MPEG has issued a request for comments and a call for further evidence on a royalty-free video codec standard under consideration.

The request is contained in the  publicly available meeting resolutions of the October 2010 94th Meeting in Guangzhou, China.

The request follows responses received at the October Guanghzou meeting to the previous August call for evidence on Option-1 licensing (MPEG-speak for royalty-free) and input from the Chinese and US National Bodies.

In addition to information about target performance, the request cryptically asks:

The relevance of pursuing such a standards activity within MPEG, particularly with respect to current market conditions and industry needs.

Presumably this is a veiled reference to the announcement after the August MPEG meeting by the MPEG LA patent licensing administrator of new royalty terms on its AVC/H.264 (MPEG-4 Part 10) pool that has met Internet industry opposition.


14.6 Option 1 Licensable Video Coding

14.6.1 The Requirements subgroup thanks the following organizations for their response to the Call for Evidence on Option-1 Video Coding Technology: Oracle, Peking University, Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University.

14.6.2 The Requirements subgroup thanks the CNNB and USNB for their input related to Option-1 video coding technology.

14.6.3 The Requirements subgroup recommends approval of the following documents:

No. Title TBP Available
Exploration – Option 1 Licensing Video Coding
11676 Call for Evidence on Option-1 Video Coding Technology N 10/10/15

14.6.4 Interested parties are encouraged to respond to N11676.

14.6.5 MPEG requests that companies comment on the following topics relating to Option-1 licensable video coding:

  1. The relevance of pursuing such a standards activity within MPEG, particularly with respect to current market conditions and industry needs.

  2. What are the specific video codec performance targets that may be required in order to secure the desired level of market adoption? As an example, current discussions related to an Option-1 codec have considered a 2x coding gain, in comparison to MPEG-1, as a minimum performance target.



“Resolutions of the 94th Meeting”, ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC29 N11553, Guanzhou, CN, October 2010,

“Think H.264 is Now Royalty-Free? Think Again – and the “Open Source” Defence is No Defense to MPEG-LA”, Peter Csathy, CEO Sorenson Media, Sept. 20, 2010,

“Mozilla shrugs off ‘forever free’ H.264 codec license: Uh, will H.264 even be relevant in 4 years?’, Cade Metz, August 26, 2010,

“Opera still won’t support H.264 video”, Jan Vermeulen, October 1, 2010,

“Open Standards for Video — Video standards (formats, codecs, metadata, etc.) should be open, interoperable, and royalty free”, in “Some principles for open video”, Open Video Alliance,

Last week I encouraged Google to rethink their VP8 open sourcing patent strategy and

“do the right open standards thing — join and contribute to responsible standards groups that are working to solve the royalty-free open standards need.”

The blog was picked up in Simon Phipps’ ComputerWorld blog, ZDNet, The Register, LWN and elsewhere.

At one level, this is a classic debate about what is “open” and what should be its hierarchy of values, priorities, and even basic definitions.

But is a “de facto” standard the same as an “open” standard?  No, at least not in the definition of open standards of OpenForum Europe, of which Google is a leading member.

But there is more to consider.  Google is including WebM in the next version of Android and rules Android device makers with a strong hand, necessarily playing favorites to steer the Android ship. So the message must be clear to Android device makers, suppliers, and wannabes to get on the WebM bandwagon.  And though Google is known as tough with patent trolls, Android device makers appear to have been either left to fend off patent attacks themselves, cut deals, or perhaps be quietly aided in patent litigation defense.

All commercially rational choices in the crazy, hard-nosed, twisted global mobile patent wars.  After all, look at where the patents came from in MPEG LA subsidiary MobileMedia’s law suits against Apple, HTC, and RIM (Nokia and Sony) and HTC’s counter suit against Apple (AMD through Saxon).

So is the net-net simply “until you take open source and put it in a product you can’t get sued,” so just watch the big boys force each other to take, or cave in to, patent risks in order to get to the head of the line for a promising platform?  And just hope in the meantime that royalty-free open standards for the Open Web escape cannon fodder, collateral damage, or sell-out status in the smart phone patent wars?

Unfortunately, patent hold-up gambits thrive on adopt-first-ask-questions-later scenarios of the sort Google seems to be arm-twisting for here.  Standards groups, regulators, and industry continue to grapple with this challenge.   See yesterday’s FTC/DOJ/PTO workshop and the EU’s draft guidelines for horizontal cooperation agreements that mention that “[t]here should be no bias in favour or against royalty free standards, depending on the relative benefits of the latter compared to other alternatives”.

But if vendors ignore open standards altogether, we all lose.


According to CNET, the W3C is taking the position that WebM/VP8 needs to go through a royalty free standards process:

“WebM/VP8 has the potential of providing a solution for the baseline video format of HTML5. To be seriously considered by the W3C HTML Working Group, the specification would need to go through a standards group and be developed under RF [royalty-free] licensing participation terms,” said Philippe Le Hegaret, leader of Web video work at the W3C, in a statement. “W3C remains interested in having a video format for HTML5 that is compatible with the W3C Royalty-Free Patent Policy.”

Much of the initial commentary on Google’s open sourcing of the VP8 codec it acquired in purchasing On2 has breathlessly, and uncritically, centered on the purported game-changing impact of the move.

But unfortunately, these commentaries miss an essential point that Google has studiously avoided mentioning the need to standardize royalty free codecs (not just release an open source snapshot).

But since forward motion is good simply because it is forward motion, shouldn’t one hesitate to look this gift horse in the mouth?

Unfortunately, in the case of multimedia codecs and technologies, ignoring open standards and instead presenting open sourcing as a fait accompli solution just works to the detriment of the entire open community.

The open Web needs royalty free standards (true, multi-stakeholder run standards, not unilateral actions) — that is its essential genius.  And without them, proprietary, vendor-controlled projects, even those that self-label as “open”, do little good and more likely more harm than good.  We all have the right to expect, and demand, that the Web’s current beneficiaries and leaders stay true to this fundamental open standards proposition, and not just forget it when convenient.  And this includes Google.

It is well known that many experts consider it now feasible to standardize serviceable royalty-free codecs.  MPEG (the standards group, not the unaffiliated license administrator MPEG LA) has even put out a resolution to that effect, and IETF has recently launched a royalty free codec activity in a similar spirit.  Google should get on board on this important trend, not undermine it with studied avoidance.  So far they have not.

It is important to understand that patent claims are typically handled under confidential non-disclosure agreements.  So unless there is a forcing function (litigation or standardization-required disclosure and review), there is no effective way to know who is actually claiming, and who is paying, what.  And there are documented cases of this going on for literally years.  So leaving VP8 code out in the open with nothing but a mutual non-assert license leaves the patent issue not only unaddressed, but up for capture by those with uncharitable agendas, and on their turf and time frame (let’s at least hope that’s sooner rather than later — but remember, forming patent pools rarely disclose all their patents up front).

Not a smart move, and hopefully one Google will realize the error of and correct quickly (here’s a useful cover story: we intended to smoke out patent holders all along, and we were going to get around to working with standards groups when we had the chance).  Contributing VP8 to a standards group with a strong patent disclosure policy would be a good corrective move; it would force lurking patent holders to come fully into the public. Not perfect, but a step forward.

Google’s open sourcing of VP8 is very different from Sun’s Open Media Stack codec work, and for that matter other responsible open video initiatives, which have based their work on identifiable IPR foundations, documented their patent strategy, and have been willing to work with bona-fide standards groups to address and resolve IPR issues.  When companies like Google ignore standards and go on their own in such important areas as video codec standards, they just undermine the very standards groups the open Web needs to thrive and grow.

We’d never accept a brand name company unilaterally declaring control of the next version of TCP/IP, HTML, or any other of a host of foundational Internet and Web standards simply by open sourcing something they’d bought.  Codecs will also be such a foundational component, a critically important one.  Just because the technology of codecs might be less familiar than some other technologies is no reason to abandon the royalty-free standardization philosophy that has built the Web.

