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Patents The Courts Apple

Audio and Video Patents Haunt Apple and Android 98

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i've-got-patent-pending-on-blue dept.
FlorianMueller writes "There seems to be no end to those smartphone patent suits. This week's special: audio and video patents that its owners claim are key to formats like MP3 and MPEG 2. The targets: Apple and Android. On Monday, Alcatel-Lucent subsidiary Multimedia Patent Trust filed a patent infringement suit in Southern California against Apple, LG (over 64 different phones including some Android-based ones), Canon and TiVo over four video patents. Fortunately for Apple and LG, none of the patents asserted against those two companies are likely to be in force by the time the judge decides, so there's no risk of an injunction. They may nevertheless have to pay for past damages. The same company once obtained a record $1.5 billion jury verdict against Microsoft but saw it slashed by a judge. And on Tuesday, Hybrid Audio LLC filed a suit in Eastern Texas, asserting a patent against various Apple products and certain Android-based products from HTC and Dell."
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Audio and Video Patents Haunt Apple and Android

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  • MPEG-LA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by qbast (1265706) on Thursday December 23, 2010 @10:00AM (#34651162)
    So MPEG-LA protection racket does not actually protect anybody? What a surprise.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Don't really want to be pedantic but then, the "patent lawsuits" benefit only the lawyers.

      Patents are there to protect the inventors, but nowadays, the entire thing has been turned upside down by the lawyers, making it a bane to society rather than boon.

      • by pak9rabid (1011935) on Thursday December 23, 2010 @10:37AM (#34651382)
        I keep hearing people blame this shit on the lawyers, but I just don't buy it. Lawyers don't have 100% say in whether a company sues another company for patent infringement. The lawyers merely point this out to the people in charge (the CEO, board of directors, etc). THOSE are the guys pulling the trigger and making the final decision to open these bullshit lawsuits...the lawyers are just doing their jobs. And no, I am not a lawyer.
        • by Overzeetop (214511) on Thursday December 23, 2010 @10:47AM (#34651438) Journal

          The entire trust is managed by IPValue, a firm with nothing but lawyers who look for ways to extract money from others based on their patent portfolio.

          I quote:
          "IPVALUE’s operations are powered by a best-in-class team of experts in IP licensing and negotiations, IP law, business, and technology. Throughout their professional careers, our team members have generated more than $3 billion from IP transactions"

          They don't make anything. You send them your unused or unenforced IP, and they go get you money through licensing or litigation.

          So, yes, I blame the lawyers.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Old97 (1341297)
            You both have good points, but I'd like to remind the GP that the legislators who've either taken IP law to absurd lengths or failed to correct it and the Judges who've been enforcing software and business method patents when they don't appear to be included in the intent of the law are almost all lawyers. American society seems to me be be of the Lawyers, by the Lawyers and for the Lawyers. The "Law" and the Legal system have become ends in themselves which is not why they were created. They were created
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by nkovacs (1199463)
            Blaming the lawyers is neither fair nor productive. The blame lies in a broken patent system that cripples innovation rather than promotes it. We need to change the laws such that software patents are not allowed. Blaming the lawyers is like shooting the messenger.
            • You have anything to prove that innovation is crippled? New stuff comes out so regularly we're practically numb to advances now. Innovation seems to be moving along at a pretty decent clip. Taking away the patent system MAY increase that innovation, but there isn't a single scrap of evidence that points in that direction.

              • The problem is that our whole IP system exists -- according to the Constitution -- to advance innovation.

                So the onus *should* be on its supporters to prove that it does that, not on everyone else to prove that it doesn't.
              • New stuff comes out so regularly we're practically numb to advances now. Innovation seems to be moving along at a pretty decent clip.

                Every time a patent suit is settled or adjudicated without a finding of willful infringement, the patent system has failed to promote innovation.

            • by sjames (1099)

              Lawyers are hardly messengers though. They are an essential cog in the patent machine. If they stop, the damage goes away.

              If a messenger stops, the bad thing doesn't quit happening.

            • But the current laws allow lawyers to abuse it, and so they do. The blame lies at both ends. Sure, having proper copyright law in place would stop the other thing, but that doesn't make the lawyers who pull off this kind of shit innocent.

