[lbo-talk] An advocate of patent trolls, rants against free technologies like WebM (VP8)

fernando cassia fcassia at gmail.com
Sat Apr 16 18:38:37 PDT 2011

Jan Ozer in the article below writes an infuriating piece vouching for the failure of Google´s WebM so that MPEG4 and patent trolls can win. The article also says standards shouldn´t be free. Quite outraging, if you ask me. That is, if you care about openness instead of corporate profits.

http://www.streamingmedia.com/Articles/Editorial/Featured-Articles/MPEG-LA-and-WebM-Power-to-the-Patent-Trolls!--The-Producers-View-74205.aspx <http://www.streamingmedia.com/Articles/Editorial/Featured-Articles/MPEG-LA-and-WebM-Power-to-the-Patent-Trolls%21--The-Producers-View-74205.aspx>

In February, MPEG LA issued a call for patents essential to the VP8 video codec. As you recall, VP8 was acquired by Google when it purchased On2. Then, Google open sourced the codec for use in the HTML video tag. Though most of the reaction to MPEG LA's move has been negative ("patent trolls!"), I wish them a hearty good luck/ /

(...) I disagree with the concept that all technologies used on the web should be free. Why? Well, it starts with the fact that I worked for codec vendor Iterated Systems in the early '90s and saw firsthand how costly codec development can be. We had 18 Ph.D. mathematicians on board and consumed more than $300,000 per month in salaries. It's probably a stretch, but I'm guessing we wouldn't have gotten venture funding if we planned to give the product away.

Most "should be free" proponents point to protocols and specifications such as HTML, CSS, and TCP/IP and argue that the web couldn't have grown so explosively if charges applied. Again, I disagree. Before Iterated Systems, I worked at Hayes Microcomputer Products. In the early 1980s, there were multiple modem hardware/software interfaces, making software support a challenge. The market stabilized around the Hayes-compatible standard, and pretty soon, if you wanted to check CompuServe or MCI Mail or remotely log in to your company network, you needed a Hayes-compatible modem. Hayes made a small fortune on licensing fees from vendors selling Hayes-compatible modems, and these fees did nothing to slow the explosive growth of data communications.

Want another example? How about Ethernet, the standard we use for most wired connections and for which many companies are still paying derivative royalties. It hasn't slowed the networking market a bit. How about MPEG-2, which fueled digital broadcasts for many years, including both cable and satellite TV, as well as DVDs. MPEG-2 royalties certainly haven't slowed the growth of any of these markets, and neither did royalties on MP3 audio compression in audio-related markets, much to the great consternation of the music industry.

(...) "So good luck MPEG LA. The streaming media marketplace will be more profitable, and will evolve more rapidly, if you can take WebM off the table and help solidify the market around a single codec."

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