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Forgent Networks Wins $25M from Sony for JPEG Patent 270

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the getting-while-the-getting-is-good dept.
SuperBanana writes "A story at the Imaging Resource reports that Forgent Networks just won a $25m lawsuit against Sony, for unpaid royalties on patents Forgent bought back in 1997 for $65,000(there's a nice return); the lawsuit concerns patents on 'JPEG encoding and decoding', which Sony's cameras supposedly infringe upon. Sony is challenging the ruling. Older Slashdot stories covered this back in 2002 when this first popped up on people's radar screens, mainly when the ISO threatened to revoke JPEG's ISO status unless Forgent stopped throwing its weight around. Supposedly Forgent only has until 2004 to get all it can out of the patent."
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Forgent Networks Wins $25M from Sony for JPEG Patent

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  • by c_oflynn (649487) on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:18AM (#5660109)
    I bet there was a lot of people's reaction to the title that went something like this:

    "I hope this doesn't change anything about my JPEG pr0n"
    • If they read the article thier reaction was probably something like, "Wow, this story doesn't have anything to do with Forgent at all."

      Now, St. Clair Intellectual Property Consultants Inc. through the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi has successfully sued Sony claiming that the company's cameras infringe on four patents dating back to as long ago as 1992, which it purchased in 1995. The judgement was nowhere near the staggering $171.4 million dollars in royalties St. Clair felt it was owed
    • I bet there was a lot of people's reaction to the title that went something like this:

      *MY* reaction was "Maybe JPEG (and lossy compression)" will finally go away and we can use PNG and lossless JPEG for everything. We've got the hard drive space, and a PNG of a photograph is, in my experience, only about five times larger than a decent-quality JPEG. Bandwidth is cheap. The limiting factor is people throwing movies around, not images. Storage is cheap and plentiful. I don't care *how* much you like yo
  • by nattt (568106) on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:18AM (#5660112)
    The patent system is increasingly under abuse, and the US Patent office will allow anything through. It's past time for a revamp of the whole system, the removal of a lot of patents and make some areas un-patentable again.
    • The patent system is increasingly under abuse, and the US Patent office will allow anything through. It's past time for a revamp of the whole system, the removal of a lot of patents and make some areas un-patentable again.

      Yeah, let's fight back with their own means by developing a new patent system and then applying for a patent on this system...

    • by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Friday April 04, 2003 @12:37PM (#5661564) Homepage
      The patent system is increasingly under abuse, and the US Patent office will allow anything through.
      As much as I agree with you, I'm not sure that this idea really apply here. If the patent in question expires next year, that means it was granted in 1987 or earlier. When JPEG encoding first `came out', it was pretty revolutionary, and probably even fit the `not obvious to the layperson' rule that the patent office so often ignores. If the original creator of the JPEG process is the one who patented it, then I'd say it's a valid patent. (of course, if he agreed not to enforce it so it could become an ISO standard, that's another matter.)

      Though what seems to happen more often is that somebody comes up with something clever, and may or may not patent it. Then somebody else comes along, and either patents the original idea (if not patented) or patents it being used in all kinds of obvious ways (like `doing X ... on a computer' was pretty popular a few years ago.)

      Patent reform wouldn't be nearly so important if the patent office could simply follow it's own rules -- i.e. checking for prior art, and disallowing patents on things that are `obvious to the layperson'.

    • > It's past time for a revamp of the whole system,

      I agree. The patent system needs to be changed, not only to prevent bad patents from being awarded, but also to allow (even poor) individuals and small companies to defend and prosecute patent cases and apply for patents. Currently patents are expensive to obtain and use. Patent holders are able to use the cost of court proceedings to punish or frighten
      those of whom they disapprove (especially weaker competitors), even if they would not win the case.
  • Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LegendLength (231553) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <htgneldnegel>> on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:22AM (#5660129)
    Nothing wakes up the apathetic masses quite like this ruling. I wonder if we will ever live in a world where more than 5/10 people realize the importance of open standards. I can dream.
    • Re:Good (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Forget about open standards! I want to live in a world where more than 5/10 of the population are above average!
    • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

      by archnerd (450052) <[nonce+slashdot.org] [at] [dfranke.us]> on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:29AM (#5660159) Homepage
      Surely you're refering to tech community and not to the general population? Do you think 5 out of 10 people even understand what "open standards" are?
      • " Surely you're refering to tech community and not to the general population"

        I'm sure he's referring to the tech community. I'm yet to meet a techy type or a geek who's apathetic to other techies' needs and feelings.