          • Did these patents come out of nowhere, landing in the lawyer's laps? Did they just submit random gibberish to the USPTO in the hope that something would apply to something someone actually creates?

            Or did an inventor, somewhere, come up with an idea which they patented and then decided to raise money by, directly or indirectly, selling the patents to this bunch of lawyers?

          • by Nyder (754090)

            The entire trust is managed by IPValue, a firm with nothing but lawyers who look for ways to extract money from others based on their patent portfolio.

            I quote:
            "IPVALUE’s operations are powered by a best-in-class team of experts in IP licensing and negotiations, IP law, business, and technology. Throughout their professional careers, our team members have generated more than $3 billion from IP transactions"

            They don't make anything. You send them your unused or unenforced IP, and they go get you money through licensing or litigation.

            So, yes, I blame the lawyers.

            So basicly they are like collection agencies?

          • They don't make anything. You send them your unused or unenforced IP, and they go get you money through licensing or litigation.

            So, yes, I blame the lawyers

            Seems to me the obvious people to blame would be the companies sending IPVALUE their IP to enforce...you know, the ones that actually OWN the IP...again these lawyers are just doing their jobs.

        • by MarkvW (1037596)

          Lawyers are like Bill Laimbeer. People only hate him if he isn't on their team.

        • I keep hearing people blame this shit on the lawyers, but I just don't buy it.

          Lawyers only implement the profoundly absurd laws the Congress has passed. They also do it in a sociopathic manner, but some people think we need that in society.

        • by lennier (44736)

          I keep hearing people blame this shit on the lawyers, but I just don't buy it. Lawyers don't have 100% say in whether a company sues another company for patent infringement.

          Lawyers don't sue people. People with lawyers sue people.
          You'll take my lawyer when you pry him/her from my cold dead HR department.
          If laws are outlawed, only outlaws will have laws.

          USA! USA! USA! *

          * Void where prohibited. All rights reserved. If symptoms persist lobby a Senator. USA (tm) is a registered trademark of United Suits Association, LLC and its use does not constitute endorsement of product. Do not taunt happy fun lawyer.

    • Re:MPEG-LA (Score:4, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday December 23, 2010 @10:47AM (#34651436) Journal
      MPEG-LA explicitly claims to protect you only from its members. As far as I know, they mostly deliver on that. Now, exactly how forthright their salesweasels are about the fact that the MPEG-LA patent pool is not as exhaustive as commonly believed I don't know....
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        and nothing to stop their members from selling a patent to a separate troll company and then getting a cut of the vig.

      • Re:MPEG-LA (Score:4, Interesting)

        by arivanov (12034) on Thursday December 23, 2010 @11:30AM (#34651768) Homepage

        http://www.betanews.com/article/MPEG-LA-wins-major-MPEG2-settlement-from-AlcatelLucent/1269898704 [betanews.com]

        MPEG LA theoretically already dealt with it and Alcatel/Lucent has formally agreed to surrender all patents to them.

        I am surprised that the lawsuit regarding these patents has been filed. In fact, I suspect that a "contempt of court" ICBM is already somewhere around the highest point of its trajectory and is dispensing suitable size warheads.

        Even if it did not, such hiding of patents while participating in standard bodies is as per US law an antitrust matter. There is a significant body of precedent and most of it is not in favour of the companies which hid patents while participating in a standard body.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          There is a significant body of precedent and most of it is not in favour of the companies which hid patents while participating in a standard body.

          See Rambus and their previous lawsuit wins and their current business operations which are still based on those same patents.

          • Re:MPEG-LA (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Solandri (704621) on Thursday December 23, 2010 @04:25PM (#34654484)

            See Rambus and their previous lawsuit wins and their current business operations which are still based on those same patents.

            That's the first thing that came to my mind too. But the courts didn't decide in Rambus' favor. They decided that Rambus did violate JEDEC's rules for participation. Unfortunately JEDEC's rules didn't specify a punishment for a member violating its rules. Meanwhile the rules for violating patent law were very clear on their punishments under U.S. law.

