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MPEG-LA Considering Patent Pool For VP8/WebM 399

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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  • Re:Patent violations (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:38AM (#32292352)

    "The thing is, MPEG-LA ensures that H.264 and you are free from any patent violations".

    That's technically not true. However, any third party that tried to litigate would have it made worth their while to join the pool. If it's really money you're after, it's much safer and easier to join the pool.

  • 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.

  • Re:Patent violations (Score:2, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase ( 1092239 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:50AM (#32292534)

    Except for the fact that Google has already placed themselves in the crosshairs by using VP8/WebM themselves.

    But Google has already licensed the MPEG-LA patents so they have nothing to worry about.

    Are you worth more than Google? Didn't think so.

    Apparently you don't know who makes up the patent pool for H.264. It's pretty much the biggest conglomerates in the world and pretty much all the biggest names in the technology industry. They could crush Google like nothing.

  • Re:I don't get it. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:50AM (#32292540)

    > OGG Vorbis
    OGG is a container format. Vorbis is an audio codec, quite a good one at that. You might be thinking of the Theora video format.

    > Is it so fundamentally flawed that not even Google and their legions of high-powered open-source minds can't make it better than H.264?
    This is impossible. Spec-wise Theora is based an pretty ancient technology. A good Theora implementation cannot compete with a good H.264 implementation, quality-wise. Unless you change the format, this cannot be fixed.

  • Re:Sublicense? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase ( 1092239 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:58AM (#32292676)

    With or without the authority to sublicense these patents?

    They are explicitly not providing patent protection for anyone else.

    How about adding something like this to the TOS of an unrelated, widely used Google service: "By entering a query into Google Search, you agree not to sue users of WebM multimedia technology for infringement of any patent that you believe is essential to WebM multimedia technology."

    Because that wouldn't stand up in any court of law?

  • Re:Who is MPEG-LA? (Score:3, Informative)

    by whisper_jeff ( 680366 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:01AM (#32292706)
    Here, let me fill in the list since you seemed to not select all of them when you copied from Wikipedia:

    The following organizations hold one or more patents in the H.264/AVC patent pool.

    * Apple Inc.
    * DAEWOO
    * Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corporation
    * Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute
    * France Télécom, société anonyme
    * Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V.
    * Fujitsu Limited
    * Hitachi, Ltd.
    * Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.
    * LG Electronics Inc.
    * Microsoft Corporation
    * Mitsubishi Electric Corporation
    * NTT docomo
    * Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation
    * Panasonic Corporation
    * Robert Bosch GmbH GmbH
    * Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
    * Scientific-Atlanta Vancouver Company
    * Sedna Patent Services, LLC
    * Sharp Corporation
    * Siemens AG
    * Sony Corporation
    * Ericsson
    * The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York
    * Toshiba Corporation
    * Victor Company of Japan, Limited

    Oh, an in case it isn't clear, Apple is listed first because the list is ordered alphabetically.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <{tepples} {at} {}> on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:07AM (#32292788) Homepage Journal

    The Republic of Korea has information processing patents?

    The Wild Fox [] maintainer seems to think so.

    It's already there. AIPLA: South Korea [] states that information-processing apparatus claims such as "a computer system that does task X by performing steps A, B, and C" are valid. In the case of a video codec patent, X is "prepare video for transmission through a digital channel" for an encoder or "receive video transmitted through a digital channel" for a decoder, and A, B, and C describe a block diagram of the codec.

  • Re:Patent violations (Score:4, Informative)

    by Lunix Nutcase ( 1092239 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:07AM (#32292794)

    There is already something like that in the common law tradition. It's called laches [].

  • Re:I don't get it. (Score:5, Informative)

    by RedK ( 112790 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:21AM (#32292998)
    You're thick, because that's precisely what they did. Theora is essentially VP3, the predecessor of VP8, which is what Google released 2 days ago. Oh that and Vorbis is the audio codec. Notice how they use Vorbis as the audio codec in WebM. And yes, WebM is a subset of Matroska (MKV) before you ask about that.
  • Every Device? (Score:3, Informative)

    by buback ( 144189 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:50AM (#32293388)

    That and the fact that H.264 is already on every device on the planet.

    The only devices I own that will play h.264 are my computers. Only in the past 2 years have devices come out that can play h264. Of those, there are even fewer that you would actually want to watch stuff on. Most of those devices have only come out in the past year

    And if your talking about web connected devices that can play h264, you have an even smaller pool.

    It is defiantly used a lot, but it's impact in the mobile device space is not this huge entrenched market that some think.