Certainly not based on the complete feel-good-marketing non-explanation for this radical abandonment that Google has offered so far.   Because patent pool licensing is out of control?  No argument about that from me (or antitrust complainants Nero, VIZIO, and others).  Because Google “must have done its patent homework”?  OK, if so why not hand that homework in as a contribution to a standards group where it could get some expert scrutiny?

So I would encourage Google to do the right open standards thing — join and contribute to responsible standards groups that are working to solve the royalty-free open standards need.  Be a part of the royalty-free, open-standards solution, not part of the problem.


Tip of the hat to Xiph’s leader, Chris Montgomery, for good tongue-in-cheek humor:


Not to confuse: Xiph is wholeheartedly supporting WebM, but another interesting remark by Montgomery:

“But Monty isn’t worried about the MPEG-LA suing him or anyone at the WebM Project.

“The recent saber-rattling by Jobs felt more like a message to his own troops than
a warning shot to ours,” he says. “MPEG itself has always has an internal contingent
that has pushed hard for royalty-free baselines from MPEG, and the missives about
video codecs and patents were probably meant for them, not us.”

MPEG — Working Group 11 of  ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 29 — has issued a resolution seeking active participation in developing a Type-1 (royalty-free) video coding standard.

“Given that there is a desire for using royalty free video coding technologies for some applications such as video distribution over the Internet, MPEG wishes to enquire of National Bodies about their willingness to commit to active participation (as defined by Section of the JTC1 directives) in developing a Type-1 video coding standard.”

See below for publicly-released information from recent MPEG meetings on royalty-free standardization.

Organizations and experts interested in actively participating in a type-1 (royalty-free) standardization activity should contact their SC29/MPEG National Body or liaison.



SC: Subcommittee.  SC 29 is the ISO/IEC Subcommittee covering coding of Audio, Picture, Multimedia and Hypermedia Information (MPEG and JPEG).

WG: Working Group.  A subsidiary body of an SC, that undertakes work planned with the SC.

NB: National Body.  The members of a Subcommittee, one member per country.

P-Member: A participating, voting NB (as opposed to O-Member, a non-voting observer).  There are 25 P-Members of SC 29 (voting country members).

WD: Working Draft.  Preparatory-stage draft of specification.

CD: Committee Draft.  Committee-stage draft of specification.

RAND: Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory.  General term for patents licensed for royalties, rather than available for use on a royalty-free basis.

NP: New Work Item Proposal.

MPEG: Moving Pictures Experts Group.  WG 11 of SC 29, with charter for coding of moving pictures and audio.

Type 1:  Option 1 on the 2007 ITU/ISO/IEC Common Patent Policy Patent Statement and Licensing Form, stating “The Patent Holder is prepared to grant a free of charge license to an unrestricted  number of applicants on a worldwide, non-discriminatory basis and under other reasonable terms and conditions to make, use, and sell implementations of the above document.”


Resolutions, the 92nd SC 29/WG 11 Meeting, 2010-04-19/23, Dresden, Germany

SC 29/WG 11 N 11241

Type-1 License Video Coding Standard

Given that there is a desire for using royalty free video coding technologies for some applications such as video distribution over the Internet, MPEG wishes to enquire of National Bodies about their willingness to commit to active participation (as defined by Section of the JTC1 directives) in developing a Type-1 video coding standard. MPEG would appreciate if NBs provide the names of individual organisations that will commit resources. MPEG will use the information gathered from the NB responses, particularly including the number of countries willing to actively participate, in order to decide at the Geneva meeting whether to request approval of a new Work Item Proposal. MPEG does not intend to reopen the issue, unless strong support of at least five national bodies is presented in the future.

ISO/IEC JTC 1 Directives, 5th Edition, Version 3.0


6.2.1 New Work Item Proposals (NP) … In order to be approved, the proposal shall be supported by a majority of all P-members of JTC 1 with at least five P-members of the SC to which the project will be assigned committed to active participation. …  Active participation for NPs includes involvement by NBs in more than one of the following:

• Attendance at meetings (see also 7.11);
• Contributing to the development of the WD;
• Performing substantial review on a CD and subsequent stages;
• Submitting detailed comment with ballots.