            Basically, hiding patents while participating in a standards body is not illegal per se. It's the fact that it violates the rules of the standards body which makes it illegal. But since that legality stems from the standards body's rules, the punishment also has to be specified in those rules. JEDEC didn't specify those punishments, so even though Rambus illegally violated their rules, there was no legal punishment they could impose on Rambus for that violation. At best, all they could get Rambus on was breach of contract, and rescind Rambus' membership in JEDEC. But that wouldn't affect any of Rambus' patents.

            • by i_b_don (1049110)

              From how you described it, I'd think they would be open to a fraud lawsuit based upon damages that occurred from Rambus willfully hiding information. What damages you ask? Why having to pay licencing fees to Rambus for patents they hid. So for every dollar Rambus charges in licences, they have to pay the company a dollar in return. That just seems too fair.

              d
               

        • Re:MPEG-LA (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 23, 2010 @03:11PM (#34653894)

          I am in the middle of this so let me comment. (I am not one of the parties being sued, I offer comment, and all of the below is public knowledge)

          MPT is owned by Alcatel/Lucent. What is important to remember here is that Alcatel is a vendor of video techology as well as a patent owner and a member of MPEG-LA. When Alcatel bought Lucent they formed a company called MPT (multimedia patent trust) that is the warehouse for the patents owned by Lucent at the time. They did this literally days before consummating the deal with Alcatel in an attempt to hide those patents from their legal obligations to MPEG-LA. MPEG-LA called BS on this and counter sued them based on their original agreement with Alcatel which would have Alcatel turn over all essential patents for MPEG-2. Alcatel has done so, but MPEG-LA has no further jurisdiction over Alcatel beyond that original agreement. Most important however is that Alcatel is suing over MPEG-2, and h.264 use of the remaining patents. For MPEG-2 in particular the '377 patent is meaningless because by virtue of the fact that it is not a method used in MPEG-2 and it was not considered 'essential' to MPEG-LA/Alcatel in that lawsuit, so therefore is pretty much junk (filler). The rest of the patents are primarily h.264 related (and would similarly apply to xvid, divx, webm, etc..) so trust me when I say that MPT is far from finished in filing lawsuits. The M.O. of MPT is to contact these companies, offer them a license agreement, and on failure to reach that agreement, they file suit. So far they have filed against all of the major broadcasters based on distribution of media created in violation of those patents (encoding, decoding, collaboration), and now they are after the phone manufacturers (decoding). They are primarily after the large scale players right now but they are far from done.

          As much as you may want to hate on MPEG-LA, this is not their fault, nor is it in their ability to solve. This is the dirtbag company known as Alcatel, the sole beneficiary of this lawsuit, who is creating tremendous amounts of pain here for all of the major players, and at the end of the day, it is a tax that you, the consumer will end up paying one way or another. We need MPEG-LA specifically because it puts an end to bullshit like this, we need for the judge(s) in this case to call enough and force Alcatel to join MPEG-LA otherwise this is going to be a very long, drawn out, and expensive fight that could only possibly benefit Alcatel and for sure will cost you money.

          • We need MPEG-LA specifically because it puts an end to bullshit like this.

            We have MPEG-LA and it obviously doesn't put an end to bullshit like this. What we need is to abolish the software patents that got us here in the first place.

          • by arivanov (12034)

            Well, Alcatel is still licencing lots of MPEG-LA patents.

            Hmm... I wonder how will its bottom line will be affected if MPEG-LA revoked all of them out of the blue... Food for thought you know...

            Unfortunately the MPEG-LA is what it is - a standards body. All talk, no teeth.

    • Maybe the big players in the market will realize that allowing private ownership of the idea of 1s and 0s was not such a great idea after all.

      Then the lobbyists who once bribed congress for tougher IP laws will change their tune and then the rest of us can have a more liberated market to do business with.
      • Maybe the big players in the market will realize that allowing private ownership of the idea of 1s and 0s was not such a great idea after all.

        Exactly the opposite. The "Big Players" love this system, as it ensures that no young upstart will ever enter meaningfully threaten their dominance. As long as complex software creation requires a few million dollars, only the big guys can play. It's a small price to pay to ensure their long-term survival (especially since they all have their own IP caches they can sue over.)

