Three Monkeys, Three Typewriters, Two Days

January 25, 2010

H.264 patents outside the US

I've seen a number of comments recently along the lines of "I'm in Europe, so the H.264 patents don't apply to me; why are you not letting me have a browser that plays my Youtube videos?" So I took a look at the list of patents on H.264. Or rather, the first 6 pages of the 43 page list. Excluding the US, there are relevant patents granted in at least the following countries:

I wasn't reading very carefully; I'd be suprised if I didn't miss a few, or if a few more don't come later in the list somewhere.

Posted by bzbarsky at January 25, 2010 10:47 PM | TrackBack

Oh dear, that is a lot... of patents.

That would become quite the legal mess once trigger, or worse if it's not one of these corporations pulling said trigger.

Through there might need to be an explanation with the European regions. I would assume that each county has it's own patent system and not that of the EU (not yet anyway, from what I have heard)?

Posted by: Duv on January 26, 2010 1:39 AM

Software patents are actually still illegal in many EU countries, so none of these companies would try to enforce them at this time.

What is disturbing is that the European Patent Office (EPO) is accepting their filing for a few years already, assuming (and actively lobbying for) that they will become valid any day now. More or less, they try to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy: see how many patents on sotware we have, that means they are needed and we need to acknowledge them.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament overwhelmingly rejected a patent reform which would have made them valid in the whole EU, and for this very reason.

So we are in some kind of status quo, where companies keep filing software patents "just in case", the EPO keeps accepting them "because it's only a matter of time". But they won't pull the trigger because it could very well turn out to their disadvantage.

Posted by: Benoit on January 26, 2010 2:22 AM

MPEG patents are not software patents. I think, and I'm not a lawyer, that MPEG patents would be (german) "Verfahrenspatente" (bad and most likely wrong translation "method patents"), which describe methods of how to process things ("apparatus to turn milk into water", "apparatus to transform uncompressed video streams into a compact representation" or whatever).

It's all clever wording.

Posted by: Maik Merten on January 26, 2010 2:37 AM

Benoit, that seems like an incredible gamble to take that all of the patents are invalid, and that none of the companies would attempt to assert them in court. Even if you're right about the former, I have no doubt whatsoever you'd be wrong about the latter, and that could add up to a hefty chunk of change just in legal fees (setting aside the potential for punitive measures if any of the cases were to be lost). You may feel free to gamble your own money on that, but I think it would be the height of irresponsibility to do so.

Posted by: Jeff Walden on January 26, 2010 3:16 AM

Jeff: You are absolutely right, I wouldn't bet any money on this, and would also find it irresponsible (let alone selfish) if we were to distribute "EU versions" of Firefox with H.264 decoding. I'm not sure how VLC deals with it.

However, I happily support lobbying groups trying to maintain the unpatentability(?) of computer programs, such as the FFII. As we've seen in the EP, this isn't yet a lost cause.

Posted by: Benoit on January 26, 2010 5:58 AM

What about libavcodec? Can't it be implemented into Firefox in order to decode H.264 without having to deal with all the licensing non-sense?

Posted by: JB on January 26, 2010 7:35 AM

Benoit, as Maik says these are not software patents. These are method patents.

JB, see but in brief using libavcodec does absolutely nothing about the patent situation.

Posted by: Boris on January 26, 2010 10:02 AM

First one I've checked, GB248711, is "Improvements in or relating to furnaces for roasting sulphide and other ores".

So maybe accuracy of that list is worth reviewing?

Posted by: kL on January 26, 2010 6:34 PM

You tell me, since that patent number is also listed for IT and SE. And there are other patent numbers that seem to apply to a bunch of countries (e.g. all the 1,467,491s).

My gut feeling given the repetition and the low numbers on the various European countries (anything under several million is ridiculously low for a recent patent) is that something is weird, but I'd have to be a European patent lawyer to tell you what.

Posted by: on January 26, 2010 11:02 PM

Would it be very difficult to leave the implementation open for plug in codecs? I very much doubt that those patents are enforceable in Europe, but I'm certain they can't even try to sue home users.

Posted by: Nick on January 29, 2010 4:40 AM

It seems the previous attempt to post this vanished, so here I go again: would it be difficult to leave the implementation open to plug in codecs? I very much doubt that those patents are enforceable in Europe, but I'm certain that they can't go after home users.

Posted by: Nick on January 29, 2010 4:43 AM

Why do you doubt that patents granted in Europe are enforceable in Europe?

As for the rest, I don't think I personally want to be encouraging people to do illegal things, nor was I commenting on the feasibility of working around the patent issues; just pointing out that we cannot in fact ship H.264 in a "non-US" build very well.

Posted by: Boris on January 29, 2010 8:22 AM

> Why do you doubt that patents granted in Europe are enforceable in Europe?

Just because a patent is granted doesn't mean it's valid. An invalid patent is not enforcable.

I was unaware that there was a H.264 patent in Europe, I wonder if it could be pre-emptively declared invalid in court.

Personally I think the EPO should be fined every time a patent is found to be invalid.

Posted by: Rory Browne on March 31, 2010 1:21 PM

They can pay for "software patent" if it amuses them.

But they are not legal and not enforceable.

Posted by: sylware on February 3, 2011 9:51 AM
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