Meeting Report, the 91st SC 29/WG 11 Meeting, 2010-01-18/22, Kyoto, Japan

SC 29/WG 11 N 11077

Royalty-free Codecs

In order to help with the discussion on royalty-free codecs, several National Bodies provided input as requested in N11066 Call for Comments on Possible Future activities on “Royalty-free” Standardization by MPEG. MPEG thanks with N11222 Responses to NB position statements on N1066. No clear conclusions could be drawn from the diverse responses. Furthermore, neither MPEG nor ISO can guarantee that a standard developed with the goal of being RAND or royalty-free will actually be RAND or royalty-free since the analysis of patents is outside of the scope and competence of ISO and MPEG.

MPEG issued document N11221 Possible future actions on standardization with Type 1 licensing where the legal issues are summarized and discussed. Type 1 licensing refers to option 1 of the joint patent declaration form, where an intellectual property holder can indicate that he will not charge for his IP. Laymen refer to this type of licensing as royalty-free.

However, MPEG believes that 20 years after its publication some technology will become royalty-free. Since parts of MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 were published in 2013 and 2014, candidates are a MPEG-2 Part 2 baseline profile carved out of MPEG-2 Part 2, MPEG-1 Part 3 Layer 2 baseline profile carved out of the MPEG-1 part 3 Layer 2, a MPEG-1 Part 3 Layer 3 baseline profile carved out of the MPEG-1 part 3 Layer 3, and a MPEG-2 Part 1 baseline profile carved out of the MPEG-2 part 1. These candidates would be compatible with existing equipment. Alternatively, MPEG may define a new set of standards which are believed to be RF provided such standards provide sufficient differentiation to be successful in the market place.


Meeting Report, the 90th SC 29/WG 11 Meeting, 2009-10-26/30, Xian, China

SC 29/WG 11 N 10876

Royalty-free Codecs

The Chinese National Body encouraged MPEG to discuss the option of royalty-free codecs developed within MPEG (N11065 Responses to CNNB position statement on more friendly IPR policy). Especially small companies perceive licensing as cumbersome. Some royalty free standards have become successful in the market place.

MPEG might consider royalty-free codecs only as a supplement to its current standards development process. The preliminary results of the discussion are summarized in N11067 Summary of Issues and question from the 90th MPEG Meeting in connection with CNNB input document (M16903). In order to help with this discussion, MPEG requests National Bodies to provide input according to N11066 Call for Comments on Possible Future activities on “Royalty-free” Standardization by MPEG.


In late 2001, to much industry enthusiasm, H.264 and MPEG-4 AVC were launched as the world’s unifying codec family in a joint project between ITU and ISO/MPEG with the undertaking that the “JVT [Joint Video Team] will define a “baseline” profile. That profile should be royalty-free for all implementations.”

The failure to deliver on this royalty-free baseline is more than a lively standards history tale.

Years of exhausting disputes and doubts have recently resolved with court rulings soundly vindicating the original royalty-free process and vision.

And now, more than ever, the Web and broadband revolution need these groups to deliver on this 2001 royalty-free undertaking.  And in the coming months, ITU and ISO are poised to begin work on a next generation of codec and transport stream standards.

I have summarized a pro royalty-free viewpoint on how ITU and ISO/MPEG can and should go forward and complete this royalty free undertaking here.

Last week, Business News Americas broke the story that the ATSC Forum — the industry group that lobbies for the international adoption of the US ATSC digital TV standard of the Advanced Television Systems Committee — plans to close its doors at the end of September.

Although the ATSC Forum’s closure has gotten little attention in the US, the story has been picked up in South America, where the ATSC Forum’s lobbying efforts have been swamped by momentum for the Japanese-Brazilian ISDB system (an under-reported story in itself, as some are recognizing).
The ATSC Forum was “established in late 2001 to promote DTV and ATSC standards, especially throughout Latin America”, and has lobbied other countries, including the Philippines, as have rivals European-led DVB and Japanese-led ISDB.  And as quoted below, the Forum has cleverly worded a fantasy strategy to skirt patent fees that will no doubt bring a chuckle on close examination.

