Scott M. Fulton, III

10 questions for MPEG LA on H.264

Prior to Google's announcement earlier today of its open sourcing the VP8 video codec, a spokesperson for MPEG LA -- the licensing agent that manages the patent portfolio for multimedia technologies relating to the H.264 codec, among others -- agreed to answer ten questions submitted to the agency in advance. Those questions regard how it licenses the codec that Microsoft and Apple consider the best solution for HTML 5, the next markup language for the Web.

Here, Betanews presents the questions and MPEG LA's responses without editorial comment.

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Microsoft: IE9 won't block VP8 video, won't build it in either

In a pair of blog posts released simultaneously this afternoon, Microsoft's Internet Explorer General Manager, Dean Hachamovitch, walked on eggshells in explaining why his group is staying the course with respect to its decision on the H.264 codec in IE9. This in the wake of Google's historic move today to release the VP8 video codec it acquired under a full open source license under the umbrella title WebM, even though it could mean legal action against Google down the road.

"The issue of potential patent liability is 'ultimately for the courts to decide,'" wrote Hachamovitch in one post, citing an Engadget article from earlier this month. Reaffirming his company's commitment to the ideals of HTML 5 -- whatever those may be today -- he stated at two points, "IE9 will support playback of H.264 video as well as VP8 video when the user has installed a VP8 codec on Windows."

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Google open-sources Web video codec; Mozilla, Opera, Adobe sign on

Wednesday afternoon, Google opted for the most daring option available to it: It is making available both the technology and the source code for the VP8 codec it acquired, in its buyout of On2 Technologies, to a separate entity. That entity, the newly formed WebM Project, will then serve as a licensing agent on Google's behalf for the VP8 video codec, the Vorbis audio codec, and the Matroska multimedia container, for royalty-free use, apparently in both free and commercial video.

At least as extraordinary, if not more so, is the new WebM group's list of charter supporters, which could be unofficially dubbed the "Everyone Except H.264 Coalition." Browser makers Mozilla and Opera both appear on this list, along with Adobe, the maker of Flash -- the Web's most prevalent distribution system for streaming video. And on the hardware side, both AMD (parent of ATI) and Nvidia have signed on, along with all the principal players in handheld components: ARM, Freescale, Marvell, TI, and Qualcomm.

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Or perhaps it's something else: Microsoft combats a CRM + cloud colossus

Customer relationship management (CRM) software has typically fallen outside the realm that Betanews has covered, at least in recent years. It falls outside the realm a lot of publications cover, not because it's the least bit obscure or unimportant or even a segment of the information industry around which billions of dollars in invested capital revolve, but because it isn't usually the stuff around which soap operas are based. If someone left a spare, unauthorized beta copy of Dynamics CRM at a bar, it's not something Gizmodo would be snapping photos of and TMZ would be scooping interviews about.

Nevertheless, CRM is a huge industry; and while Microsoft has been a big player in that market since its acquisition of Great Plains Software in 2001 and Navision the following year, it has never been the #1 player. PeopleSoft had a very competitive CRM offering for small businesses in the early part of the last decade, then Oracle acquired that company in 2004. Later, Siebel had the lead, and Oracle acquired that company in 2006. (You can see a pattern here.)

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Microsoft to pay $200 M to VirnetX to make future patent suits go away

Two months ago, VPN builder VirnetX was awarded $105.75 million by a Tyler, Texas jury, for Microsoft's infringing upon its patented tunneling protocol for private networks. Realizing that this could actually be the first home run by VirnetX in the same turn at bat, Microsoft has opted to pay $200 million to VirnetX as a settlement for this and all future lawsuits.

The technology that triggered the initial award was a way for VoIP phones to conduct communications on secure channels, without the phone user having to log in using some kind of keyboard. What Microsoft wanted for its Unified Communications suite was a way to keep the same "dialtone" when a user picks up a voice receiver and dials a recipient, and yet keep the channel between the parties secure using VPN technology.

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One big do-over: Appeals court vacates its TiVo decision against EchoStar

It has been said that a win is a win. That notion was effectively proven false today, as the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals granted EchoStar's and former sister company Dish Network's motion to throw out its own decision last March.

In that decision, a three-judge panel voted 2-1 to rule that a fix to EchoStar software that TiVo claimed infringed upon its patents, was not so broad that it mandated a new and separate trial of TiVo's complaint. Now, the Federal Circuit will meet en banc, with as many as 12 judges seated instead of 3, to rehear EchoStar's argument.

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EU warns Facebook its privacy changes are 'unacceptable'

An assembled group of telecommunications ministers from the European Union's member states, called the Article 29 Working Party, has warned Facebook that changes it recently made to its privacy policy to enable "Instant Personalization" -- also known as "Like" -- may be in violation of what they thought was an agreement made in November 2009.

That warning stops short of directly accusing Facebook of violating laws, though it leaves the door open for such a decision in the future.
According to a statement released yesterday from Brussels (the text of their letter has yet to be released), the ministers did imply that Facebook's public presence at a meeting entitled "Safer Networking Principles for the EU," where its representatives signed a pledge, appears to contradict the changes it made to privacy policy just days later.

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LimeWire loses everything in infringement battle with RIAA

In a decision handed down in US District Court in New York this afternoon, representatives of the recording industry won summary judgment against P2P file-sharing software maker LimeWire, in a patent infringement suit first filed in 2006.

Though the case took almost four years to resolve, as Judge Kimba Wood wrote in her decision today, LimeWire may very well have sealed its fate in July 2008. At that time, Greg Bildson, the company's CTO/COO met with plaintiffs' attorneys to discuss a potential case settlement.

