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Steve Jobs Hints At Theora Lawsuit 686

netcrawler writes "Steve Jobs' open letter on Flash has prompted someone at the Free Software Foundation Europe to ask him about his support of proprietary format H.264 over Theora. Jobs' pithy answer (email with headers) suggests Theora might infringe on existing patents and that 'a patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other "open source" codecs now.' Does he know something we don't?" Update: 05/01 00:38 GMT by T : Monty Montgomery of Xiph (the group behind Theora, as well as Ogg Vorbis, and more) provides a pointed, skeptical response to the implicit legal threat, below.
Monty writes: "Thomson Multimedia made their first veiled patent threats against Vorbis almost ten years ago. MPEG-LA has been rumbling for the past few years. Maybe this time it will actually come to something, but it hasn't yet. I'll get worried when the lawyers advise me to; i.e., not yet.

The MPEG-LA has insinuated for some time that it is impossible to build any video codec without infringing on at least some of their patents. That is, they assert they have a monopoly on all digital video compression technology, period, and it is illegal to even attempt to compete with them. Of course, they've been careful not to say quite exactly that.

If Jobs's email is genuine, this is a powerful public gaffe ('All video codecs are covered by patents.') He'd be confirming MPEG's assertion in plain language anyone can understand. It would only strengthen the pushback against software patents and add to Apple's increasing PR mess. Macbooks and iPads may be pretty sweet, but creative individuals don't really like to give their business to jackbooted thugs."
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Steve Jobs Hints At Theora Lawsuit

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  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @07:50PM (#32051660)

    It's not just SJ. Each day with the news, I hate the rich a little more.
    I think I'm close to the point if I saw him in the street, I'd take a swing at him.

    Am I being manipulated into this anger, or have they just put their heel on the back of my neck long enough that their propaganda has stopped working?

  • Connect the dots (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BearRanger ( 945122 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @07:52PM (#32051684)

    Microsoft conspicuously said today that IE9 will only support H.264 for HTML5 video. Add in Apple and you have the two largest consumer OS vendors backing the same codec. I suspect they do know something the public doesn't, even if they themselves will not be a party to this patent challenge.

    Theora will just end up becoming collateral damage in the coming war all of the large vendors are about to wage with Google. Follow the breadcrumbs and that's where you eventually end up.

  • Re:Well (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rqg ( 1413223 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @07:56PM (#32051722)
    Maybe he meant: there are no software patents [in Europe].
    I'm guessing that by the Free Software Foundation Europe mentioned in the summary.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:00PM (#32051768)
    A long long time ago. I really hate people who try to put an end to anything open. I still can't believe this guy who has put himself in front of people waiting for over 5 years for a new liver now does something like this... Come on guy, you got a new chance, someone else probably died because you could BUY that liver in front of her away and now this... No, not much sympathy from me. You're a bitch Steve.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:01PM (#32051788)
    Read the books about Steve Jobs. Even people who like him say he is extremely abusive. My guess is that there is a connection between his abusiveness and his getting cancer at 53.
  • by LordRPI ( 583454 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:08PM (#32051872)
    I'm ready to go "all-in" with a bet that says the second Google releases the source to VP8, every company with patents on video compression will begin examining VP8 source code for patents. They have their legal teams and engineers ramped up to start digging ASAP and I do believe that's what Steve Jobs means.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:09PM (#32051896)
    Many people (including theora developers) close their eyes and cover their ears, pretending it's patent free. Whether it is or isn't is something a jury will ultimately decide. But keep in mind that video encoding/decoding is a patent landmine and East Texas jurors have a penchant for awarding large payouts. Last year, a buddy of mine (engineering degree, L2 in law school, now a member of the bar making serious bank) did some research into theora and his opinion was that it most certainly did violate multiple patents. He notified the theora developers... their response? Don't tell us because then it will be willful infringement.
  • Re:Sensationalism (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Pinky's Brain ( 1158667 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:14PM (#32051942)

    This isn't about Xiph ... this is about Google.

    Apple is in a very similar position as Microsoft was a while ago, and they are using the EXACT same playbook ... FUD.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:21PM (#32052010)

    The porn industry chooses its standards. Everyone else follows.

    It's interesting how often this myth gets repeated. If anything, the porn industry went with HD DVD in the high definition disc format wars. And we all know how well that worked out: []

  • Re:Rubbish (Score:3, Interesting)

    by quantumplacet ( 1195335 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:24PM (#32052038)

    nowhere did he say it would hurt apple as a company, or give google a competitive edge. what he did say, and that it you made no attempt to refute, is that it would hurt apple's and microsoft's attempts to push proprietary codecs as standard.

  • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:26PM (#32052060) Homepage Journal

    I'm about 99% sure that Apple does, indeed, own H.264 patents.

    The various *LAs are licensing consortiums. They don't own the patents they license, they're authorized to license them (and then only in limited ways) by the patent holders.

    Steve Jobs would indeed know if there was a group assembling a patent pool to "go after" Theora. And from what I've read of Xiph's attitudes to patents, I suspect they have a case. It'll be interesting to see.

    (Maybe this'll help Dirac, which in many ways is a more promising codec, and has the advantage that the BBC did quite a bit of work on making it "Free")

  • Re:Rubbish (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Concern ( 819622 ) * on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:12PM (#32052396) Journal

    I have an answer, though who knows if this is true.

    Microsoft loathes Linux and will do anything in their power to destroy it. In the long term, they may even believe it is as big as or a bigger threat than Apple. They have long loved that the problems around proprietary codecs created a barrier to entry for free software platforms. Eventually Ubuntu and others institutionalized workarounds for these (binary codecs and separate distribution), but there are legal problems associated with this. Flash was really annoying for them - because it ate WMV's dinner, AND Adobe supported Linux, yuck. At least they had the good grace to do it badly. But that was nothing. Now HTML5 will allow Linux to support itself, and be a first-tier web multimedia client. Unacceptable! They will do almost anything to stop it. Patent threats are rule #1 in their anti-competition playbook. So understanding that bit's easy.

    What's interesting is that now Apple is in the same boat as Microsoft. This is a bit of a conceptual challenge for many of us who grew up with them as the hapless underdog, but those days are over. And Apple now loathes Linux even more than Microsoft. Or to put it another way, they loathe Android, Ubuntu on PC's and netbooks and you name it. Steve Jobs considers the smartphone and portable space his personal playground, but really anything that creates an alternative for Windows and RIM switchers other than Apple has a giant target painted on it, as far as he's concerned. And look at the numbers. Linux is his only serious competitor in mobile (going forward), and could be in other segments before long...

    Steve's dream is to out-Bill Bill. He sees the day coming when he will have hundreds of millions of users locked in his proprietary platform, and he means to get them and keep them, by any means necessary.

    The two giants fear and hate the idea of competition from free software (and google's vision of open standards) so much that they are willing to abandon some of their own failing codec ambitions (major corporate ego hit and major dollars written off) and team up on h264 rather than fail individually and let an open codec win.

    It looks like Google was rooting for Ogg Theora to be the one defacto HTML5 codec "that works on everything." They see an advantage in conclusively ending MS, Apple, and Adobe's grip on the client. Why, is a whole question in itself. But they apparently do, and with control of Youtube, they are in a position to really move the needle in terms of codec marketshare.

    Apple and MS were furious, but what could they do? Well, fucking with the HTML5 standards process for one, but that was just a delay tactic. Google can get cooperation from FF, and ActiveX makes IE* vulnerable to HTML5 support via plugin. So they will eventually get what they want in the browser space.

    But the patent threats are another story. I'm guessing Google has done their homework and determined that the patent challenges against Theora could succeed, or at least would be so ugly and expensive and prolonged that it might be cheaper to buy a good commercial codec (VP8) and release it free to the world. Of course in the magical and nebulous world of software patents, they can still get sued regardless - because every single non-trivial piece of software violates thousands of software patents, but they must feel their legal position will be much stronger there. So, legal bean counting?

    That, and I imagine considerations such as whether VP8 is actually a better codec than Theora might occasionally come into play. :)

  • Re:Connect the dots (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:27PM (#32052488) Homepage Journal

    Didn't stop Rambus. It eventually wound up at the Supreme Court, but Rambus won EVERYTHING!

    The system is so screwed up I more than half expect SCO to do to the same.

    This country seems to DESPERATELY WANT the genie back in the bottle - to take this whole internet, OSS, computing thing and stuff it back in the pockets of a few corporate overlords, where it belongs.

  • Some thoughts... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @09:54PM (#32052686)

    * Yes, it does seem likely that he knows something that "we" don't. For most of "us" this sort of thing is idle speculation and opinion. For him, its information that he uses to run one of the largest tech companies in the world. I'm going to guess that he wants that information to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

    * For all the anger directed towards Steve (and Apple) for his "threat"... I'd ask the following questions:

    1. For those who believe that Apple is the one preparing for a lawsuit: Is it possible that Apple is not the one starting a lawsuit? Rather, that SJ chose H.264 because he knew a lawsuit was coming and didn't want Apple to be caught in the middle?