Recent strident exception the ATSC Forum has taken to contentions here that there are structurally-flawed patent licensing processes at the heart of ATSC and DTV communities (reiterated below as recently as last month in Haiti, see below), puts an interesting light on the reported reasoning that the ATSC Forum is giving for closing its doors:

“manufacturing companies that represent the ATSC are now less concerned about which digital TV standard the equipment they make represents and so are increasingly less inclined to finance a group advocating one standard or another”.

Really?  Surely, specific patent or commercial interests may be the last standing in an end-game of standards advocacy, particularly when interests are unclearly spread across multiple standards and advocacy groups.

And though the ATSC Forum website does not list which members are sponsors ($25K/year) or just general members ($5K/year), four vendors appear prominent at the website in recent years (Zenith/LG, Samsung, Dolby, and Harris).  Three, as well as the ATSC Forum and the ATSC, have filed in the FCC inquiry on patent royalty overcharging challenged by the CUT FATT group, and Harris, the largest transmission equipment supplier for ATSC, turned against certain patent licensing practices and sided with the CUT FATT group.

But according to government reports, in 2003, the ATSC Forum received $399K in export promotion market development funds from the International Trade Administration of the US Department of Commerce.  Ouch –  patent pool promotion as export trade policy.

Indeed, a 2004 success story at the US Department of Commerce Market Development Cooperator Program website describes the 3-year campaign in optimistic terms, predicting $8 billion in US exports (subsequently revised down to $5.6 million).  And also in terms that likely seemed entirely reasonable at the time, but which now seem vaguely like a fight-the-last-war replay of the 1960s Cold War color TV standards wars — little resembling the new globalization-era, each-country-is-a-partner ethic reflected in the launch of the new ISDB-T International Forum web site for South America.

And in 2007, the US National Association of Broadcasters funded a mobile TV initiative for $750K with many did-they-learn-the-right-lessons parallels to the ATSC Forum.

So the ATSC Forum is leaving unfinished business and (potentially) unlearned lessons:

Patent Licensing Processes Need Reform.
Hybrid Broadcast-Broadband Needs Uncaptured Standards.
The Curious Rebirth of Free TV Needs Tending.
US Mobile TV Risks Institutionalizing Same Mistakes.
Network policy in the broadband age should promote a global level playing field

In sum, the Network Policy Techno-Politics mix is still out of balance — but to ATSC Forum’s credit they have included technical reasoning along with political advocacy — something that recent FCC broadband dialog seems to lack so far.

To quote Richard Elkus’ 2008 “Winner Take All: How Competitiveness Shapes the Fate of Nations” (it was Elkus who in 1988 sounded the call that US digital TV policy may “reflect the ebbing tide of United States technological and economic leadership”):

“All of America’s technological industries and institutions are linked. … Strategy is everything.”


“Patent license fees are not important in the selection of a DTV transmission standard …. For almost every country in Latin America and the Caribbean, no patents apply for products manufactured and sold within that country”

ATSC Digital Television Update, Robert K. Graves, Chairman, ATSC Forum, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, August 7, 2009,

“But almost none of the patents that apply in the U.S. have been filed in the Philippines, so IP fees will be far less in the Philippines than the small fees that apply in the U.S.

Dolby has indicated that it has not registered its AC-3 patents in the Philippines, and consequently, Dolby cannot, and will not, charge patent royalties for products that are manufactured and sold in the Philippines (or on products bought from or sold to other non-patent countries by the Philippines).

The ATSC Standard incorporates the VSB transmission system developed by Zenith Electronics. However, no Zenith patents associated with VSB have been filed in the Philippines (compared to 13 in North America), so there can be no IP license fee associated with the VSB transmission system for products produced and sold in the Philippines.”

Response of the ATSC Forum to the Consultative Document on Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) of the National Telecommunications Commission Department of Transportation and Communications Republic of the Philippines,  October 30, 2006

I’ve pointed out how the EBU, the world’s largest organization of national broadcasters, is beating the drum to avoid patent lock-ins in new standards for hybrid broadcast-broadband TV services.

EBU’s own write-up of last week’s EBU/ETSI workshop is even more direct:

“Broadcasters are haunted by the ghosts of the submarine patents which emerged with MHP … This time this has to be avoided.”