    • by gig (78408)

      MPEG has been working for 20 years, and it brought you the DVD, MP3, iPod+iTunes, Blu-Ray, mobile YouTube, and online HD video. So cry me a fucking river.

  • big corps are being targeted by patent trolls.
  • The MPEG working group patented those formats almost 20 years ago.
    I really hate these patent trolls.
    Congress should fix this mess.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cpu6502 (1960974)

      The MPEG working group patented those formats almost 20 years ago

      Except for the Spectral Band Replication (SBR) extension for MP3pro and AACplus. That was developed and owned by a private company, so it's possible there are other components that are also privately owned, rather than MPEG owned.

    • This would require a legislature NOT captured by corporate interests. It would also require the legislature to care.

  • Apple, Microsoft & Google have got to be getting sick of this - they need to open up their wallets and toss some serious money towards lobbyists to get the patent system changed.

    And if they are not getting sick of this: shame on them!

    • by qbast (1265706)
      Just don't be suprised if their idea of change will be along lines of 'only big companies can profit from patents' .
    • by alen (225700)

      apple and MS patent their own inventions

      these patents date to 1989 when computer video was just beginning and look legit

      • by tyrione (134248)

        apple and MS patent their own inventions

        these patents date to 1989 when computer video was just beginning and look legit

        Those patents have a 17 year life span. They have run out.

    • Apple, Microsoft & Google have got to be getting sick of this - they need to open up their wallets and toss some serious money towards lobbyists to get the patent system changed.

      The competing idea, and one very attractive to corporate bean counters, is that they can maintain profitable patent cartels between themselves. After all, this has worked well in the past, to the detriment of the consumer. What has changed is simply the commoditization of evil: now anybody with a laptop and $5 in the bank can equip themselves with bogus patents and go hunting. Oops, now the system has to change. But perhaps the corporate bean counters do not have in mind changes that would benefit socie

  • Patent Gridlock (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nurb432 (527695)

    Are we there yet?

  • Boom! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RenHoek (101570) on Thursday December 23, 2010 @10:25AM (#34651304) Homepage

    I can only hope so many patent lawsuits will be started so that the whole system implodes upon its own stupidity.. Seems to much to ask for lawmakers to not take money from the industry so this might be the only way left..

    • ..I'm awaiting the announcement that Apple and Google are withdrawing from the US market and only selling to the rest of the world due solely to Patents ...

      • by Octorian (14086)

        Actually, the way all these cases seem to go, they really only need to withdraw from the east Texas market.

    • by thijsh (910751)
      Fuck man, I bet a thousand lawyers just came in their pants when they read your post... A system imploding upon peoples stupidity sounds like a sexy golden opportunity in the ears of those money-grubbing vultures...
    • We will hold a meeting regarding Patents of Mass Stupidity
      --CIA

  • I call dibs on MP3
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 23, 2010 @10:44AM (#34651416)

    Money is being spent on innovation........

    • by dwandy (907337)
      Not sure how much (internal) suing is going on (yet) in China, but they are not only innovating, they're patenting at an increasing rate. It's only a matter of time before they overtake the US in terms of patents and then the (already bankrupt) US (who already can't make it's own goods) won't be allowed to make things without paying a China a (patent) royalty. The only hope is that those getting rich excluding competition will see past their current greed and move to strike down IP protections while the US
  • Uh, is this not why we have things like Ogg Vorbis?
    • by cbreak (1575875)
      No. Ogg Vorbis suffers from the exact same weakness.
      • Ogg is unrestricted by software patents.
        • Ogg is unrestricted by software patents.

          The correct statement is: "There is nobody using Ogg who would be capable of paying large amounts of money to lawyers if there was a patent suit against them". If iPhone and Android used Ogg, then you could be assured that someone would come up with some patents that they claim are infringed by Ogg.

          • by yourlord (473099)

            I have a Samsung P3 which plays ogg vorbis and flac natively.. I'm pretty sure Samsung has some seriously deep pockets..