    2. For those who believe that this is classic FUD, is it possible that SJ was simply responding to the only question actually implied in the original email (why H.264 instead of Theora)? If he really believed that adopting Theora was legally unreasonable, how else would he answer the question?

    3. Generally speaking - what would Apple have to gain by suing Theora? Do they stand to gain more money from mass adoption of H.264 than mass adoption of Theora? Do they stand to lose money from mass adoption of Theora over H.264? What if they just adopted both? Do they own patents in use by either codec?

  • You forgot to ad that there's nothing to protect users of h264 from OTHER patent claims.

    And theora's response was the exact right one to take.

    BTW - a lot of the world doesn't buy into software patents. Let's see if the Supremes get it right with Bilski.

  • Apple is so much worse than Microsoft now. Maybe worse than Microsoft ever was. A trailblazer in terms of vendor lock-in - they've paved the way for totally closed software environments, a concept that would have seemed so insanely backwards 5-10 years ago that nobody would have believed it would be the trend of the future. Apple is clearly THE primary threat to software freedom these days.

    The scary thing is that MS customers always knew they were being screwed and just had to settle, but Apple makes their customers want it. The majority sees nothing at all wrong with what's happening - never mind things like this that they don't know about. They fawn over iPhones and iPads, Average Joes fucking line-camp for this stuff. It's scary as hell, I've only seen otherwise sane people roll over and spread en masse like this for homeowner's associations, I thought it was just because houses are huge investments and people often don't have much of a choice, but I guess I was wrong and people can abandon all sense of freedom for anything they want enough.

  • Re:Sensationalism (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Friday April 30, 2010 @10:13PM (#32052808) Journal

    There is one other threat to all of the closed/patented codecs that nobody's mentioned yet ...

    Increasing bandwidth and computing power ...

    10 years from now we won't need codecs. We'll be able to decompose images into photo-realistic vector graphics, send them over 1gb/s connections to the home, and recreate them in resolutions that make HD look like crap.

    Heck, we had graphical bulletin boards that did almost the same thing in 640x480x256 back when modems were 1200 baud and 8mhz cpus. Jobs has to achieve lock-in this decade or it doesn't happen ever. And the iPad is not the device to do it. Hitching his hopes on an alliance with dead-tree media was a mistake.

  • ZOMG OSS *KNEELS* (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Friday April 30, 2010 @10:54PM (#32053090) Journal

    Oh wow they have some open source stuff, just like Microsoft, they're totally absolved of all those entirely unrelated things I talked about in my post, oh how wrong I was about them, they're total saints because the core of their OSes and some other doodads are open source.

    If robots running OSS destroy humanity I will rejoice, for our death would be righteous.

  • by karmaflux ( 148909 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @11:14PM (#32053182)

    Received: from [] ( []) by (Sun Java(tm) System Messaging Server 6.3-7.04 (built Sep 26
      2008; 32bit)) with ESMTPSA id for
      hugo at fsfe dot org; Fri, 30 Apr 2010 06:21:16 -0700 (PDT)

    Not even apple thinks xserves are worth a shit

    I freaking knew it

  • Re:Sensationalism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bheekling ( 976077 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @11:19PM (#32053226)

    All video codecs are covered by patents. A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other “open source” codecs now

    (emphasis mine)

    Google recently acquired On2 [] and plans to Open Source the VP8 codec [].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @11:54PM (#32053460)

    I'm guessing the AC above isn't interested in disclosing his identity in connection with the slanderous claim above because he knows it to be untrue. has never taken a "don't tell us" position, nor to the best of my knowledge have any of our contributors in connection to activities. Willful ignorance is not a viable strategy in this field.

    We very much want to know about any real patent exposure, especially from someone actually competent enough to raise reasonable concerns (Not likely from a 2L without particular patent training and video coding experience, but still). We have expended considerable effort knowing about, dodging, and helping others review the patent status of our work. After all— this stuff exists for the very purpose of being unencumbered.

    --Greg Maxwell (

  • Re:Sensationalism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Saturday May 01, 2010 @12:40AM (#32053758) Journal

    I agree 100%. Those days are coming fast, thanks to the reduced energy requirements of adding more cores compared to more complex cores. Video is one of those things that is comparatively easily parallelized. And bandwidth is getting better and better, cheaper and cheaper. 1 ghz to the curb is a reasonable goal for 2020. And considering that the average home probably has over a terabyte of storage right now, a petabyte by 2020 is probably a very conservative estimate.

