Patent pool may be in the works for 'free' VP8 codec

A spokesperson for MPEG LA, the licensing provider for the H.264/AVC portfolio, confirmed to Betanews this afternoon that it is actively considering taking the first step in the process of collecting revenue from the distributors of the video codec that Google released under a free and open source license on Wednesday.

As MPEG LA CEO Larry Horn first told The Wall Street Journal's John Paczkowski, the licensor is open to the possibility of the creation of a patent pool for collecting royalties pertaining to the essential patents used by the VP8 codec, part of the open source multimedia technology that Google has dubbed WebM.

"We are looking into the prospect of offering such a patent pool license based on interest from the market," the spokesperson told us. "Therefore it is too early in the process to discuss how such a license might work."

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The establishment of a patent pool, on the one hand, might be a friendlier and more open handed approach to handling the problem of VP8's patent encroachment, which independent video engineers including x264's Jason Garrett-Glaser believe will be a problem with respect to VP8. The alternative option, a video technology business source told Betanews last month, would be to seek legal action soon.

For Google to be open to the notion of a patent pool, it would have to be willing to lose all of the money it sinks into royalties. However, the "on the other hand" option is that the establishment of a VP8 patent pool, should MPEG LA choose to go that route, may be a necessary first step in order to demonstrate in a court of law Google's disregard for patent holders' rights, should Google choose to decline any invitation to pay royalties.

Even if Google were to accept the notion of a patent pool, it may not be able to address the question of the opening up of VP8's source code -- an affair with which MPEG LA may not have any involvement. Conceivably, individual patent holders may still seek legal action against Google for allegedly licensing the source code without authorization, even if Google were to pay royalties for the rights to license the actual codec.

33 Responses to Patent pool may be in the works for 'free' VP8 codec

  1. PC_Tool says:

    Last I checked, patents had a 20 year term in the US as of 1995... The H.264 draft was completed in 2003.

    So...2023 is the Year of Video on The Web!!! (sorry...couldn't resist...)

    • OneToOne says:

      LOL

    • RollDatKernelMyBrotha says:

      ahhh! isn't that just around the time HTML5 is finalized?

    • therealbillybob says:

      GIF patents expired in 2004 and the JPEG patents were not invalidated until 2006, does this mean that 2004 was the year of images on the web and 2006 was the year of photographs on the web?

      • PC_Tool says:

        ...apparently. I must have blinked. ;)

        (I am assuming you understand the difference between GIF/JPG and H.264 licensing...)

      • AnthonySPT says:

        "(I am assuming you understand the difference between GIF/JPG and H.264 licensing...)"

        One has a larger body of money and support from companies like Apple to crush anyone violating their will?

      • bopb99 says:

        Yes, H.264 has.
        This is a big plan.
        It supposed to rake in dozens of billions a year for a few years.

      • PC_Tool says:

        *sigh*

        If you made a website 10 years ago and charged subscription fees, and the site contained JPEG and GIF images...how muchwould you pay if you had more than 100,000 subscribed users?

        ...and how much would you pay MPEG LA now if it was H.264 instead of GIF or JPEG?

        That is the difference. Silly me...I thought it was pretty obvious.

      • preinterpost says:

        Actually... how much? Really.

      • PC_Tool says:

        Example 1: 0

        Example 2: $25,000

        Gathered from previous licensing (10 questions) topic right here on BN. Doesn't anyone actually *read* the articles anymore?? ;)

      • preinterpost says:

        articles? what articles!?

      • PC_Tool says:

        Heh...

        You would read BN just for the comments. I bet you use a similar excuse for a certain magazine sold by that Hefner dude. ;)

      • preinterpost says:

        Actually - I was just too put off by the lawyer speak in the responses of aforementioned article to register the numbers. Just can't do it. Mental block.

        Had to google Hefner to figure what you mean... I haven't seen one since my teens when we used to talk cabs driver into get them for a bunch of us who pooled their pocked money. I prefer the real thing these days - must be the effect of growing up in a liberal (speak socialist for land-locked Americans) society.

  2. WizeGuy says:

    The majority of patents seem to no longer be a tool for the little guy to make a living off a good idea. Instead they limit the possibilities of companies making a good mufti-function feature rich product because they can't copy and paste or something lame like that as an example.

    I like the idea of putting a different time limitation on pattens held by large companies. To many great ideas have been bought up and shelved at the consumers expense.

    Lets have free use the good ideas instead of putting them to waist for the profit of companies that did not even come up with the idea, and limit the big guys who do.

    What do you think?

