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MPEG LA Attempts To Start VP8 Patent Pool 186

Posted by Soulskill
from the motives-as-pure-as-the-driven-snow dept.
Confirming speculation from last year, an anonymous reader tips news that MPEG LA has posted a request for information about establishing a patent pool for the VP8 video codec. "In order to participate in the creation of, and determine licensing terms for, a joint VP8 patent license, any party that believes it has patents that are essential to the VP8 video codec specification is invited to submit them for a determination of their essentiality by MPEG LA’s patent evaluators. At least one essential patent is necessary to participate in the process, and initial submissions should be made by March 18, 2011. Although only issued patents will be included in the license, in order to participate in the license development process, patent applications with claims that their owners believe are essential to the specification and likely to issue in a patent also may be submitted."
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MPEG LA Attempts To Start VP8 Patent Pool

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  • by ivucica (1001089) on Friday February 11, 2011 @12:47PM (#35175896) Homepage
    Ultimately evil, this will at least provide a list of patents that threaten VP8.
    • Re:Evil & good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash@p10l[ ].net ['ink' in gap]> on Friday February 11, 2011 @12:52PM (#35175994) Homepage

      There are a few possible outcomes of this

      1: nothing comes of it, either noone has a patent that they can reasonablly claim is essential for VP8 or those that do either want VP8 to stay open or want to continue holding their cards close to their chest.
      2: Google looks at the patents and claims they don't actually apply to VP8 at which point a standoff ensues until a court rules on the issue.
      3: Google looks at the patents, decides they do indeed cover VP8 and designs VP9 specifically to avoid them.

      • by SuperQ (431) *

        4: Google files extortion lawsuit against MPEG-LA

      • by EdZ (755139)
        5: VP8 patent pool is created, both VP8 and h.264 patent pools are simultaneously challenged (due to sharing many underlying basic features) and said challenges succeed, everyone switches to h.264 as the technically superior codec once patent encumbrance is eliminated as a factor. And monkeys will fly out of my ass.
  • Corporations collaborate to create a new wall to bar entry into the video codec arena. A surprisingly number of obvious implementations will be covered by at least one of the VP8 patents, and the judges chosen to try the cases will not have a clue how either video codecs or patents work.

  • OK, so I'm sure everyone knows VP8 is the video codec for WebM.

    So, this is essentially a step in killing WebM's major advantage over H.264? That advantage being a royalty-free codec...

    • by dzfoo (772245)

      Your comment assumes that there are no external patent claims or that any provided would have no merit. If VP8 is indeed encumbered by third party patents--and they can prove it--wouldn't you agree that WebM has then no advantage over H.264 by essentially becoming a legal liability to its users?

      Now, I emphasize that those are the conditions of the argument, not facts. However, having Google on one end claiming that the there are no patents encumbering VP8 is still not a fact, and does not prove it either

      • by Sarten-X (1102295)
        The small faint glimmer of hope that I still hold wants Google to use this pool as a shopping list.
  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Friday February 11, 2011 @12:51PM (#35175976) Homepage

    There have been previous threats about Theora, but nothing happened. This could be FUD bluff too.

    MPEG LA has over 1,000 patents which it says are needed for an implementation of MPEG H.264.

    Most current efforts around software patents talk about quality and bad patents, but none of those efforts will make a dent on a thicket of 1,000 patents. It's unlikely they're all obvious or that prior art exists for them.

    * http://en.swpat.org/wiki/MPEG_LA [swpat.org]
    * http://en.swpat.org/wiki/WebM_and_VP8 [swpat.org]
    * http://en.swpat.org/wiki/Audio-video_patents [swpat.org]

    There was a time when the problem was killer patents - RSA, public key encryption, gif - but today the problem is always thickets. Raising quality won't solve the problem, we need to clearly exclude software from patentability.

    • There have been previous threats about Theora, but nothing happened. This could be FUD bluff too.

      One interesting difference here is that they're going up against someone with deep pockets. If they can't find something substantive, MPEG-LA is risking a "slander of title" claim, and Google might consider making an example of them.