  • Re:Patent violations (Score:3, Informative)

    by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:53AM (#32293418) Homepage Journal
    There's no patent pool concerning MP3 (or at least, there wasn't when the new claims arose.) On top of that, MP3 kind of took everyone by surprise, it was never supposed to be an online media distribution format. At the time of the original release of MPEG-1, the assumption was it would be used primarily by creators of CD based content, which had a direct impact on the number of organizations who cared at the time to get involved.
  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:59AM (#32293488)

    It is a BSD style license, and also licenses you to use the patents on it royalty free, however it is revoked in the event you file a patent claim against VP8. Well this implies two things:

    1) If you go after VP8, you can't use it in any form in any of your stuff. So say Sony sues over an H.264 patent they hold that they say VP8 infringes on. Ok now all their hardware can't legally play VP8 anymore, their license has been revoked. However that hardware may have the ability to do so because it is part of the TI chip they use (Google is working with chip makers). So now they have to recall existing hardware and redesign using a new chip, or face counter-litigation. Oh, and of course even if they do it means they can't play VP8 content anymore, which means their devices aren't as attractive.

    2) Google has patents on VP8, that they got when they bought On2. If any technology the company filing suit makes use of infringes on those, well then they can count-sue. Perhaps one of the VP8 patents applies to H.264 as well. So you could risk getting nailed with a similar suit and finding yourself unable to sell hardware using H.264. Remember: MPEG-LA only says that their members can't sue you if you have a license. If anyone else who's not a member has a patent, well you are on your own.

  • Re:Patent violations (Score:2, Informative)

    by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:59AM (#32293496) Journal
    The decision was reversed [] on appeal.
  • by Nicolas MONNET ( 4727 ) <> 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.

  • Re:On2 video patents (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:01PM (#32294306)

    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

    According to the article it's between 15 and 35 percent slower to decode VP8 in software than H.264. The article didn't list if that was compared to Baseline or High Profile. If the comparison is with High than that's really slow considering the VP8 decoder is already pretty optimized. Anyway I'd like to know where you get the vastly faster decoding from.

  • Re:On2 video patents (Score:3, Informative)

    by Fzz ( 153115 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:16PM (#32294524)

    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 say "Claim 3: The system in claim 2, plus X", in which case it's not completely independent. But suppose you find prior art (and it needs to be a single piece of prior art) that invalidates Claim 2. Well, if your system does what Claim 3 says, and the prior art only invalidates Claim 2, then you still lose.

  • by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @12:59PM (#32295102)

    You do realize that licensing and disclaimers couldn't be more different, right?

    A disclaimer is a feeble attempt to protect yourself from litigation. The only time it has any force of law is when the law says something like "blah blah blah without notifying the other party blah blah blah". That's when disclaimers work, and that's it. It also shows that the potentially injured party was well aware of the risks involved, and can mitigate, and occasionally completely eliminate, someone's liability.

    A license is entirely different. It's a contract. All contracts - even verbal contracts - have the force of law. Period. The only time they don't is when a provision in a contract is countermanded by a state or federal law. For example, a manufacturer cannot create a contract with a buyer that sets a limited warranty for 10 days when the state or federal law says all manufactured goods must have a limited warranty of at least 2 years. The law wins, and that provision is unenforceable.

    However, if you agree to paint someone's house blue in 10 days for a peppercorn, you'll lose your ass in court if you paint it red in 12 days and demand ten thousand dollars. That contract has the force of law, and you have to abide by the provisions or face legal consequences. There are usually only damages related to the value of the work done, or not finished, but if you essentially vandalize the place instead of paint it as agreed (in the case of our painting example), you could potentially face punitive damages as well.

    Patent and Copyright license is the exact same thing, except it's a contract that allows you to use an idea (patent) or creative work (copyright) under certain conditions.

    Open source licenses like BSD or GPL are just as enforceable as any closed source royalty based contract. In fact, I'd imagine almost all closed source licenses have inverse restrictions, mirrors to what open source licenses have - like not being able to share and the like.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @02:32PM (#32296504)

    That's not a joke or a typo. The codec world has moved on quite considerably since the release of MPEG-1, and development of MPEG-2 encoders has resulted in stunning improvements in the last few years, in part because of the requirements of ATSC, and in part because of the improvements in processor technology.

    I can confirm that. I was checking out some old HDTV recordings from ~2002. They were full-bitrate (~18Mbps) 1080i. They look like crap compared to the ~14Mbps 1080i stuff on most channels now. And those channels look like crap compared to ~30Mbps mpeg2 blurays (which look roughly the same as ~30Mbps h264/vc1 blurays when comparing different releases in different regions that happen to have different encodings).

  • by chaboud ( 231590 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @03:29PM (#32297424) Homepage Journal

    You may be unfamiliar with On2 (makers of VP8), formerly The Duck Corporation.

    These guys were doing highly-compressed video in the early '90s, and they've been a background player for quite some time (funny enough, just around the lifetime of patents). Google's looking to do a very giving and unifying thing here (not to mention, cost-saving), but they're not doing it with baskets of rainbows and kittens. They no-doubt have a lengthy patent portfolio to draw on (the reason for buying On2).

    News flash: Google also has lawyers.

    Stock up on popcorn...

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray