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Re: Codecs for <video> and <audio>

From: Doug Schepers <schepers@w3.org>
Date: Thu, 02 Jul 2009 18:38:12 -0400
Message-ID: <4A4D36D4.9060507@w3.org>
To: Maciej Stachowiak <mjs@apple.com>
CC: Joe D Williams <joedwil@earthlink.net>, robert@ocallahan.org, Ian Hickson <ian@hixie.ch>, David Singer <singer@apple.com>, public-html@w3.org
Hey, Maciej-

Maciej Stachowiak wrote (on 7/2/09 6:14 PM):
>
> On Jul 2, 2009, at 2:50 PM, Doug Schepers wrote:
>
>> As I understand it, Apple and Nokia are among the chief patent holders
>> for H.264. I'm sure it's naive of me, but can't Apple approach MPEG-LA
>> to reexamine the costs and benefits of having the H.264 decoder
>> available under a Royalty Free license for both desktop and mobile
>> implementations of HTML5 (and SVG)? Ideally, this would also apply to
>> the encoder for authoring tools, but I know that might be a harder
>> sell. Perhaps smaller patent holders could be persuaded that it's in
>> their financial interest to sell their IP rights, and the cost could
>> be absorbed by the browser vendors and/or a grassroots funding
>> campaign? (I know I'd donate!)
>
> My understanding (not very well-informed) is that the idea of a
> royalty-free baseline profile for H.264 has been floated within the
> MPEG-LA, and not all patent holders agreed. I wouldn't expect either
> Apple or Nokia to be among the holdouts, but I don't know anything about
> the details of these discussions. I have heard that at least some of the
> holdouts have patents that expire sooner than others in the pool.

Yes, that's also my understanding.  I would love to have more details, 
and wish that MPEG-LA were more open.  Right now, it's difficult to 
examine options with so little information.  Is it possible to find 
someone who could enlighten us as to the motivation and goals of the 
holdouts?

(Maybe they just want a hug.  Or lots of money.  Either of those things 
might be manageable.)


>> Failing that, can't Apple take another look at implementing Ogg
>> Theora, or do a thorough patent review in combination with other
>> implementers? I find it hard to believe that this is out of the range
>> of resources for a combination of Apple, Mozilla, Google, Opera, and
>> possibly Microsoft.
>
> Doing an exhaustive patent search is extremely dangerous and most large
> companies won't do it. The reason is that if it can be proven a company
> knew about a patent, then it can face treble damages for willful
> infringement. Thus, discovering patents on technologies that the company
> already uses could pose a significant increase in liability.

Yes, this is a barrier.  In the scenario I'm suggesting, W3C (or some 
other organization set up explicitly for this purpose) would act as a 
proxy; the vendors would contribute to the cost of the legal resources, 
but would not be privy to the entirety of the patent search, and thus 
would not be liable for the three-fisted punch of the law.  In addition 
to funding the private lawyers, each company would do an internal patent 
search, and turn over (spec-specific) Royalty Free licenses for any 
patents they think might be applicable.

The final public report would reveal only that information pertinent to 
the necessity of protection from submarine patents (which, as I 
understand it, is the concern of vendors).  Could this (or some 
variation thereof) be a viable solution?


> So far, I'm not aware of anyone doing a patent search on Theora, at
> least not one where the results have been shared with the public.

Nor am I, which is why I propose this.


> Note also that besides patent risk, there are issues of coding
> efficiency, availability of hardware implementations, and hardware in
> already shipping devices.

Yes, agreed, which is why I would prefer an H.264 solution (no offense 
to the Ogg folks... just a matter of deployment).  But if that's not 
possible, then I would prefer Ogg Theora, which would solve at least 
some of the use cases.

Regards-
-Doug Schepers
W3C Team Contact, SVG and WebApps WGs
Received on Thursday, 2 July 2009 22:38:23 UTC

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