As readers of this blog know, I am a long-time proponent of royalty-free standardization as the best option for open Web media, preferable to informal, vendor-run open-sourcing of undocumented or unreviewed Intellectual Property Rights.
MPEG, an ISO working group (WG 11 of ISO/IEC JTC 1 / SC 29, to be precise), has been looking into royalty-free standardization and has issued a resolution soliciting interest in active participation by the relevant voting units (“National Bodies”). Here is my manifesto on why a new dual-track standards activity in ISO could succeed where the 2001 h.264 royalty-free baseline failed.
So I forwarded the resolution to Steve Jobs (Apple has been a long-standing member of the MPEG committee), soliciting Apple’s support.
His response — “The problem is that it will have lower quality video…” — is in my view an accurate and reasonable conclusion and one shared by others, including the head of MPEG, who has said “I believe MPEG should enlarge its portfolio of standards by offering some that are expected to be royalty free and typically less performing and with less functionality next to those that are state of the art, more performing and with more functionality”.
Judge for yourself (no, no response to my second email):
——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Re: Please help develop a royalty-free ISO video standard Date: Tue, 01 Jun 2010 11:21:28 -0700 From: Rob Glidden <email@example.com> To: Steve Jobs <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Same quality at ~20% more bandwidth looks patent-safe today, so not a direct replacement for h.264.
Rather, a viable HTML5 solution, because World Wide Web Consortium, vendors, and community require codec to be royalty free AND standardized (not just open sourced).
Would Apple support ISO starting standardization process for HTML5-type uses?
On 6/1/2010 10:03 AM, Steve Jobs wrote:
The problem is that it will have lower quality video…On Jun 1, 2010, at 9:33 AM, Rob Glidden wrote:Steve:
I am writing to encourage Apple to actively participate in developing an ISO-approved royalty-free video coding standard.
The MPEG group 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 18.104.22.168 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”
Type-1 (royalty-free) licensing has been considered at recent MPEG meetings, and multiple National Bodies have expressed their support.
ISO procedure requires active participation by individual organizations to move the activity through the ISO standards process.
Please contact your ISO / SC 29 National Body and express your support for this important standards initiative.
 Resolutions, the 92nd SC 29/WG 11 Meeting, 2010-04-19/23, Dresden, Germany, SC 29/WG 11 N 11241, http://www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc29/open/29view/29n11185c.htm:
“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 22.214.171.124 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 ISO/IEC JTC 1 N8557, http://www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc29/directives.pdf:
“126.96.36.199 Votes on NPs at the SC Level
… For the ballot to be successful at the SC level, the NP shall be supported by a majority of all P-members of the SC with at least five P-members committed to active participation.
188.8.131.52 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, http://www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc29/open/29view/29n11151c.htm:
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, http://www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc29/open/29view/29n10944c.htm:
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.”