  • Some Information (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sjobs ( 1801766 ) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @01:29AM (#32054026)
    I usually never post on here, though from time to time I do browse the site. However, some of the commenters seem to be mistakened. All video codecs are not protected by patents, as far I a know. All video codecs worth using, however, are patented. At this time we do NOT know if Theora does indeed include patented technology. The legal department here is currently looking into it. I also stand by my word and for as long as control of the company remains in capable hands, there shall be no Flash support on our mobile devices.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 01, 2010 @03:20AM (#32054446)

    Are the wealthy completely out of control so they can't hide it any more?

    Or am I being manipulated with a news feed of this type of information.

    Historically the wealthy controlled the masses by force of arms and state enforced religions. It hasn't been a straight path to liberty, two steps forward, one step back kind of deal. You can openly criticise the wealthy and powerful with very little fear of retribution.

    You are being manipulated though. Anti-rich propaganda is rife, generally used by the "left-wing" rich people to gain your support. If you were angry at socialists or terrorists, we could conclude you were being manipulated by "right-wing" rich people.

    Whether you support him or not, consider Obama's campaign. There were going to be no tax increases for those with income under $250,000. Clearly an "anti-rich" or at least "take from the rich to give to the poor" campaign. Then he got in an promptly gave a heap of money to bankers (in the finest tradition of GWB).

  • by xiphmont ( 80732 ) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @06:51AM (#32055066) Homepage

    As a Theora developer, this is news to me. Would you mind mentioning who this buddy is so I can go back through my mail queue and verify that you're just making shit up?

    I know you're lying, as regardless of what our response would have been it most certainly would _not_ have been, "ssshhh don't tell anyone".

  • Re:Well (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Theaetetus ( 590071 ) <> on Saturday May 01, 2010 @11:23AM (#32056278) Homepage Journal

    Maybe he meant: there are no software patents [in Europe].

    Yeah, there are. The European bar on patenting software is exactly the same on the bar in the US on patenting software per se under Bilski and Warmerdam. But if you claim a method of doing X, comprising doing Y, by processor of a computing device, or claim a system for doing X, comprising a processor of a computing device configured to do Y, you can certainly get it patented. I am a patent agent, and have gotten several dozen patents in Europe that cover software.

    Disclaimer: I'm not your patent agent, this is not legal advice, etc.

  • Re:Sensationalism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Saturday May 01, 2010 @12:40PM (#32056846) Journal
    At some point, it's just "good enough."

    We can put linux in a watch - but for most, a laptop is "good enough."

    Same thing with TVs - the 27" color TV was the staple for a whole generation - and it went from almost the price of a new car to $200 during that time (and there are still all those people who haven't moved on to hi-def tv).

    Yes, doubling the screen size was nice, but I'm not trading in my 50" for a 100" any time soon - where would I put it? That's becoming a problem. Same as you can only cram so many screens (or a screen of a certain size) on your desk. Do you really want to have to stand while working on your computer, like those faked interactive screens on the TV crime shows?

  • by sourcerror ( 1718066 ) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @01:10PM (#32057068)

    The MPEG-LA has insinuated for some time that it is impossible to build any video codec without infringing on at least some of their patents.

    Then I guess it's time for some anti-trust litigation ...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 01, 2010 @01:24PM (#32057190)

    Theora has enjoyed widespread, notorious, public use with a clear detailed public specification for seven years. Including VP3 it's almost a decade old. It's been distributed by many billion dollar companies, including apple (who used to distribute VP3). Direct requests to potential patent holders and relevant licensing parties were made to disclose patent interests back when the spec was published.

    Blocking patent claims through estoppal is very difficult, because there isn't an obligation to enforce as there is with trademarks, it doesn't happen too often. Successful claims were made against paid up licensees of MP3 a decade after its wide use. But the statement that claims against H.264 would be estopped but ones against Theora would not can only be justified by a huge amount of "cause I wanna say so".

  • by butlerm ( 3112 ) on Tuesday May 04, 2010 @02:15AM (#32082092)

    Sorry No. If you are intelligent enough to determine (for example) whether BTRFS might infringe on a ZFS patent without reference to the BTRFS source code, the source code of any BTRFS utilities, BTRFS file system format documentation, or other published information, more power to you. We are a long ways from the cotton gin.

    Black box analysis won't even come close to determining if any internal methods are infringing. NetApp sued Sun over ZFS a few years back, and they wouldn't have had a clue what was really going on inside of ZFS if there wasn't anything published about it. Determining how ZFS really worked inside without reference to documentation, source code, or other published information could take a skilled engineer several weeks just to get started.

    How would you determine, short of reverse engineering, that ZFS was a copy on write, "phase tree" type filesystem, for example? And that just scratches the surface.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky