MPEG announced today it is working on a royalty-free MPEG standard in two tracks, one track based on expired MPEG patents and other royalty free technologies and the other based on a proposal that patent holders grant a royalty-free license to a “constrained baseline profile” of the widely used AVC/h.264 standard.
According to the MPEG press release, “Depending on the progress of the two tracks, MPEG will decide, in 2012, whether to choose IVC or WebVC to become an International Standard.”
Given the heavy hitters that are lining up behind these proposals and the significance of the forum of ISO and the MPEG committee, it is worth looking deeper at the public information that has been released on these proposals.
“MPEG Plus” (IVC)
The MPEG press release describes IVC:
“focuses on developing a standard based on MPEG-1 technology which is believed a safe royalty-free baseline that can be enhanced by additional unencumbered technology described in MPEG-2, JPEG, research publications and innovative technologies which are promised to be subject to royalty-free licenses”
Cryptically, a MPEG meeting resolution states “The Requirements subgroup recommends that MPEG members make WG 11 aware of market developments in the space addressed by IVC.”
According to the MPEG meeting resolution, the IVC proposal appears to come from “HKUST, Peking University, Tsinghua University and Zhejiang University”.
“Patent Pool Lite” (WebVC)
According to the MPEG meeting resolution, the WebVC proposal appears to come from “Apple, Cisco, Fraunhofer HHI, Magnum Semiconductor, Polycom, and RIM”. The MPEG LA website shows that 4 of these (Apple, Cisco, Fraunhofer, and Polycom), are among the 28 existing patent holders in the AVC/h.264 patent pool.
The MPEG press release describes WebVC:
“A second track, called WebVC, is driven by stakeholders of AVC technology. WebVC focuses on the constrained baseline profile from the widely used AVC standard (Rec. ITU-T H.264 | ISO/IEC 14496-10). Proponents of WebVC have indicated that they hope to convince stakeholders to grant a royalty-free license for this technology, which was originally standardized in 2003.”
According to section 3.11.1 the meeting resolutions, it appears that if approved Web Video Coding would become a new part 29 to the AVC/h.264 standard (ISO/IEC 14496-29 – Web Video Coding).
Cryptically, a MPEG meeting resolution states “The Requirements subgroup recommends that proponents of technology for Web Video Coding further improve the support for their proposal in order to meet market needs as identified in the IVC CfP”.
What Will Happen?
As a proponent of “IPR-aware” royalty free standardization (see for example Half of MPEG-2 Patents Expire in 2012), I am naturally inclined to the first track and skeptical of the second. It seems every few months a patent pool or some one manages to spin up wishful thinking that there will soon be a “new deal” that will answer the needs of royalty free communities, only to cleverly leave the hopeful twisting in the wind. Indeed, AVC/h.264 has been holding out the prospect of a royalty-free baseline since 2001, when the work on AVC/h.264 was first announced! And AVC/h.264 patents are still being litigated.
But … one can easily imagine multiple possible outcomes under the oversight of MPEG:
- one, none or both of the proposals end up ultimately adopted, perhaps in a modified or improved form
- the two proposals evolve and are merged down the road
My take: Read the fine print and published patent analysis on any “AVC/h.264 constrained baseline” very, very carefully before you get excited. And hopefully, ISO and the MPEG committee will continue to do a professional, no-nonsense job in assessing these proposals and moving forward on a royalty-free MPEG standard that the industry can have confidence in.