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DOJ Anti-trust Investigation of MPEG-LA 149

thomst writes "The Wall Street Journal's Thomas Catan reports that the Department of Justice has launched an anti-trust investigation of MPEG-LA's purported efforts to prevent Google's VP8 codec from widespread adoption. According to the article, the California Stare Attorney General's office is also investigating MPEG-LA for possible restraint of trade practices."
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DOJ Anti-trust Investigation of MPEG-LA

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  • by Mystiq ( 101361 ) on Friday March 04, 2011 @10:58AM (#35379322)
    Now can someone in government put two and two together and see the absurd situation software patents has caused? VP8 is supposed to be patent-free but everyone on the H264 side is calling it patent-encumbered anyway. The mere existence of patent trolls should be reason enough to get rid of the idea. You should be able to patent implementations, not ideas.

    The point of software patents was to protect innovation. This should be a clear example that it is not, as VP8's adoption is supposedly slow because of the risk of violating other patents whose owners won't come out of the woodwork until VP8 has enough market share to make a lawsuit nicely profitable. The whole thing is patently ridiculous.

    The sheer amount of patent lawsuits and now that even Google and Apple are teaming up against a troll is very telling. Software patents are not serving their intended purpose and it is obvious because no one wants to adopt VP8 because of the unknown threat. This is the stifling of innovation and is not protecting the patents of the 10 companies that may own patents to VP8 because no one wants to use them so they just become dead weight. What good is an idea if it can't be used?

    Software is a fickle thing. Your idea may have also been invented by someone and you just didn't patent it. This is the problem with software patents. The patents themselves can be very vague and cover a whole host of ideas. If the patent office has to pass more patents just to get rid of a backlog, perhaps it isn't the fault of the filers but the fault of the law.
  • by airfoobar ( 1853132 ) on Friday March 04, 2011 @11:05AM (#35379386)
    The MPEG LA is *NOT* affiliated with the MPEG committee. They are a separate *COMPANY* that puts together patent pools for MPEG standards -- basically they are a bunch of parasite lawyers living off software patents, at least in my opinion.
  • by minorDistraction ( 1594683 ) on Friday March 04, 2011 @11:26AM (#35379572)
    VP8 is not patent-free. Google has the patents, but it won't be charging money for it. If H264 wasn't covered by a bunch of expensive patents, VP8 would not be needed. People could put effort in improving H264 instead.
  • by Elbereth ( 58257 ) on Friday March 04, 2011 @11:43AM (#35379764) Journal

    "All video codecs are covered by patents," Mr. Jobs wrote. "Unfortunately, just because something is open-source, it doesn't mean or guarantee that it doesn't infringe on others patents."

    This seems like a reasonable statement, at first, but then I wondered what makes video codecs so special. I mean, why single them out, when almost anything has at least the possibility of infringing on a patent? I think that's pretty much the point of having a patent pool, these days. If someone claims that you're infringing on their patents, you can search through your collection of thousands of patents, in order to find something that they are infringing upon.

    Now, I'm not necessarily an anarchist wanting to abolish intellectual property, but I do believe that patents have become an embarrassing travesty, thanks to the past fifteen or twenty years' worth of crappy patents (which are just now beginning to fall out of protection). When you can't even write an open video codec without industry insiders calling into question your very algorithms, there's something wrong, be it with the insiders (spreading FUD in order to kill the competition) or the laws (which have made competition impossible).

    Anyways, I'm sure a hundred other people will say the same thing, since this is Slashdot, and we looove to complain about intellectual property laws, so I'll add a little something extra: what I've thought about as a replacement for our current system. How's this sound?