The EBU should take a closer look at Ginga and Java DTV, which have taken the MHP patent issue head-on …


Licensing will be key for Hybrid Broadcast Broadband

10 September 2009

“… Finally there was an interactive discussion with the packed audience. Two important areas emerged from the discussions. The first was the need for attention to licence fees in these new systems. Broadcasters are haunted by the ghosts of the submarine patents which emerged with MHP five years after services had begun, and which was responsible for missed opportunities for its use. This time this has to be avoided. Particulary for the hybrid broadcasting area where the world is used to licence free Internet systems.”

“More Democratic” … “It is a matter of social justice”

So US ambassadors have lobbied South American governments since 2007 that “[t]he issue is whether the government will choose the [ATSC] digital television standard that is already providing the highest quality, lowest cost, and most democratic opportunities …”

In recent months Peru, Argentina, and now Chile have turned down ATSC for the Japanese-Brazilian ISDB digital TV system, so it is worth asking the somewhat inconvenient question of how did a controversial, pricey, and generally questionable digital television patent pool drift into becoming a US diplomatic cause for democracy slash trade policy?

And whether this advocacy should be carried forward under the leadership of the newly-appointed Ambassador Philip Verveer of the US State Department’s International Communication and Information Policy (CIP) group as it was by his predecessor David A. Gross, who as late as February 2008, advocated in an op-ed column published in Chile:

“During my recent visit to Chile, I met with decision-makers from the government, the National Congress, industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the media. I explained the clear advantages of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) standard: a significant better quality and coverage and a lower cost”

The CIP is one of seven issue-oriented organizations within the Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  In addition to Verveer, tech industry veteran Lorraine Hariton has just just been appointed Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs.

There is a lot of food for thought for the new team at CIP on this topic:

– trade policy and standards capture
broadband-broadcast convergence bridging a global digital divide
global level playing field network policy in the broadband age

To name a few.  Here’s to hoping the new CIP team will dig in, update outdated thinking, and lean forward!


The Opportunity for Chile in the Digital Television Age
Ambassador David A. Gross, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy, February 14, 2008:

“More Democratic: For technical reasons, the ATSC standard allows for a much greater number of broadcast stations to operate in a given area, thereby allowing for new broadcast stations and more types of additional broadcasts such as educational programming. “

American ATSC Digital TV Standard Offers Chile Advantages of Accessibility, Lower Costs, and Higher Quality”, March 16, 2007:

“Ambassador Kelly pointed out that ATSC offers Chile the unique opportunity of approaching the information society for all its citizens. He noted that the American standard “is much more flexible and open to future changes at reasonable and accessible costs to all.” “It is a matter of social justice that all citizens are able to participate and are guaranteed access,” he emphasized.”

Remarks to the Commercial Association of Sao Paulo (ACSP)
E. Anthony Wayne,  U.S. Assistant Secretary for Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, Sao Paulo, Brazil, April 6, 2006:

I’d like to briefly discuss Brazil’s vibrant telecommunications industry. I understand that President Lula is going to announce the selection of the Brazilian digital TV standard soon.

Of the several options on the table, we believe the ATSC standard [Advanced Television Systems Committee (the North American standard for digital TV, including high-definition)] offers the best combination of economic, social, and technical advantages. It has been adopted by the U.S., Canada, Mexico and South Korea. These countries that have adopted the ATSC standards are seeing a rapid increase in the sales of high definition television products. Brazil’s adoption of the ATSC standard will ensure a hemispheric standard, creating a market of 800 million people for DTV products and services.

The U.S. No longer manufactures television sets. This poises Brazil to supply high definition television sets, converter boxes, and transmission equipment throughout the Hemisphere. Brazil’s potential role as a leading supplier will help create high-paying, highly-skilled jobs and significant economic development.

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation has set aside $150 million for U.S. Companies to invest in information technology development projects in Brazil. And U.S. Companies have already expressed their intention of making significant investments in ATSC-related manufacturing in Brazil.

ATSC’s open development process ensures Brazil a significant role in the evolution of the standard. Evolving ATSC standards present great opportunities for Brazilian-U.S. And Brazilian-South Korean collaboration and partnership.