    • PC_Tool says:

      "Lets have free use the good ideas instead of putting them to waist..."

      Wait...What?

      Do you *eat* good ideas? Uh...how do they taste? Are they really that bad for you that they go straight to your waist? :p

      • WizeGuy says:

        I know I have a strange scene of humor, are we together on that one? Hope so!

      • bopb99 says:

        The wheel tasted like a pancake.
        Chips like chips.
        And so on...

        PC_Tool is on to something here!

        (If you read this far without knowing these where jokes, your intelligence is dangerously low. )

      • PC_Tool says:

        Heh...Beautiful.

    • OneToOne says:

      "Lets have free use the good ideas instead of putting them to waist for the profit of companies that did not even come up with the idea, and limit the big guys who do."

      Actually, the big companies came up with the ideas. And you have serious entitlement issues - "give me everything for free".

      • WizeGuy says:

        I was referring to all the patents that the holding company acquired from purchasing smaller companies. I also did not say in any way "give me everything for free". I did forgot that you have to cover every possible concept to keep from being ridiculed by others. Why didn't you clarify my statement incited of attempting to make me look foolish?

      • Ryusennin says:

        The point is not about having everything for free; the point is about the fact that ideas are not patentable, period. And those ideas don't actually come from the big companies but from guys like Sir Tim Berners-Lee who invented the Interweb -- and who amongst others recently fought against the "European directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions".

    • iPhoneDev says:

      Google is the little guy? Do I understand you on this one? Google, a company with a market cap of $150 billion (that is $150,000,000,000) is the "little guy"?

      What do I think? I think you need a bit of perspective.

  3. Prospero424 says:

    This whole thing has me slightly confused.

    If the MPEG LA were to create a VP8 patent pool for collecting royalties, wouldn't Google, who now owns many or all (doesn't seem like anyone's quite sure) patents specific to VP8, have to sign on for the licensing authority to actually collect those royalties?

    Or is the idea that VP8 relies upon video compression patents that Google does not own? If this is true, wouldn't it also follow that Google now owns (following its purchase of On2) patents that h.264, VC-1, and perhaps other modern codecs rely upon? What would happen if Google decided that they were no longer going to allow those making up the MPEG LA pool to leverage the tech included in those video compression patents if they were going to step on its toes by trying to sabotage their opening up of VP8?

    What a huge friggin' mess! Just goes to perfectly illustrate the absolutely retarded state of software patents in this country. Nobody's really sure who holds what or who's infringing upon who. All they know is that they can use this ambiguity to stifle innovations and competition through legal threat and erect even larger barriers to entry for entrepreneurs. It's not a functioning market, it's a goddamned game of draw poker!

    And Google's got the biggest pile of chips. Something tells me that the last thing the MPEG LA wants to do is reveal the specific patents they're implying that the open release of VP8 may infringe upon. They don't want to give away their hand when Google may be holding a straight flush.

    So maybe they'll come to some agreement where they can both hold their cards close to their chests. It's pretty sad that this would be the most positive likely outcome of the whole mess.

  4. sumone says:

    Google could always stop making it open source but continue to offer it freely. They have enough cash to offer infinite royalties for everyone on this planet.

  5. DrClue says:

    Patent eligibility is by and large based upon the "machine or transformation" legal test
    which requires that the subject of the patent be either a physical machine , or
    a process that transforms the physical properties of tangible article from one form to another.

    The SCOTUS (Supreme Court Of The United States) has repeatedly upheld this
    legal test, and has as recently as 2009 thrown out patent cases failing this test.

    Software patents are bogus, and really are more a matter for copyright law, where
    rules of fair use come into play. As is , the patent wars over software have become
    a real problem.

    The patents themselves are so vague as to be like patenting a "cheese sandwich"
    with titles akin to "A method involving the vertical stacking of food components"

    Microsoft is suing SASS for things like "using templates to generate source code".
    "dynamically generating web pages containing a menu" and silly things like that.
    Many of those Microsoft "patents" were being violated before Microsoft existed.

    Apple has sued HTC over things like touching your phone display, despite
    the fact that touchable displays were around since before the iPhone.

    So now we have issues with video CODECS , that in many cases are more like
    having patent law suits over music , because a song used drums or guitars,
    despite that how those drums and guitars were played is significantly different.

    How is the patent clerk at the patent office to really know if a million lines of
    source code is really unique or not?

    We have folks trying to patent vague concepts , even when they have no actual invention to
    back them up. The way the patent holders would have it , I could go down to the patent office and patent the idea of "nuclear fusion" and simply wait for somebody to create a fusion reactor
    and sue them, despite the fact that there are several methods of achieving nuclear fusion
    being developed , I could simply sue each idea , even though it was unique and despite the fact I had created none of them.