            • Be aware that almost every device that plays Ogg also plays MP3. There's little reason for Fraunhoffer et al to sue a manufacturer for violating their patents when that manufacturer is already licensing their patents for a different part of the same product. They're getting their cut, they're only going to get upset if Samsung et al stop licensing the patents, using as an excuse that having removed MP3 support from their players, they no longer need to license the technologies.
          • "If [...] Android used Ogg"

            Despite the fact that for some reason the hardware marketers nearly always leave it out of the list of "supported media", as far as I know all Android implementations support Ogg Vorbis audio natively.

            Doesn't really change the basic premise that for virtually any piece of modern software out there, some idiotically-broad should-never-have-granted patent somewhere can probably be found and stretched to make an infringement claim against it (including Ogg Vorbis audio)

            I'm guessing

          • by stinerman (812158)

            Correct.

            To prove that Vorbis or Theora or VP8 (aka WebM) is actually unrestricted would require an exhaustive search of every patent to determine if any of those technologies might possibly infringe. That is to say you have to prove a negative, which is incredibly hard under most circumstances.

          • by Sehnsucht (17643)

            Rock Band and possibly Guitar Hero use multitrack Vorbis audio files for the various audio stems that make up a song.

            Harmonix and Activision surely are juicy targets, no?

            Granted, they may have already paid trolls off...

        • Ogg is unrestricted by KNOWNsoftware patents.

  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Thursday December 23, 2010 @11:12AM (#34651610) Homepage

    now we can see why google bought on2 and provided (eventually) a royalty-free license for anyone implementing free software versions of the VP8 algorithm.

    also we can see why the BBC developed "DIRAC" several years ago by combining the best algorithms they could find from *expired* patents.

    so when you have situations where both ends of the (video) conversation can be controlled, there do exist "ways out" that terminate the possibility for patent trolls to get at you. (such as, for example, youtube being controlled by google and eventually transmitting VP8-encoded video and also android and webkit having VP8 receiver CODECs) ... it's just that there is still a sticking-point (due to the amounts of money invested) where the "de-facto" standard comes out of an organisation where patents are the norm. so i think this is a good thing, ultimately, for these big players to be smacked about and to lose billions off their profit margins. perhaps they will start to pursue similar strategies that google has with VP8, and the BBC did with DIRAC.

  • by mu51c10rd (187182) on Thursday December 23, 2010 @11:20AM (#34651676)

    I sue you
    You sue me
    We're a sue-happy family
    With a great big suit
    And lawyer from me to you
    We'll make sure we sue you too.

  • This whole software patent thing is completely unsustainable. It's eventually going to get to a point where even the megafirms like Google, Apple, Microsoft etc will simply be unable to do any business at all. I'm hopeful that the whole thing implodes soon.
    • by Tanuki64 (989726)
      Whether Apple, Microsoft, Google sue each other to bankruptcy hardly matters. The money remains in the country.

      Software and other patents will go away as soon as they not profitable anymore for the U.S. American economy. So lets hope China will catch up soon with its patents so America has to pay more for patents than it receives.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Go ahead, mod me down for being 'anti American'.

    This is frankly a cost of doing business in the country where "we don't like anything that impedes business". We have no such problems here in Europeland; whilst we might force companies to do proper safety tests on their hardware before selling it, such things are actually not especially onerous, unless you've got a dangerous crappy product.

    US Patents are horribly broken, and add a considerable cost to anyone thinking about doing (high tech) business in that

    • Good point.
      I'd go one step further and say that soon there will be a hell of a lot more products that carry the warning.
      "Not for sale/resale in the USA"
      SME sized companies won't want to sell stuff their just to line the pockets of lawyers rather than their shareholders.

      Instead of us saying "Windows, broken by Design" (well some of us anyways), now we can say, "USA, patently broken."

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Thursday December 23, 2010 @02:25PM (#34653486)

    Software patents must die. Patents were never designed to protect ideas--especially mathematical ideas and a computer program is a mathematical idea that has been written down.

    Copyright your code, treat it as a trade secret, but don't roadblock other developers from independently deriving their own mathematical ideas, however abstractly expresed. If you have code that you can link to a particular machine of yours, fine. But pure code must be free.

    I see this thing as a ******* free speech issue. Mathematical speech is speech. So long as you're not copying somebody else's ******* speech, then you can say or write whatever the **** you want. This is ******* ******* America and it ****** me the **** off.

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