It is very exciting to see the “Open Video” movement taking off and finding voice with the upcoming Open Video Conference.

This well-earned “open breakthrough” has been a long time coming.  After all, open standards, and particularly royalty-free standards, are the very foundation of the Open Internet as we know it, and Internet leaders are vocal that open and royalty free standards are essential to its future.

But where are the open standards for open video?  Why don’t we already have them?

Hint:  business guru W. Edwards Deming once said: “If you control an industry’s standards, you control that industry lock, stock, and ledger”.

This bitter pill of insight points to the first thing you should know about open video and open standards:

1) Open Video is Collateral Damage
of the Digital TV Standards Wars

It’s not hard to figure out that if you could quietly bake your patents into a standard and then name your price after the standard becomes widely deployed, you could make a lot of money and wield a lot of control.

Great work if you can get it, and that’s pretty much the story of a set of international video and digital TV standards that got going in the 1990s, with MPEG the poster child of modern patent-pooled standards.

Of course this is a tale of big bucks.  Think $26 to $40 per TV, billions of dollars in royalties on billions of devices, vendor shoot-outs, litigation, dueling industry groups, back-room deals, claims of abuse, and consumer groups pushing for public disclosure of confidential patent licensing practices hidden behind claims they are “reasonable and nondiscriminatory”  — “RAND” in standards-speak.

So it is hardly surprising that RAND licensing practices and such developed through the DTV experience have done little to nothing to contribute royalty-free video technologies or standards now needed for broadband deployments, which today are essentially captured by proprietary solutions.

2) Standards Aren’t Just a “Techy Topic”
— They’re a Policy Problem

In fact, scratch almost any network policy issue and you’re likely to find a standards issue lurking inside.  Indeed, America’s broadband plan needs a standards policy.

Turns out country after country has a national “standards strategy”.

UK, France, Germany, Canada, and Korea to name a few.  Some closely tie international standards advantage to IPR & patents, as in Japan (“Intellectual Property Strategy Headquarters decided the International Standardization Comprehensive Strategy, with the aim of enhancing the international competitiveness of Japanese industries and contributing to setting global rules”) and China (“[the] Trade Barrier Treaty [TBT] can be used under the mask of standardization, patents and intellectual-property rights to obtain most world trade advantages.”).

And those that don’t, like Taiwan, have vendors crying foul.

Even in the U.S., a prescient 1992 Congressional report warned:

“The United States has been fortunate to have a pluralistic, industry-led standards setting process that has served us well in the past. Whether it will continue to do so in the future in the face of bruising international economic competition is uncertain.”

So if you think standards are for geeks and not wonks, think again.  As a Toyo University professor recently put the blunt zen to it:

“Standardization activities are political negotiations and not a forum for assessing which technologies excel over others.”

3) Open Source Doesn’t Solve
the Open Standards Problem

I don’t actually know anyone who is really confused or bent out shape about the difference between “open source” and “open standard” or believes that one is a good substitute for the other.  They are of course different things (one’s a license, one’s a specification, and so on).

But if you are inclined to dig in to this, check here or search the Web for “open source v. open standards’ and you’ll find numerous nice explanations.

4) Don’t Confuse Patent Reform with
Patent Licensing (They’re Different)

Another potential source of confusion is the distinction between patent reform — various proposals to make it more difficult to get a patent, to assure that patents are of appropriate quality, to tighten definitions of obviousness and so forth — and patent licensing — the rules and practices of patent pool licensing, disclosure, and IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) policies of standards groups.

Patents have been around for centuries, and so have patent pools, but the regulatory and policy linkages between the two are less than it might seem.  In fact, for a long time patent pools were rare and highly frowned upon by regulators (they weren’t even mentioned in the 1992 Congressional report on standards).  Then in the late 1990s many would trace the beginning of  the “modern” patent pool era to the U.S. Department of Justice’s authorization of the MPEG patent pool.

Pools and patents serve very different policy needs, raise different policy concerns, and by and large are even regulated by different entities.

So unless you are counting on a major scaling back of the patent system that somehow just makes patent issues go away (and few people are), it makes more sense to find a way, as many have, to achieve business model results.

