Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 11th Feb 2011 16:00 UTC, submitted by aa
Multimedia, AV Well, well, well. The MPEG-LA is showing its true colours. After a decade of threatening to patent troll the living heck out of Theora, the company led by a patent troll has now finally put its money where its mouth is. Well, sort of. They don't actually have any patents yet, they're asking people to submit patents they believe are essential to the VP8 specification. Update: MPEG (so not the MPEG-LA) has announced its intent to develop a new video compression standard for the web which will be royalty-free. "The new standard is intended to achieve substantially better compression performance than that offered by MPEG-2 and possibly comparable to that offered by the AVC Baseline Profile. MPEG will issue a call for proposals on video compression technology at the end of its upcoming meeting in March 2011 that is expected to lead to a standard falling under ISO/IEC 'Type-1 licensing', i.e. intended to be 'royalty free'."
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RE: M(umblety)Peg
by atsureki on Sat 12th Feb 2011 06:14 UTC in reply to "M(umblety)Peg"
atsureki
Member since:
2006-03-12

Eventually, the whole software patent system is going to come crumbling down. This might be the one to push it over the top.
We have foisted on the rest of the world one naked greed maintenance system. Assuming there is even a shred of decency left anywhere, the whole insane thing will be chucked over the side. "The times they are a-changing". It's time for the "content corps" to adapt or move out of the way.


Remember where software patents started. Apple licensed research tech from PARC and did real R&D work to turn it into a desirable, practical product. Microsoft partnered with them to deliver Office for Mac, gained intimate knowledge of the system, and ultimately used it to steal their business with a clone. Apple sued for copyright of "Look and Feel", which backfired by setting the precedent that you can't do that. Obviously there are disagreements about who all was and wasn't in the right in that story, but regardless, the entire industry watched Apple learn a lesson about how easy it is for development work to be taken and used against you.

From then on, software firms have been patenting every idea they come across as a deterrent to this kind of backstabbing and undermining. It never goes to trial because companies are afraid of exactly what OSNews readers keep cheering for - another Look and Feel precedent that will destroy the software patent system as well.

Patents, copyrights, and everything else that falls under the IP umbrella intentionally slow further innovation of new ideas. The tradeoff is that individuals and companies that make massive investments in creating new art or tech have a window of opportunity to reap all the profits their creation generates, thus making the outlay worthwhile. If the MAD theory behind software patents fizzles out into nothing, so does all the potential monetary value of platform development. This site's hivemind believes that all software should be free beer, that no one should be allowed to make a profit by selling a desirable product they own the rights to; but as someone who appreciates the finer points of Apple's work, I'm not so sure I'm willing to give up capitalism entirely.

Now that I've finished ruminating on so much nothing, there's an important point to be made about different kinds of patents. There are "obvious" patents as in so obvious and well-established that no one can ever call it their "invention", along the lines of "pressing a physical button to send a command to the system". Those are struck down, guaranteed. Then there are the "obvious" patents people here often conflate with the former group - i.e. obvious in retrospect, or "I see what you did there", functionality that can not be concealed in application. This would be stuff like a window in a desktop metaphor. You may ask with righteous indignation how you can patent something with no alternative, but really, do Android and iOS use windows? Are WebOS "cards" Macintosh-style windows? Alternative multitasking interfaces are finally starting to come along. I don't believe Apple should have run unopposed for 26 years, but what if their early competitors had been forced to come up with a different model, rather than a hasty copy with misconfigured keyboard shortcuts?

The final kind of software patent, and the one most relevant here, is real, non-obvious invention. These are the special algorithms and techniques that power state-of-the-art media codecs, compression algorithms, threading algorithms, and encryption. It is only because patents exist that these kinds of things can be licensed at all. x264 and LAME exist because h.264 and mp3 are open, patented standards that anyone can access and, for a price, provide implementations of. The aforementioned simply skip out on the bill by conveniently existing outside the legal sphere of the patents. The only alternative commercial development model is trade secret, which makes it extremely difficult to license out safely and impossible to sue imitators implementing the same methods.

Now, it needs to be said that this is not what Xiph and Google are. Vorbis, Theora, and VP8 are not trying to be sneaky; they're not trying to steal MPEG-LA patented methods to undermine their rightful owners, and therein lies the only valid good vs. evil painting of this whole affair. When a patent owner attacks unprovoked, that's evil, and that seems to be the direction this is headed. But to say that the ability to patent software in general is evil is to take a hard-line stance against capitalism itself.

In the post-Internet world, copyrights and patents simply last too long. Yearly and even quarterly tech profits frequently exceed affluent nations' GDPs, but the concept behind the system is solid. It protects the little guys, like those that Google keeps buying, as well as the big guys like Apple who keep their eyes on their own work, from immediate co-opting by big guys with a long history of NIH and me-too-ism like Microsoft. The patent system needs renovation, not demolition.

OT: Incidentally, RD recently made the point that Google was an early platform development partner on the iPhone, and has since turned around and released a broadly licensed clone to compete with its former host. The Android-Windows comparisons grow ever more poignant. Apple has patents they could use use to take action, but the lesson they learned in Look and Feel was twofold -- One, copyright is useless. Two, legal action is risky, and could end up legitimizing the imitator. Moreover, the Halloween documents and the whole SCO Group debacle have shown the industry that FUD backfires as well, so as long as the iPhone continues to lead in profits and customer satisfaction, Apple's only good choice is to ignore the imitators, no matter how sleazy.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: M(umblety)Peg
by unclefester on Sat 12th Feb 2011 06:58 in reply to "RE: M(umblety)Peg"
unclefester Member since:
2007-01-13

Scientific research is open source. It has worked very effectively for hundreds of years.

Reply Parent Score: 7

RE[3]: M(umblety)Peg
by atsureki on Sat 12th Feb 2011 17:43 in reply to "RE[2]: M(umblety)Peg"
atsureki Member since:
2006-03-12

Scientific research is open source. It has worked very effectively for hundreds of years.


So you would have all software development funded by public research grants just to keep it out of the hands of profit-driven enterprises?

Science is better than open source. It's open collaboration, and like capitalism, it engenders competition. You publish your methods and findings for peer review, and then others get to build on your work.

H.264 was built in the open by multiple collaborators pooling together their previous efforts to come up with the best possible methods. Meanwhile, VP8 was created behind closed doors by a single company, and only the finished product released both as binaries and now as source. That's more akin to having the Roman Catholic Church, and then Google Luther comes along and distributes a common language copy of the Bible.

Obviously both specs ended up frozen, but you're right, scientific conventions produced the superior product here.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: M(umblety)Peg
by dnebdal on Sun 13th Feb 2011 12:14 in reply to "RE: M(umblety)Peg"
dnebdal Member since:
2008-08-27

This site's hivemind believes that all software should be free beer, that no one should be allowed to make a profit by selling a desirable product they own the rights to; but as someone who appreciates the finer points of Apple's work, I'm not so sure I'm willing to give up capitalism entirely.


This, I think, is where you've crucially but subtly misunderstood something. I'm obviously not speaking for everyone, but I see signs that I'm at least not alone in my view:

Closed-source products are not in themselves a problem, and if someone has written something obviously better, I might pay for it. That, however, doesn't in any way depend on software patents: Even if they were completely invalidated tomorrow, that would hardly turn openoffice into office 2010 overnight, or tuxracer into NFS:Shift. It's not patents on underlying ideas that gives them a competitive edge, it's the labour and (arguably) design vision.

Another sort of separate thing is that many opensource apps steadily improve until they're good enough to compete with the for-profit alternatives - how many people pay for a C compiler today? It's a shame if you make a living providing those alternatives, but at the same time it's a benefit for the rest of the world, both directly (one less thing to pay for) and indirectly: It ought to drive those selling software to come up with steadily more compelling products to compete against the OSS "baseline".

Besides, it works better for some types of software than others; the opensource process is better at technical tools than creative efforts, so there's a huge niche left open.

Edited 2011-02-13 12:21 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE[3]: M(umblety)Peg
by atsureki on Sun 13th Feb 2011 22:44 in reply to "RE[2]: M(umblety)Peg"
atsureki Member since:
2006-03-12

Closed-source products are not in themselves a problem, and if someone has written something obviously better, I might pay for it. That, however, doesn't in any way depend on software patents: Even if they were completely invalidated tomorrow, that would hardly turn openoffice into office 2010 overnight, or tuxracer into NFS:Shift. It's not patents on underlying ideas that gives them a competitive edge, it's the labour and (arguably) design vision.



Thank you, that was a good counterpoint that I enjoyed reading.

The quote from my parent post you were more or less addressing directly was one of my (many) attempts to vent some frustration at this site's apparent hatred of all things Apple. Readers here seem to despise propriety above all else, from the curated garden to the hardware exclusivity to patented gestures, despite the fact that none of those things unfairly inhibits competition from companies that decide to do it differently. Meanwhile ruthlessness, dishonesty, and monopolistic force from Microsoft get a pass just because they broadly license their platform onto cheap hardware, and bald-faced cloning by F/LOSS is celebrated because, hey, free beer (and it is definitely about the beer, not the speech, or there wouldn't be so many recent threads siding with Flash). So while you make a good point about competition without patents, I didn't see any new explanations for the rest of the biases I've observed.

However, it should also be noted that your reasoning applies just as well against all patents, not just software. And indeed, knockoffs of mainstream tech force cutting-edge innovations and drive prices down across the market, so all that's good about the principle applies in the realm of physical inventions, but where we run into the biggest problem on both sides is where there is either a) a massive outlay of initial capital to design something relatively simple to reproduce and then undersell the inventor (think pharmaceuticals, which are not legally protected), or b) a brilliant invention from someone who's not well-established that can easily be stolen away by a big company with an engineering department, as happened when auto makers decided they didn't need to license the patent for intermittent windshield wipers but went ahead and installed them anyway.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: M(umblety)Peg
by nicholasj on Mon 14th Feb 2011 09:42 in reply to "RE: M(umblety)Peg"
nicholasj Member since:
2008-12-10

There are some great points here, thanks for the post.

However, your final point about Google using their early access to the iPhone to build Android doesn't take account of the fact that Andy Rubin's Android Inc pre-dates (or at least is extremely contemporaneous with) what is publicly known about the start of the iPhone project.

http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phone...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_iPhone

Reply Parent Score: 2