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AMD to combat 'Intel Inside' with 'Who cares?'

Ever since it stopped billing itself as a producer of "replacements" for Intel CPUs, AMD has struggled with the platform question: the need for OEMs to produce PCs based on pre-determined patterns. Manufacturers can achieve price breaks when they buy parts in bulk, and platforms can help them do that; likewise, they can reap even more benefits down the road from selling popular platforms to the public.

It was Intel that figured out the platform formula first, ironically through the help of a brand it no longer uses: Centrino. Up until last year, although individual AMD processors have been successful in the consumer marketplace, and Opteron as a brand has reclaimed its respect among server makers, it's never been able to crack the nut for consumer-grade platforms. Last September, AMD announced it would try yet another spin on the platform approach, unveiling a new "Vision" brand for classes of PCs based on AMD processors. OEMs such as HP, Acer, and Dell would use these classes not to denote the processor in their PCs, but rather what those PCs are capable of doing.

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Who's more neutral? Republican bill would forestall FCC's 'Third Way'

It was inactivity from Congress on the matter of broadband Internet regulation that forced US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski into an almost impossible situation. Taking what appeared to him to be the only legal and rational approach available, he boldly suggested last week that the Commission set up a system for splitting hairs over which parts of broadband fall under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, and which ones fall under Title I.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's the FCC's effort to accomplish what Congress couldn't, that has spurred at least some parts of Congress into action. Yesterday, one of the House's leading net neutrality skeptics, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R - Fla.), made good on a pledge his office revealed to Betanews last October, drafting new legislation that would prevent the FCC from building a "Third Way" for itself, unless it could prove to Congress that there was an emergency, and it could provide a cost/benefit analysis supporting its theory.

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Privacy complaint rejected for lady ranking #3 in Google for 'epic boobs'

If you're a female human being, and your bust size has become such the object of public attention that suggestive but non-offensive photos of you turn up in a Google Images search for...well, that part of the body; and with photos in hand, a men's magazine begins a nationwide search for your identity and address, then has your privacy been violated?

In an extraordinary decision discovered earlier today by The Guardian's Roy Greenslade, the UK's Press Complaints Commission rejected the complaint of a woman whose photographs -- which she states were taken when she was an adolescent -- ended up among Google's most common image search results for the phrase "Epic Boobs." This despite the following facts: she says she was 15 when the photos were taken years earlier; the photos were uploaded to a supposedly private page operated by AOL's Bebo service back in 2006; she gave no one permission to use her image outside of Bebo; and she'd never had any contact with Loaded magazine prior to its search for "the Epic Boobs girl."

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US needs $23.5 B more to fund the rest of broadband buildout

A 151-page report released this morning by the Omnibus Broadband Initiative (OBI) of the Federal Communications Commission (PDF available here) acknowledges an estimated $23.5 billion funding gap between the amount that government and business combined are presently prepared to spend to equip rural and underserved areas with broadband service, and the amount it believes is necessary.

The report doesn't say the government needs to raise that much more money in the coming years -- for instance, through increased taxes. Rather, it acknowledges that broadband buildout is accomplished by private industry, which is spurred to make those investments with government "incentives." But since almost by definition, the underserved areas of the nation will also be those areas that will almost certainly never become profitable for carriers to service in the first place, the problem becomes that no amount of government incentives may be enough.

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Mozilla turns up the fire, Firefox 4 betas to begin in June

With competition in the Web browser field having transitioned from cold to boiling in less than a year's time, Mozilla suddenly finds itself playing catch-up against not only Apple and Google, but Microsoft as well. In March, the organization realized it needed to completely make over Firefox 4 if it wanted to remain feature competitive against a fast-rising Google Chrome.

In a live presentation yesterday, Mozilla Firefox director Mike Beltzner admitted that his group's March roadmap, which involved an interim release of Firefox 3.7, had too many steps. Now the group has decided to straighten out its path by grafting version 3.7's main additions onto a point release Firefox 3.6.4, and shifting gears to focus on version 4.0.

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AT&T, Verizon stand against FCC's 'Third Way,' Sprint on the fence

With Congress' dance card already overflowing with major social and policy reforms, including in the financial sector, the likelihood that it could pass a major reform to the Telecommunications Act for Internet regulation during the Obama Administration (however long it lasts) is quite low. Faced with a pair of no-win scenarios, the FCC last week opted to propose a "Third Way" for broadband regulation that could at least get its foot back in the door -- a way that literally asks judges and attorneys-general to substitute "telephone" for "broadband" in various clauses of existing law, except for those sections where doing so wouldn't make any sense.

With major wireless Internet providers feeling they gain little or nothing by allowing the FCC to extend its regulatory ability, companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast (which, after all, won that court decision last month) are fine with the status quo. But a statement from Sprint late last week was, by contrast with those of its competitors, so conciliatory and non-descript that it was interpreted by many industry watchers as outright support for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

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Facebook to fight privacy complaint with help of former FTC chairman

2:15 pm EDT May 10, 2010 · Facebook has indicated to press sources that it has not brought on former FTC chairman Timothy Muris as an employee, as has been reported elsewhere. Muris is an attorney with O'Melveny & Myers, LLP.

In a signal that Facebook is taking the messages of last week seriously -- messages that included a privacy complaint filed last week with the US Federal Trade Commission by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) (PDF available here) -- the San Jose Business Journal broke the news that it has hired Timothy Muris, the former chairman of the FTC under President Bush, presumably as its privacy point man.

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