      • > MPEG-LA is risking a "slander of title" claim

        Has that been used in the past against a patent holder??

        • Has that been used in the past against a patent holder??

          Not that I know of. "Slander of Title" is really a real estate law concept, however, SCO made an interesting attempt to use to enforce an alleged copyright claim. In their case, it turns out they didn't actually *have* the title they were claiming was being "slandered" by Novell. However, there really didn't seem to be anything fundamentally wrong with the reasoning - the consequences of claiming you own something you don't has substantial legal hi

        • by hedwards (940851) on Friday February 11, 2011 @01:40PM (#35176738)

          The answer is yes, I did find at least one instance, and according to the article it is possible to win such a suit. This charming lawsuit [blogspot.com]
           
           

          Chamilia’s slander of title claims also failed. Allegations of patent infringement can be slander of title if they are false, reasonably calculated to cause harm, and result in special damages.

          That's an excerpt from the article relevant to the topic.

        • Has [a claim of slander of title] been used in the past against a patent holder??

          Have you asked Google [google.com]? The first result is a Groklaw article from the SCO v. IBM era [groklaw.net]. It cites an article on FindLaw [findlaw.com]; the link there is broken, but I found it with Google [google.com]. Slander of title is the malicious publication of false and disparaging words by which special damages were sustained, causing a plaintiff who owns the property disparaged to lose a sale. FindLaw's article cites Prosser and Keeton (apparently Prosser and Keeton on Torts) that patents or other intangible property may be the subject of such

    • by silanea (1241518)
      From what I have read about the issue it is my understanding that most patents in the media codec area are somehow extensions or refinements of other patented methods. Which would mean that instead of 1,000 individual patents one would be looking at a card house of legal technicalities that would fold if the fundamental patents everyone else built upon were invalidated. Could someone in the field comment on whether that really is the case?
      • From what I have read about the issue it is my understanding that most patents in the media codec area are somehow extensions or refinements of other patented methods. Which would mean that instead of 1,000 individual patents one would be looking at a card house of legal technicalities that would fold if the fundamental patents everyone else built upon were invalidated. Could someone in the field comment on whether that really is the case?

        That isn't true at all. Let's say X is patented, and it may or may not deserve that patent. It may be really too obvious for a patent, for example. I invent Y, which is an improvement on X, and get a patent. That means my improvements over X were worth a patent. It doesn't matter what X itself is worth. If you manage to invalidate X, then my improvements over X are still the same as they were before, and they deserve or don't deserve a patent, totally independent from X.

    • by yuhong (1378501)

      Don't kill software patents just to use H.264 though. Kill software patents because it is ridiculous that an algorithm is patentable just because it executes on a computer.

      • by wilsone8 (471353)

        Don't kill software patents just to use H.264 though. Kill software patents because it is ridiculous that an algorithm is patentable just because it executes on a computer.

        I never understood this one. If anything, clever algorithms should be the ONLY software I am allowed to patent (one-click is not clever, GIF's compression was). These people worked hard to come up with a novel idea that they then want to make money from. What is wrong with that exactly? Why SHOULDN'T they be able to patent them? We let people patent novel ways of building a mousetrap. If my mousetrap is virtual, why is that any different?

        • Because you shouldn't be able to patent an Idea, only an implementation. Patent the specific implementation of an algorithm that GIF uses. Not the algorithm itself.
        • by KingSkippus (799657) on Friday February 11, 2011 @03:38PM (#35178960) Homepage Journal

          I never understood this one. If anything, clever algorithms should be the ONLY software I am allowed to patent (one-click is not clever, GIF's compression was). These people worked hard to come up with a novel idea that they then want to make money from. What is wrong with that exactly? Why SHOULDN'T they be able to patent them? We let people patent novel ways of building a mousetrap. If my mousetrap is virtual, why is that any different?

          Two big differences.

