the official standard goes against that whole concept. The tag is something I would expect to see from Microsoft, not the W3C.
  • by DavidR1991 (1047748) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:43AM (#32292416) Homepage

    "That's why it might make more sense to just use H.264 and save yourself from future problems."

    Sure. Provided this statement is a cash-guarantee to everyone who wants to implement it: You'll pay roll all the licensing fees, yeah?

  • by David Gerard (12369) <slashdotNO@SPAMdavidgerard.co.uk> on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:44AM (#32292422) Homepage

    They don't ensure any such thing. They ensure their patent pool holders won't sue you over H.264; but buying a licence from them does not mean they'll protect you against others suing you over H.264.

  • by idontgno (624372) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:44AM (#32292436) Journal

    MPEG-LA ensures that H.264 and you are free from any patent violations.

    Free of any patent violations of any patent in their pool. Once you pay for their protection. If someone outside the pool asserts a patent, sorry, that's not covered. You're only paying Mr. Guido and his organization for protection. If Mr. Vinny decides to burn down your warehouse because you didn't pay HIM, well, that's just unfortunate.

    This is where patent pool organizations are more worthless than real organized crime. In the real protection racket, if some shopkeeper is paying you off on schedule, you prevent other punks from trying to horn in on your territory. In a patent pool, once you've got the developer's license money, if someone else declares that they want in on the action, you can either ignore them and let your licensee deal with it, or invite the new patent holder into the pool and jack up the rates to make sure he gets his cut of the racket too.

    so it's a patent bomb waiting to happen and any company that uses it takes risks.

    Don't kid yourself. In computers, everything is either patented or is about to be. If you do anything creative you're exposed. Suck up the risk and proceed, or shut yourself in your room and accomplish nothing.

  • In countries where information processing patents like the H.264 patents exist (namely USA, Germany, and the Republic of Korea), these tend to be broader and harder to work around than patents on hardware, especially when the codec's spec specifies what sorts of processing a decoder shall use. You don't want a decoder "with differing end results" because then you can't decode conforming bitstreams.
  • On2 video patents (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EvilMonkeySlayer (826044) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:48AM (#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.
  • by natehoy (1608657) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:50AM (#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.

  • Re:Screw them. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:50AM (#32292552)

    Except that to "fix" all the parts that could possible be infringing would cripple VP8 even moreso with respect to H.264 then it already is.

    Guess we ought to just surrender now. Because the H.264 patents must cover every possible good implementation of every vaguely-similar compression...

    Except that is complete crap. Start with the specific patents, then work or innovate around them. The folks designing VP8 aimed to do just that. Now if our dear friends at MPEG-LA will finish their threatening review and point out specific flaws, we in the community can finish the job.

  • by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:51AM (#32292558)

    True, it's not technically true but if a submarine patent did arrive since you did license the patents it would be a sign that you were working in good faith with all the knowledge you had and weren't trying to willfully infringe any patents. Such a thing is very important in patent lawsuits.

  • by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:51AM (#32292562) Journal

    They don't need to go after Google first. Google has explicitly stated they don't ensure you don't get patent litigation, so you are on your own to fight it.

    This has been the tactic forever - attack the small guy first, so you get backing up to attack the big guys later if you want to.

  • by IBBoard (1128019) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:51AM (#32292566) Homepage

    Don't kid yourself. In computers, everything is either patented or is about to be.

    Only really in America...oh, and Germany as of recently. Damnit, I thought we'd kept those silly "software patent" ideas on the other side of the Atlantic.

    It is great how patents are getting so horrendously abused, and yet the people holding them always make it out like a good thing. "Yeah, we've got patents, but we're nice enough to license them to you, and if you sign up then we promise to never sue you (but we'll keep quiet about any other patents that may be floating around)".

  • Re:I don't get it. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:56AM (#32292642)

    Maybe I'm thick, but I don't understand why, if Google's so interested in freeing up a video codec for use as a standard, they don't just apply some of their legendary minds to fixing OGG Vorbis.

    Because Vorbis is an audio codec?

    Google and their legions of high-powered open-source minds can't make it better than H.264?

    Not without likely infringing a number of patents in the process.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:56AM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:57AM (#32292654)

    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."

    These hand-waving assertions are frankly weak. Whatever happened to Jobs' mysterious lawsuit against Theora? Has there been any confirmation of any such thing? The Xiph.Org Foundation says no one's bothered to contact them about it.

    I don't see much value in listening to scare mongering from Jobs or from Dark Shikari. Neither have provided any specific, direct, detailed evidence that there are patent violations. All both have to say is "Well, gosh! It seems pretty similar!" and that's just not enough. The thing is when it comes to codec patents the specific details matter. It's not enough to be "similar", it has to be very narrowly and very specifically the same.

  • by Lord Kenja (45995) on Friday May 21, 2010 @08:58AM (#32292670)

    When did Apple become MPEG-LA? They hold a very small number of the patents that is in the H.264 pool (I seem to remember it is only 1). When it comes to video codecs, Apple is just a company that tries to protect itself against patent suits.

  • by Dogun (7502) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:02AM (#32292736) Homepage

    The world would, of course, be a lot better off if ignoring suspected patent infringement until it appears like there might be a lot of money to be made from suing the suspected infringer were grounds for dismissal of the suit.

  • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:03AM (#32292744) Homepage

    I try to avoid "See I Told Ya So" types of posts, but in this case SCNR: WebM/VP8 patent risk for software developers" [slashdot.org] (and I previously made that suggestion on my blog in this post on video codecs [blogspot.com])

    I'm all for open-sourcing useful program code but the question here is whether it's fair for Google to expose an entire community, including the commercial adopters of open source, to this kind of risk. The situation surrounding Android serves as a warning. Google is unfortunately in favor of software patents and doesn't do anything against the problem. They're entitled to their patent strategy. But it's important that third parties don't run into patent problems in reliance upon Google's vague promises.

    If Google really believed that WebM/VP8 was safe from a patent perspective, then why in the world don't its WebM license terms contain a hold-harmless clause or at least some basic indemnification (less value than holding harmless but better than nothing) in favor of developers adopting it?

    People should think twice (at least!) before relying on any vague promises and they should also consider that Google isn't the patent powerhouse that could start a "pissing contest" with the major contributors to the MPEG LA pool. I explained Google's limits in that regard in this recent slashdot comment, The idea of Google countersuing isn't realistic [slashdot.org].

  • Without a guarantee of return, Monty and other Xiph.Org contributors invented the Vorbis audio codec, which is competitive with AAC at all but the lowest bitrates.
  • by jabuzz (182671) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:12AM (#32292864) Homepage

    All it takes is for h.264 to infringe one patent that Goggle holds and they are stuffed. Google could then simply require for licensing their patent that any patents held by MPEG-LA against VP8 to not be enforced against any implementation of VP8.

    If they don't agree then Google can file for an injunction to stop any infringing product from shipping, and collect large damages in the meantime.

  • by idontgno (624372) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:19AM (#32292966) Journal

    And as I pointed out, that makes traditional organized crime a more selective "elite" organization, since a patent pool will cheerfully accept anyone who can stop drooling long enough to acquire a purportedly applicable patent. Not to mention that an actual organized crime gang will protect you from their competitors, not invite them in to participate in the racket.

    Clearly, you're getting much greater value for your extortion money with the Mob.

  • by m509272 (1286764) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:20AM (#32292970)

    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 detrimental. It prevents innovation not encourages. Companies with the patents become complacent and do not innovate because they think they don't have to.

  • by poetmatt (793785) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:21AM (#32292982) Journal

    google doesn't have guarantee anything involving protection of patent violations. They own the goddamn codec and thus control development. This is unlike MPEG. Unless MPEG can magically prove that not only A: there's something in VP8 that infringes on a MPEG patent (which wouldn't immediately and easily be invalidated once they say which patent it is), but b: this would assume that an open source codec cannot work around a patent restriction, which is quite safe to assume is very real and possible, and also c: that google won't just take MPEG to court and basically prove that they can't do jack shit to patent encumber VP8.

    H264 is on many things, but there are many it isn't and won't be unless MPEG says that it can be royalty free permanently.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:22AM (#32293012)

    The doctrine of estoppel, specifically laches, suggests that under certain circumstances, it can be.

    (It has applied to certain submarine patents in the past. However, please consult legal advice if you need to know when those circumstances could apply, or if they apply to you, as it is an affirmative defense and can be uncertain.)

  • by orasio (188021) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:35AM (#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.

  • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:59AM (#32293480) Homepage

    Yet they trust the MPEG-LA promise that after 2015, they'll continue to allow H.264 for non-commercial use for free. Suuuuuuuuuure.

    I would say the same about MPEG LA: don't trust vague promises. However, concerning future increases of royalty fees, they've made a very clear statement concerning the maximum level of increase, which is discussed in this article [zdnet.com].

