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MPEG LA Attempts To Start VP8 Patent Pool 186

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 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.

    * []
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    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.

  • Re:Evil & good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by petermgreen ( 876956 ) <plugwash @ p> 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 dagamer34 ( 1012833 ) on Friday February 11, 2011 @12:56PM (#35176066)
    Businesses don't care about open source. They care about patent liability. Using a codec that can get you sued isn't in their best interests.
  • 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.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday February 11, 2011 @01:13PM (#35176350)

    If you read the license of WebM Google already has a patent clause... For some reason in all the hurray that is something that is overlooked. There is also the false notion that Google would protect users against patent cases, that isn't the fact. Read the Additional IP Rights Grant (Patents) part of the license.

    From the moment anyone (doesn't need to the MPEG LA) somebody has a clear case of infringement you will loose all the rights and you have the same story as with h.264 as you will need to license... . I said it from the beginning and I say it again, this has nothing to do with patents, money (it is Google) or "don't do evil" (china) and in the long run the winner will be Adobe/Flash... .

  • by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Friday February 11, 2011 @01:24PM (#35176500)

    H.264 is "open" like the Microsoft Open Office XML standard is open. There are bear-traps that can prevent you from using it successfully. In the case of OOXML, one of those bear-traps is requiring your documents to interpret "Proprietary Microsoft Binary Blobs".

    I'd call your comparison quite pathetic. h.264 is actually a useful standard. It provides a very, very clear specification for its compression and decompression, unlike WebM. It is widely used with a huge range of hardware implementations. It gives much better compression than WebM will ever have. It was created with the intention to produce the best possible video compression. From a technical point of view it is clearly superior to WebM, and Google is right now trying to force a sub-standard video compression onto the whole world. The OOXML standard, on the other hand, is ten times the size of the h.264 standard. It is full of bugs, unclear, unspecified in many areas, there are no implementations now and there will likely never be implementations (since Microsoft doesn't have any products that match this standard), and all these huge disadvantages are totally intentional.

  • 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.


  • 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% [], 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.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong