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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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  • 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.

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

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:41AM (#32292394) Journal

    The clone-makers copied the IBM PC and the Intel 486/ Pentiums, and they did not face any legal consequences, because they implemented the technology using a different method (different wiring). Couldn't the folks behind VP8 make the same claim? "Yeah sure it uses similar MPEG4 techniques, but the code is completely different and with differing end results."

  • I don't get it. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by DarrenBaker ( 322210 ) <darren@f[ ].net ['lim' in gap]> on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:45AM (#32292446) Homepage

    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. 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?

  • 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).

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

    by David Gerard ( 12369 ) <slashdot@@@davidgerard...co...uk> on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:52AM (#32292572) Homepage

    One showed up on MP3, and Microsoft had to pay up a bundle on top of their original MP3 licence. Is H.264 simpler or older than MP3?

  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:53AM (#32292580) Journal

    Without that guarantee of return, these companies would have never bothered to invent VHS, CD, MPEG in the first place.

    Maybe these companies wouldn't have. Does this mean that these technologies would not have been invented anyway ? I don't think so. MP3 was invented partially thanks to public funds (Fraunhoffer is a half-public R&D institute) and most of the patented "innovations" of private R&D labs are often base on public research publication. What my experience showed me is that usually, in "R&D" the "R" is often made by public labs and the "D" by private companies. Therefore, it should be lawful to reuse the "R" part. In the context of software, that often means the core algorithm, exactly what is concerned by these patents. The 'D' part is well covered by copyright.

  • Re:More proof... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bhtooefr ( 649901 ) <bhtooefrNO@SPAMbhtooefr.org> on Friday May 21, 2010 @09:59AM (#32292678) Homepage Journal

    I still feel that the best way to go about that reboot is to start a non-practicing entity (can't get sued) that goes for the jugular of huge companies, attacking their most important products.

    Most non-practicing entities just do it for the money, though. They attack the most important products, maybe get imports stopped for a week, and then get a large settlement and go away.

    What I'd like to see is an NPE that does it for putting companies out of business. Attack the most important products, get imports stopped permanently, and then wait until the companies either die or patent reform occurs.

  • 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.

  • by ericrost ( 1049312 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:09AM (#32292820) Homepage Journal

    IANAL, but, wouldn't that make a good case for estoppel? Saying that there were well known, visible implementations of this technology in the field for years, and the rights holder waited until commercial viability and adoption to give economic incentive to litigate. Seems like the definition of estoppel to me (in my NAL understanding).

  • 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:Sublicense? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Friday May 21, 2010 @10:18AM (#32292940) Homepage Journal

    They are explicitly not providing patent protection for anyone else.

    Then how does Google "have nothing to worry about" by promoting a codec the use of which by third parties infringes? Where I come from (USA), that's called inducement, and I see no reason why a court wouldn't draw an analogy from inducement of copyright infringement (MGM v. Grokster) to inducement of patent infringement.

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

    You claim that courts would strike down a patent retaliation clause barring litigants from using other Google services. But on what grounds would this be deemed unconscionable? Are the patent retaliation clauses in Apache License 2 and Mozilla Public License likewise unenforceable?

  • 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.

  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:27AM (#32293894) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, but even MPEG-2 is better than MPEG-2.

    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've been wondering for a while if the right approach for the whole codec mess is to wait until MPEG-1 is truly free and clear, and adopt that. You may laugh, but try encoding something in MPEG-1 with ffmpeg, using large (> 100) GOP sizes, and high numbers of B-frames (16+.)* On a normal high performance computer in 2010, the speed of compression is too low to be practical, but the results are excellent, even at relatively low bitrates. 4-6Mbps is more than enough for high quality 720p24, in most cases.

    For that reason, I think the Internet video codec debate will be over sooner than people think. The real work has to be done on the encoder side, improving the capabilities of encoders for older formats that'll be patent free soon. But if you look at the bigger picture, MPEG-1 video (and MPEG-1 layers 1/2 audio) will soon be free (some claim they already are), bandwidth is improving, CPU power is improving, While a superb MPEG-1 encoder will never be as good as a superb H.264 encoder, the necessity of one over the other will diminish in time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:27AM (#32293898)

    Why doesn't MPEG/LA do the same? They only guarantee against their own patent pool, not anyone else's. So why don't MPEG/LA guarantee to pay up if someone not in the pool comes along with a patent threat against your video encoder for H.264?

  • by FlorianMueller ( 801981 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:30AM (#32293936) Homepage

    Wouldn't Google's acquisition of On2 Technologies mean they acquired some relevant patents too? [...] You seem very convinced Google has no patents they can use to countersue should the need arise, [...]

    Just to clarify, I didn't say that I rule out Google has any patents that may read on H.264 or on some products of MPEG LA contributors. But Google as a whole has far too few patents to even take on one of the major MPEG LA members, let alone all of them. If they start that kind of "pissing contest", they'll face a very serious problem.

    If Google had the necessary patent power, it would have come to the aid of HTC as well. However, HTC determined it had no alternative to paying royalties to Microsoft and Apple sued HTC (which provoked a complaint by HTC to the US International Trade Commission, but that one looks very weak).

  • by FlorianMueller ( 801981 ) on Friday May 21, 2010 @11:58AM (#32294264) Homepage
    Yes, the problem is that there are some really bad patent thickets out there, and codecs are one of the worst patent thickets (also in terms of enforcement) [blogspot.com].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 21, 2010 @04:36PM (#32298466)

    Vorbis is competitive with AAC at higher bitrates, at lower bitrates it is much better.

    You may be thinking of the separately patented and licenced AAC-HE which is designed for lower bitrates.

    However,Vorbis matches that as well. Previously you needed a special tuned version of Vorbis called Autov but since then the tunings have been folded into the main code base.

    So one single royalty-free codec beats two different patented codecs even though the latter had the entire industry behind them and were started later, a decade later in the case of HE.

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