    Apart from that, the risk if MPEG LA started to charge for non-commercial use of H.264 after 2015 is that one has to pay or has to cease using it for such purposes, while the WebM/VP8 patent problem could affect every adopter of that technology anytime now and have some really nasty consequences (cease-and-desist, injunctions, damages/backroyalties, future royalties).

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:05AM (#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.

  • by MrLint (519792) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:07AM (#32293602) Journal

    The question that comes to my mind, is that if the MPEG-LA wants to torpedo VP8, it would mean putting those patents up to court scrutiny, and potentially getting them revoked in the process.

    They should be careful what they wish for.

  • Re:Screw them. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:08AM (#32293630)

    The thing is, the MPEG-LA goons have figuratively been hanging around Oggs's house openly talking about how flammable the curtains are, and how dreadful it would be if they caught fire, and how handy it would be to buy fire insurance from Guido and Vinny's Friendly Firebrigade over on MPEG-LA street.

    The Ogg crowd have been putting up with this shit for years - they've shown good faith again and again in trying to avoid problems, no infringement has EVER been shown, and the trolls have done nothing - absolutely nothing - to rectify the issue. Just like most patent trolls do.

    This is why patenting code is an awful, awful idea - potentially some waste of space can get some ridiculous and useless piece of paper and sit on it and do nothing with it, whilst somebody else can actually go out there and create (like ogg), and then years later some window-licking knuckle-dragger can bring out their piece of paper and proceed to attempt to shakedown the people who actually created something.

    This has never been about protecting rights, this has always and only ever been about profit.

    I hope and expect that the MPEG-LA fail. We do not need that sort of troll in our lives.

  • by WWWWolf (2428) <wwwwolf@iki.fi> on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:46AM (#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.

  • by Jason Earl (1894) on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:00AM (#32294286) Homepage Journal

    Yes, but it does show the amount of protection that the MPEG-LA license afforded. Absolutely none. Microsoft still had to go pay to defend itself from litigation, it still lost the litigation, and if it wouldn't have been for a judge that was willing to overturn a jury verdict Microsoft would still have been on the hook for millions of dollars.

    The MPEG-LA license did absolutely nothing to protect against patent claims from parties outside the pool.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:37AM (#32294806)

    Jesus, is it really so hard for you to READ? Or better yet, INFER?

    That's an unsound inference.

    Jobs commented that he knew of a patent pool being assembled to go after Theora (not VP8, though I'd be surprised if those involved didn't also begin preparations for that as well). That's all.

    Now, let's also note that Apple owns exactly one patent in the H264 pool, and pays out more for licensing than it receives in royalties (H264 is a net cash drain for MS as well); and, Apple tried recently (unsuccessfully), to get MPEG-LA to grant permanent royalty-free licensing for web client usage.

    The more reasonable inference would be that Apple wants to use a codec that it already has an optimized implementation for, that's of better quality than the putative alternatives, and that at least affords it some protection in the event of patent lawsuits being filed.

    I know Slashdotters like to hate Apple, but at least be a touch rational about it.

  • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:22PM (#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 shentino (1139071) on Friday May 21, 2010 @01:18PM (#32296292)

    And that is the reason we need to get rid of software patents.

  • by bit01 (644603) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:27PM (#32301972)

    Algorithms cannot be patented.

    You're full of it. Just the usual patent proponent hand-waving with no basis in reality. e.g. Video codecs in their entirety are nothing but an algorithm, a computer program, for transforming one collection of bits to another collection of bits. The fact that you don't recognize that shows how deluded you are.

    For example, if someone too the MP3 patent and swapped out the key algorithms, they'd be infringing the patent. Conversely, you can take the compression algorithm out of MP3 and use it in something else without violating the patent.

    Yep, completely out of touch with reality. When you extract some part of an algorithm all you've got is another smaller algorithm. Distinctions between "idea" and "algorithm" in this context are simply patent office fantasy. Just like their dishonest pretense they can objectively decide whether two ideas are the same or different when they can't even objectively decide whether two shades of the color orange are the same or different.

    ---

    It's valuable because it's standard, not standard because it is valuable.

  • by WNight (23683) on Saturday May 22, 2010 @02:50AM (#32303588) Homepage

    No. It's should be the answer. Independent creation should be an absolute defense against patent infringement, but it is not.

    Even if you know nothing of my patent and have totally reinvented the field yourself, you lose.

    What copyright problems does VP8 have? Link?

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