oggtheora-200x133 CNet reports that Apple and Microsoft are assembling a patent portfolio to challenge the legality of open-source video codec Ogg Theora. Theora competes against the h.264 video codec that Microsoft and Apple are supporting as part of their HTML5 strategy.

"A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other ‘open source’ codecs now," Jobs wrote in the e-mail, which Apple did not immediately confirm as authentic. "Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others’ patents."

This may not immediately seem to have anything to do with e-books, but consider the general mindset it shows. There haven’t been patent battles over e-book standards because e-books standards are a lot simpler (and there is considerably more prior art) than something as complex as a video codec.

With video codecs, the owners of those codecs must retain tight control over video encoding in general—if there is an open-source alternative, would-be buyers have little incentive to pay license fees for what they could otherwise get for free.

This is an extension of the same mindset that leads companies such as Apple to take “open” e-book standards then encumber them with their own private DRM scheme. It’s about control.

Mozilla and Opera both support Ogg Theora in their browsers; Google supports both Theora and h.264. Mozilla and Opera have both issued statements about the importance of having open video codec standards; it is uncertain what Google is going to do yet.


  1. Teddypig,

    Respectfully, I would point out that you don’t seem to understand. Whether or not something infringes on patents does not relate to whether it is open source or free software. It only determines whether it is legal in a given jurisdiction to use and or distribute that software without licensing the patents.

    Furthermore, violating patents does not indicate a lazy programmer; it indicates all programmers. There is no way any individual or even most companies could possibly determine that their code does not violate any of the thousands or millions of claimed software patents in the wild. And even if they could, it is well-known that a significant portion of software patents which have been granted aren’t valid and won’t stand up in court in the first place, because even the patent office doesn’t have the resources necessary to be able to verify that the patent application meets all requirements necessary for the patent to be granted.

  2. In Steve Job’s open letter about Adobe Flash he stated
    “Apple has many proprietary products too. Though the operating system for the iPhone, iPod and iPad is proprietary, we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should be open.”

    I look forward to seeing Apple banning H.264 from the iPhone, iPod and iPad because MPEG LA hasn’t made the codecs open. Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

  3. “I would point out that you don’t seem to understand. Whether or not something infringes on patents does not relate to whether it is open source or free software.”

    It most certainly would if you took Adobe’s Photoshop and copied it and slapped your own name on it and called it open source since you did nothing to create anything and you stole that code so you have no “rights” to sell Photoshop or call it open source etc etc.

    If you stole parts of someone’s code that is a little harder to prove but still in the same realm since there are parts of the code you did not create.

    I am old enough to remember how Ogg Vorbis was going to beat MP3 and that fell through pretty quickly when no one would support it. Probably will end up the same way in this case. You have to sell players that people want to buy in order to get your format in the running.

  4. As the saying goes – “There’s Open and then there’s Free.”

    H.264 is “open” – meaning it is a standard that anyone can read, but it isn’t always “free” to use by everyone. And patents are the “rules” that control how “free” an “open” standard is.

    “Open” often has conditions attached to it.

    And, looking around the bloggosphere there seems to be a lot of confusion about the meaning of “Free”, “Standards”, “Proprietary”, “Open”, and “Open Source” and how they affects businesses, people, and the Internet.

  5. Teddypig,

    Pardon me, I must not have explained clearly …

    There is a difference between a copyright and a patent. If someone took Adobe’s code and put their name on it, that would be a copyright violation.

    On the other hand, a patent violation applies when someone writes code on their own, and then someone comes along and claims that what the programmer wrote uses an idea they have registered with the patent office. The programmer would not have to have ever even heard of the company before, let alone
    seen some of their code.

    Patents are language which describe an idea about how to do something. For example, as it would apply to codecs (and let’s take mp3 for instance), a patent might say something along the lines of “reducing the filesize of audio without especially noticeable quality loss by discarding frequencies which are estimated to be inaudible to human hearing.”

  6. Well copyright or patent whatever… with both Apple and Microsoft getting legally upset with Ogg I do not believe they are going to get anyone to support them.

    It’s not like any of their products has ever been that much better than any of the actually used and supported products provided by the market. They sit around bitching about no one understanding, when it’s really that no one cares or can honestly tell the difference.

  7. Teddypig,

    Microsoft has also claimed that Linux violates 235 of their patents, yet approximately 1% of Internet users (http://marketshare.hitslink.com/os-market-share.aspx?qprid=9), 14% of smartphone users (http://digitaldaily.allthingsd.com/20100405/a-growth-spurt-for-androids-market-share/), and almost all businesses use Linux, including Google, IBM (often the largest software company on the planet), the New York Stock Exchange, the majority of websites you visit, etc., etc. Even as it applies to Ogg Theora, there are plenty of major corporations that support them, including Mozilla, Google, and Opera Software.

    This threat actually isn’t about Ogg Theora, either. Ogg Theora is based upon the VP3 codec which was released several years ago to the open source community by On2, a proprietary company. Google just closed their purchase of On2 in January (for $125 million) and it is rumoured that Google intends to announce the open-sourcing of the much newer VP8 codec at their I/O event on May 19th. Both Microsoft and Apple happen not to like Google, and both have a vested interest in controlling the formats used on the Web, and that is why they are suddenly interested in starting a war with Ogg Theora — any patent claims they make against Ogg Theora would almost certainly also apply to VP8.

    The reason Ogg Theora has not taken off has largely been because of two main factors; the quality has not been a match for H.264 in many situations, and support is not available from some of the big players (such as Microsoft and Apple) who do not want to lose control.

    VP8, on the other hand, is perceived as a much greater threat to Microsoft and Apple, because the quality, compression rate, and other technical attributes are apparently quite favorable when compared to H.264. Google is in a position to boost VP8 support significantly because they run the most powerful video property online, youtube.com, and they have a whole lot of business partners who are going to be working with them if they choose to make things happen.

    Regardless of whether everyone understands or “cares,” it does make a difference. Google may have the opportunity to end Web users’ dependence upon downloading third-party plug-ins just to watch video on the Web. In this one example, the difference is that of convenience, security, stability, and choice.

  8. Some people simply believe that processes (which is what an algorithm is) should not be patentable. And they code their products (both open and closed source) without bothering with all the due diligence required by the law as it exists today.

    This helps keep lawyers and pundits fully employed but advances the state of the art not one bit. Given that Apple and MS and HP and Sony and all those other evil corporations generating thousands of patents a year for stuff never seen before by patent examiners are in business to make money, they find themselves compelled to point out when a would-be competitor stomps on their revenue-generating (paper)work instead of rolling over and playing dead.

    Business as usual.
    Don’t like it?
    Get the law changed.
    Good luck with tha, BTW.

  9. Linux an OS is very much a different topic with numerous aspects since it is an OS not a simple specification.

    I do not put that topic anywhere near the same importance as discussing sillythings like Ogg or the facts that are not in it’s favor. They do not provide anything of value or unique usefulness to most users. Apple and Microsoft provide equipment and OS for their paying customers and they have every right to promote their products any way they want. They are not a charity and Oggis not a needy child.

    Making out like poor Ogg is being put down by the man did not work for the MP3 debate and it fails to make that much of a difference now.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.