    • First, let's upgrade the patent clerks to "patent engineers", because that's what they should be, with appropriate qualifications and salary. I'm sure we can find the funds to lure some qualified engineers away from big business, and, if we can't, we could always steal a few away from the Armed Forces. Sounds like a pretty comfy retirement for a knowledgeable engineer, to me.
    • Second, let's remove all the legalese and obfuscation from the applications. If it's not clear and concise, reject it. If it doesn't narrow down the scope to laser precision, reject it. If it sounds like a lawyer wrote it, rather than an engineer, reject it. The default action should generally be to reject, seeing as patent are supposed to be novel.
    • I was always told you couldn't patent an idea. Well, it seems as though you can... if it's implemented on the internet! Come on. That's stupid. I'm willing to compromise on algorithms, formulas, and other mathematical discoveries (though I dispute their status as inventions), in order to fight against patents that are even more offensive than algorithms, but they should be, again, so narrowly focused that you'd know you were infringing on someone's patent, rather than stumbling on it by accident. One doesn't accidentally re-implement LZW, MP3, or JPEG compression. On the other hand, everyone has, at one point, thought, "If I had a single click checkout button, that would make this whole process much easier." Bezos was simply enough of an asshole to go to the bother of patenting his idea. LZW? Patentable. One click checkout? Not patentable. As distasteful as I might find patenting algorithms, it does force people to stop patenting stupidity like Amazon's patent portfolio, which is composed of "good ideas", not machines or algorithms. Since patented algorithms are probably here to stay, we might as well use them to purge the even more offensive patents.
    • Patents should have a clear owner. No owner means no patent. If you make a good faith effort to contact the owner of a patent, with the intention of licensing it, then I'd say you've done all you can. Keeping your patent documentation up-to-date is your burden, not anyone else's.
    • Patents should be encouraged to have a short lifetime. The amount of protection offered should be inversely related to how much freedom is reserved by the patent holder. For example, a patent on a new type of electronic lock might last 3
  • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Friday March 04, 2011 @12:16PM (#35380264)

    No they are trolls, because every year they say how thankful we should be they decided not to charge us this year for the stuff they gave away for free last year.

    Next year they will say the same thing. They have said it the last 2 years now that I know of. Oddly enough 2 years ago was when Google started dealing with VP8, and actually opening up those codecs.

    Right now you have to pay to use H.264 every time you, encode, decode, stream, move, or look at the file. Only because MPEG-LA are such nice people they actually only charge you for encode, decode, and stream.

    If you think your not paying, then you might want to take a closer look someone is paying it for you then raising the cost of doing business along the way.

  • Re:yea! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by skids ( 119237 ) on Friday March 04, 2011 @12:50PM (#35380724) Homepage

    Missing the point. This is an anti-trust suit. A trust is when companies that should be competing conspire for monopolistic powers/purposes. If individual patent holders were behaving in a free-market way, they would each challenge individually, giving google the ability to pick and choose which patents to license or give royalties to, should anyone actually have an unexpired patent that pertains. Google would also have to option of altering VP8 to not infringe on any patents held by people who were asking too high a price. Doing so would require knowing the price.

    Instead, we have the formation of a cartel that plans to bundle all patents together so the holders are no longer competing, but form an illegal trust. Granted it is probably a toothless one without any actual infringed patents -- but whether or not they actually have any goods is still unknown, so it doesn't matter -- the legal situation must be treated as if they do in fact have infringing patents, since it is their express purpose to gather them.

    in the meantime they are using the prospect of this bloc of patent holders as a basis to go out and make declarative public statements before actually producing any evidence that they actually have any patents that were infringed. As they have done such, they may be already guilty of anti-trust behavior, because they have utilized the common asset of their bluff.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday March 04, 2011 @02:08PM (#35381796) Journal

    You should be able to patent implementations, not ideas.

    We already have protection for implementations, it's called copyright.

    Now can someone in government put two and two together and see the absurd situation software patents has caused? VP8 is supposed to be patent-free but everyone on the H264 side is calling it patent-encumbered anyway.

    I am personally opposed to software patents, especially for things like 1-click purchase, but you need to be able to see both sides of the issue. Look at it a different way:

    VP8 was developed over the course of 10 years by a company called On2 Technologies. They paid their programmers lots of money, and got lots of money from investors to do so, because they thought they could make a lot of money in return. And they did. In 2004, for example, Macromedia paid them lots of money to license their VP6 codec. Now, to be interoperable, you need to let other people know what the format is, so if it weren't for patents, Macromedia wouldn't have needed to pay them. They could have just rewritten the codec on their own and avoided licensing costs.

    If patents weren't around, On2 wouldn't have been able to get licensing fees. Thus they wouldn't have been able to make money, and they wouldn't have gotten funding to pay their programmers. It is arguably only because of patents that VP8 even exists today.

    See how it is? Patents aren't a clear evil. Life is nuanced and there are shades of grey.

Money can't buy love, but it improves your bargaining position. -- Christopher Marlowe