          First, algorithms are not patentable in the United States, and a lot of these so-called "software patents" are actually effectively patenting the underlying algorithm, since there's no other reasonable way to implement the algorithm. Yet they still get away with it because patent clerks don't understand that the patent application someone is filing is effectively pre-empting all implementations of the algorithm, so they approve the patent. Related to this is the issue of obviousness. Patent clerks are not able to determine with software what is and what isn't obvious. Using your analogy, it's not like you patented a better mousetrap, it's more like you patented the entire concept of rodent control. Now, if someone else builds a better mousetrap, you haul them to court.

          Think about it, this is the issue with Amazon's notorious "one-click" patent. What they came up with wasn't particularly novel or clever, and because of their patent, the entire concept of "press a button to order something" is now locked away by one company.

          Second, you have to bear in mind what the whole point of patents is in the first place--to promote the progress of science and useful arts. The deal is that if you're willing to write down your stuff on paper and make it public, then the power of government will protect your invention for a limited period of time so that you can make money off of it. This encourages you to do research and development and make stuff. Today, though, patent holders aren't upholding their end of the bargain. They're not using patents to promote progress of science and useful arts. No, they're using them to extort people into paying them large sums of money. They're using them to engage in extremely anticompetitive practices.

          I mean, look at what is going on with the VP8 codec. MPEG-LA is essentially trying to claim patent on all streaming video technologies. It's not good enough that they have H.264, a decent codec. No, they want to make sure that no one ever comes up with a competing codec of decent quality. For years, they've been threatening that Theora infringes on their patents without offering up any proof. Now, they're threatening that VP8 infringes on their patents without offering up any proof. I can't find the quote right now, but I think I remember someone at MPEG saying at one point that they believe that any streaming video technology will likely infringe on at least some of MPEG's patents. This is most definitely not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they set up patents to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. Indeed, it is significantly hindering those ideals.

          I wish there were some way to meaningfully reform the system, but I just don't see anything on the horizon. In 2010, patents increased by 30% [slashdot.org], and I'll bet a wad of money that a very large proportion of those were software patents.

          Software patents are evil, plain and simple. They need to go. Most of them are patenting obvious things, many of them are patenting algorithms (which are not supposed to be patentable). It flies in the face of what the purpose of patents are and are significantly hindering the progress of technology and competition.

      • by hazydave (96747)

        Or how about enforcing actual patent law. Algorithms are not patentable. Only implementations. One of the big problems is that patent cases seem to accept overly broad claims, rather than very strictly reading the claims, as embodied in the actual implementation, on any potential violator.

    • Theora never had the backing from a major player that it would have needed to be considered a threat. WebM has Google, which means it it worth noticing. In deciding which standard will dominate (and not just in video), marketing and endorsements matter more than which is superior.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 11, 2011 @12:53PM (#35176008)

    If you think you have a patent to use against Vp8, signing it over to MPEG-LA is the last thing you should do. Look at their other pools, the few good patents are swamped by the dross. The earnings from your patents get shared with troll patents of no value.

    Even the CEO of MPEG-LA HAS A SEPARATE patent pool all for himself largely undiluted? His MobileMedia Ideas LLC, is like a patent pool, only he's bought patents and controls the pool.

    If he won't throw those patents into the diluted pool, neither should you.

    http://www.osnews.com/story/23258/MPEG-LA-owned_Patent_Troll_Sues_Smartphone_Makers

    • by horza (87255) on Friday February 11, 2011 @01:37PM (#35176700) Homepage

      It is surprising to me, and a sign that MPEG-LA has thrown in the towel and this is a last desperate throw of the dice for H.264. I expected MPEG-LA to be extolling the virtues of H.264 such as better quality and lower bit rates, large amounts of established hardware encoders and decoders, etc. By trying to now establish a VP8 patent pool they are telling the world at large that WebM is just as good as what they have. As it's patent free, with a current patent pool of 0, it looks like WebM might move from the web world into the consumer device world too.

      Phillip.

      • by digsbo (1292334)

        By trying to now establish a VP8 patent pool they are telling the world at large that WebM is just as good as what they have.

        In addition, they're telling the world they're not going to be extending the royalty free-period on H.264 beyond the ten year period already established.

        • by timster (32400)

          Yeah, the royalty-free period on h.264 was already extended to forever. Still only applies to certain uses though (as always).

      • by Zelgadiss (213127)

        Or they can just make decoding for internet streaming royalty free forever.

        That will solve everything, and everyone can move on with their lives.

        They lose a bit of income, but they still make tons from everything else, decoding for other applications and encoders.

        It's the logical thing to do. /sigh

        • How does making decoding for internet streaming royalty free forever "solve everything"? It still will not be royalty free to write an encoder, yet WebM encoders will be freely implemented.
          • by Zelgadiss (213127)

            It will solve the HTML5 mess for one.

            That's enough for me, beats the current deadlock.

            Mozilla and Opera will be able to create decoders for their browsers, people who were concern about video quality will be satisfied.

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        By trying to now establish a VP8 patent pool they are telling the world at large that WebM is just as good as what they have.

        Don't confuse business decisions and quality. The two have nothing to do with each other. Google's VP8 codec could be far worse than it already is and they would still make this move because of the intense push against their format. This is about protecting income not because of a better product, but because some other companies are tied of their shit.

      • by Shin-LaC (1333529)

        By trying to now establish a VP8 patent pool they are telling the world at large that WebM is just as good as what they have.

        Non sequitur. Google's campaign is not based on VP8 being as good as H264, but on it being "patent-free". MPEG-LA is just telling the world that the choice is not between a better, but patent-encumbered codec and a worse, but patent-free one; it is between a better codec with a known licensing model, and a worse one whose patent status is simply unknown - and they're looking into it.

  • by dpilot (134227) on Friday February 11, 2011 @12:58PM (#35176098) Homepage Journal

    Nice shiny-looking coded you've got there. It would be a pity of something bad were to happen to it. You know that you won't have to worry about any of these legal threats if you just license h.264, and it's just a small fee. For a short time, we've even waived the fee, just for you!

    I know what MPLA is doing is technically legal, but spiritually it's corrupt. The patent system is broken, from many directions. For the other way around, my employer is routinely trolled by NPEs.

    • Yes, it is legal racketeering. There are patent trolls everywhere.

      MS saying that they wouldn't sue companies for shipping Android if they also ship some WP7 handsets? It's all over the place.

      MPEG-LA hasn't waived any fees for a short time. They still have the same fee schedule for H.264 as ever. It's free for some uses (and recently that period was extended to forever), but for many commercial uses it costs money and that's hasn't changed.

    • by Skuto (171945)

      You know that you won't have to worry about any of these legal threats if you just license h.264

      You think the MPEG-LA owns all the patents on H264? Really? Ask them if they can guarantee that the moment you put down your $$$.

  • If I were evil, an evil of the variety that only lawyers can hope to attain, I would very much enjoy making THAT announcement. "The Googlers think they're getting around us with this? We'll stick it to the googles! We have ways......"
  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Friday February 11, 2011 @01:04PM (#35176186)

    Patents today are massively abused. Originally developed for the purpose of encourage innovation. tnhey actually squelch it. Many innovations improve on a previous idea. Patents make it difficult for independant developers to improve on and rrefine an idea. Patents have been turned in to a way to squelch independant innovation and create monopoliies, and stagnant technologies which are difficult to improve on or use independantly. Patent holders often charge licence fees so high they preclude independant use or refinement, make the technology too costly to deploy and limit its use, or they do not licence the technlogy at all, gaining a monopoly on ideas.

    Both copyright law and patent law badly need reform. Software patents need to be prohibited altogether. Other patents need to be required to be licenced to other persons, for a reasonable percentage of profits (if there is no revenue there would be no fee). Copyrighted works no longer under production or distribution will also be made public domain immediately and must comply with the same reasonable licencing requirements.

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      I agree that there needs to be reform, but I disagree that video compression algorithms shouldn't be patentable. The patent terms just need to be realistic with regard to how fast the industry moves. Not 15 years or something.

      • by horza (87255)

        Mathematics has been around for quite a while now.

        Phillip.

      • by Draek (916851)

        Why? most other kinds of math aren't patentable, I don't see why this one should.

        • by omnichad (1198475)

          It's not the math itself, it's the particular implementation of it.

          • by Draek (916851)

            Particular implementations are covered by copyright, not patents.

          • Patenting an algorithm is patenting the math itself, not a particular implementation. That is why software should not be patentable.
      • I agree that there needs to be reform, but I disagree that video compression algorithms shouldn't be patentable.

        (Emphasis mine.) I'm really glad you stated what you said using these exact words, because algorithms are specifically not patentable. That's why all of these so-called "software patents" don't mention "algorithm" in their titles, but instead use the wording "system and method."

        The problem is that the way these patents are worded, the implementation is required for any implementation of the underlying algorithm. Why do you think that there has been no effort to simply create a patent-free clean-room reve

    • by DCFusor (1763438) on Friday February 11, 2011 @01:43PM (#35176798) Homepage
      Yes, for quite awhile now patents of all kinds (not only software) are used by the shortsighted large players to exclude any competition from smaller ones. The big boys make a show of suing one another, but then settle out of court with some cross license deal.
      .

      The net result is that they no longer have to do any real innovation, and simply fight over a slice of the existing pie, rather than make the size of the pie as a whole bigger. Sure, they hate one another, but they fear any outsider who might come along with something new. Such an outsider has no chance against them, as it costs $1-10 million and years in court to get even an obviously bad patent thrown out. Multiply that by the number of garbage patents the bigs hold and the situation is untenable for anyone new coming along with a great new thing.
      .

      Further, it's an assault on open source software, because those of us who write it cannot afford to defend against things like this, and it's almost impossible to write many lines of code without running afoul of some patent claim.
      .

      Even google is catching this from Oracle at this point, despite Oracle's frequent past urging for Java to go completely free. Now that they own it, it seems they believe that some patents give them the rights to anything running on a VM of any kind (look out .NET and Perl!).
      .

      We are witnessing the best law money can buy (surprised?) -- but it's not even the best law for those promoting it, because they are so shortsighted that they are actually going to create their own demise if they can't force this sort of thing to happen in every single country that has a market.. As one can see from the news, this is precisely what they are trying to do, and with some success.
      .

      The true corrosion comes when anyone small does do something truly nifty. This leverage by the bigs means they can simply steal the new stuff while bankrupting the originator over all the stupid patents the bigs own. This of course means there is no incentive for that small guy to do anything nifty and humanity stalls out.
      .

      It's hard to see how this system can be fixed in reality, as the bigs spend enough on politicians to perpetuate whatever they desire, and there's no reason to believe that throwing the bums out (as if we had a choice other than another set of bums) would do any good -- the new boss would wind up just like the old boss. It's the alternate version of the golden rule -- them with the gold make the rules. Where we failed is letting them get all the gold in the first place, now it's probably too late to do much of anything.
      .

      Too Big To Fail is a rotten concept, and if that is really true for absolutely any enterprise, it should be priority one worldwide to force those too big to fail to break up. Period. Not regulate how they act once that is true -- make it not possible to be true. But, as we say here, goodluckwiththat.

  • Pay us so that we can "protect" you.

  • Well, if the MPEG-LA wants to look foolish, it should continue down the path it is on. My guess is this attempt to discredit VP8 is doomed to failure. Last time I checked, Google now holds the patent portfolio associated with the VP8 codec.
  • MPEG themselves (not MPEG LA) also issued press release: "MPEG envisages royalty-free MPEG video coding standard" http://bit.ly/hFMdGd [bit.ly]
  • Wouldn't it be a hoot if when Google bought On2 and VP8 and got the patents with it, that they have some essential patent that H.264 violates and the G-men tell MPEG LA that they are going to shut down H.264 entirely?

    Alternatively we all just sit around until these stupid patents expire, at which point we all have 1GB fiber to the house and are watching uncompressed videos in 3D anyway.

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