    Patent pools are about as much a scam fest as Wall Street derivatives.

    No, software is something that is written, like a book and should be covered under copyright laws
    not patent laws.

    Imagine if TV show plots were patented? We would basically be watching test patterns
    as there has not been a truly unique TV show in decades, and everyone would be afraid
    to invest time writing a new show as the TV plot patent trolls would be looking
    for ways to say that the latest cop show violated their patent of "method of entertainment by portrayal of good vs. evil"

    The patent pool folks will decry that people want something for nothing , when in reality
    THEY are those people seeking money from the hard work of others with nebulous , dubious and
    intentionally vague patents where they harvest FREE money and suck the very air out of the room
    that is innovation.

    • sergioccg says:

      I couldn't say it better

    • Prospero424 says:

      Well said.

      It's gotten to the point that one almost can't even write software without being liable. As soon as your software become popular enough or profitable enough to show up on the big boys' radar,one or more of them swoop in to either force you out of competing in the marketplace or coerce you into paying them for patent "protection".

      This system is completely broken. Not flawed; BROKEN. We need a major overhaul of software patents in this country, at the very least. Because if we don't, we're gonna get our arses kicked by Europe and Asia in the long run no matter how much talent we have simply because this talent is often not only discouraged from being used, but forbidden from being used!

      If we don't act soon, being successful in the software market will have far, FAR more to do with the quality of lawyers you can keep on retainer than the quality of software you can produce.

    • AnthonySPT says:

      @DrClue "Microsoft is suing SASS"

      Could you give any source for this? All I could find on this was several other posts you have left on other websites making this claim, but no legal documents or news regarding this.

      The only cases I could find, Microsoft was the defendant.

  6. maxkit says:

    I think that "software patents" were introduced to stimulate developers. Now they are depressing the whole IT industry.

    Just wonder, what if Pythagoras had patented his theorem...

  7. AnthonySPT says:

    VP8 is a mess upon a mess. It offers no benefits in quality or bandwidth over existing codecs and has the potential to be a legal nightmare.

    Giving away VP8 is not going to be easy, look at MS with VC1, MPEG LA stepped in and prevented it from being royalty free. All because WMV was designed on similar concepts from the early MS MPEG4 codecs that went on to become XVid and DivX even though WMV had no code heritage to the MPEG4 work.

    For Google, this has more to do with Linux and Android than HTML5 or codecs.

    Google can't do H.264 in their own browser on Android without specific licensing, and even then is hard with the license requirements. However, on OS X and Windows they can do H.264 or VC1/WMV without the additional licensing because the base OSes already license the codecs for use.

    Sadly with MPEG having the hold they do and BEING allowed to have the hold when Apple and other stupid companies bent over to help the MPEG4 adoption with royalties we may no longer have a choice as anything to do with Video MPEG is going to say it is somehow ours and prevent it from being free or open. (As other OSS codecs gain popularity, they too will hit the same walls VC1 got and VP8 is getting hit with now.)

  8. Prospero424 says:

    Another thought:

    What would be the result if, when the individual companies that make up the MPEG LA's patent pool come forward and assert the patents they own that opening up VP8 infringes upon, Google just starts buying them up if their patent claims seem to have merit?

    Obviously, this wouldn't work for big players like Apple and Microsoft, but there are a LOT of little companies in that patent pool, and many of them would probably be ecstatic if offered a substantial buyout.

    Just something to think about...

  9. Prospero424 says:

    Aaaaaaaand, the first shoe drops on MPEG LA as Nero files an antitrust case (citing violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act) in federal district court.

    http://www.osnews.com/story/23346/Nero_Files_Antitrust_Case_Against_MPEG-LA

    "Back in 1997, the MPEG-LA sought a promise from the US Department of Justice that it would not initiate any antitrust investigations against the licensing body. The DOJ expressed then that it currently had no intention of acting upon the MPEG-LA, but this lack of intention was conditioned on a number of things.

    First, the MPEG-LA would engage with independent experts to ensure only essential patents would be placed in the MPEG-2 pool. They told the DOJ that the MPEG-2 pool constituted of 53 essential patents. Second, independent experts would "weed out nonessential patents" from the pool. Third, licensing terms would be "fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory".

    Nero claims none of these safeguards were honoured, and here's where it gets juicy; "absolute power has corrupted the MPEG-LA absolutely'"

    'Bout time...

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