5) “RAND” Isn’t

So what does the term “reasonable and nondiscriminatory” actually mean?

In theory it’s the commitment to fair licensing required of patent holders in standards groups that — unlike the W3C which defines HTML — are open to patents.

But in reality, since price isn’t set until after the standard comes out (sometimes years later), RAND ends up meaning whatever the patent holders want it to mean.

Studies of RAND licensing typically conclude:

“few SSOs [standard-setting organizations] define the term ‘reasonable and nondiscriminatory’ or have mechanisms to resolve disputes about its interpretation”

So Richard Stallman said it well:

“half of “RAND” is deceptive and the other half is prejudiced”

Still, sincere efforts have been made to give the term “reasonable and nondiscriminatory” a meaning  in standards IPR policies. For example the American Bar Association’s Standards Development Patent Policy Manual is a good source.  But good luck if you hope to wade through lawyerly weighing of “multiple factors” to get any particular practice declared unreasonable or discriminatory.

6) Don’t Fall For FUD — There Is a Solution

Finally, it seems there is a never-ending version of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt that goes something like “you can never really be sure that someone might have a patent so there is no way to ever be sure a standard is truly royalty free”.

To be blunt — this is nonsense, and don’t believe it.  Not only are there thousands of royalty-free standards in the world, and although the number of patent disclosures started to accelerate in the 1990s, the vast majority of standards have no particular IPR or patent issues to speak of.

And even in areas of particular patent thickets and patent controversies, standards organizations with a determined and specific royalty-free policy and process (Khronos and Web3D are a couple of examples) have successfully established their royalty-free credentials.  Sure it takes diligence, a “Freedom-to-Operate” analytical approach, proactive patent reading, time and determination.  Dirac is already making good progress down this path.

So get going Open Video-ers — let’s get some truly open, truly royalty-free standards initiatives going!


“The Internet is fundamentally based on the existence of open, non-proprietary standards” Vint Cerf, “the father of the Internet” cited in The Importance of Open Standards in Interoperability, OFE Onepage Brief No.1 (31.10.08.) Available at

“It was the standardisation around HTML that allowed the web to take off. It was not only the fact that it is standard but the fact that it is open and royalty-free. If HTML had not been free, if it had been proprietary technology, then there would have been the business of actually selling HTML and the competing JTML, LTML, MTML products.”

Tim Berners-Lee, quoted in Standards and the Future of the Internet, Declaration 25th February 2008, at

Updating market information in this post on the release of the royalty-free OMS Video draft specification, here are data points about MPEG released at the MPEG 20th Year Anniversary Commemoration in Tokyo in November 2008.

Importantly, Lawrence A. Horn, CEO of the license administration company, affirmed the:

“Freedom of Licensors and Licensees to develop competing products and standards”

(Note: the US Department of Justice required as much in its 1997 antitrust review of proposed MPEG patent licensing:

”We understand this to mean that licensees are free also to develop technological alternatives to the MPEG-2 compression standard.’)

Specific market info:

  • “~ 3.5 Billion MPEG-2 Devices
  • More than 1 million people working 40 hrs/week, 52 wks/year for 15 yrs (1994-2008)
  • ~ 40 Billion MPEG-2 Video (DVD) Discs
  • $2.5 Trillion in MPEG-2 Product Sales
  • In 2008 each of the world’s ~ 6.7 billion people will spend an average of $66.46 on MPEG-2 product”

Some interesting observations were made by Leonardo Chiariglione, the convenor of the MPEG committee:

  • “the MPEG-4 Visual licensing killed half of the standard
  • The “use fee” licensing model facilitated the widespread use of proprietary codecs
  • In the second half of the 1990s MPEG repeatedly invited ITU-T to collaborate on MPEG-4 Visual. The lack of collaboration produced the alternative H.263 Recommendation, similar – but not quite – to MPEG-4
  • 20 years after MPEG was born There are just too many video codecs…
    Compression technology has advanced
    The entry level to make video codecs is getting lower
    Many devices have to support many different codecs”

All the presentations of the commemoration are located here.