        GNU users are apathetic !
        Windows users are pathetic!!
      • by Lumpy (12016)
        hell in genreal population less than 1 out of 100 know what a jpeg is, let alone how it affect them.

        the cows... I mean people dont care unless it affects their pocket directly. I.E. sony asks all sony camera owners to pay up another $5.00 to them to pay for the ruling.

        THEN it might get some attention, but I still highly doubt it.
    • Didn't we say this when the GIF debacle happened? Or Amazon's still standing one-click patent? The patent on hyperlinking? ActiveBuddy's patented IRC Bots?

      Nothing wakes up the apathetic masses: that's why they're called "apathetic."
    • LegendLength said:

      Nothing wakes up the apathetic masses quite like this ruling.

      I think that would be more well said like this: "Like this ruling, nothing wakes up the apathetic masses.". The masses don't know or care about open standards. The masses don't know or care what JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, etc are. When they surf to CNN.com, they want to see a picture. That is the extent of their caring.

      So I do encourage you to dream on. I do as well, but I dream of something other than an appeal from the ap

  • JPEG 2000? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by forgoil (104808) on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:27AM (#5660151) Homepage
    Does this also affect JPEG 2000?

    Shows that one should use media that is open and patent free (such as ogg/png/etc) after all...
    • Re:JPEG 2000? (Score:3, Informative)

      by mat.h (25728)
      Does this also affect JPEG 2000?

      No, I don't think so. The Forgent patent covered DCT-based image/video compression schemes (cut up your image into small blocks; apply a discrete cosine transform to each block; quantize the DCT coefficients, allocating little precision to high frequencies; do some sort of entropy coding on the quantized coefficients), i.e. JPEG and MPEG video. JPEG 2000 is wavelet-based and not covered by this patent, though I am somewhat worried by their choice of arithmetic coding as the

    • Shows that one should use media that is open and patent free (such as ogg/png/etc) after all...

      PNG can not replace jpeg. png is a lossless compression algorithm. Therefore, for encoding images like photographs, using png will lead to a huge increase in file size. That said, I've noticed that people tend to use jpeg for many things for which png would be better: screenshots for instance. Not only is a screenshot usually smaller in size when encoded using png, it also leaves the text clear while jpeg blurs

    • JPEG 2000 is patented out the wazoo, but you can get a free license to the patents if you implement the spec correctly.
  • by nath_o_brien (608347) <nath@nathans-domain-name.org.uk> on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:28AM (#5660158) Homepage

    They claim they couldn't read the "pay royalties" memo because it was a low-quality save and therefore too blurry...

  • ridiculous (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mholt108 (229701)
    This sux. Can I say it loud_enough. These people did not earn this, same as the cretin water rights speculators. How about someone heads over there and throws a few bricks through their stupid selfish window.

    The legal system has become the new stock exchange. Bloody Hell. They should all be charged for treason.

    matt
  • I'm confused (Score:5, Interesting)

    by esarjeant (100503) on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:30AM (#5660169) Homepage
    I thought JPEG was an open standard, why does Forgent stand to profit from this?

    Unlike GIF [burnallgifs.org], JPEG was established by a standards body (ISO). Now they want to renege on that.

    Register [theregister.co.uk] has more info on this one. Weird.
    • Ownership (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nuggz (69912) on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:33AM (#5660191) Homepage
      A standard is something people agree on.

      Just because someone somewhere says "this is standard" it does not revoke patents other individuals or organizations have.
      • Re:Ownership (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AtomicBomb (173897)
        I think standardization process is one of the area patent rule must be reformed on. For "important enough" standard, which can be classified as say ANSI, ISO etc, they should be able to register with the patent office.

        A deadline (e.g. 1 yr) is set for patent holders who think their patent has been violated in the process. If they don't actively defense their patent in that process, tell them to forget about it.

        I know some readers may worry about some companies may start abusing the system. But, this wo
        • by nuggz (69912)
          You are suggesting someone should be allowed to take my patent from the Patent Office, call it a standard, and basically steal my patent?

          I must clearly disclose my patent. The standard organizations do not have to publicly disclose any standards. This isn't fair.
          • The other way round. Before registering with the patent office, the standardization process disclose what they come up with as their proposed standard at the final stage.

            In a sense, they are at a special patent pending stage. If you feel your existing patent is being offended, say so. It is a fair go for everyone.
            • Standards organizations don't need to patent the standard.
              If they performed a patent search before setting a standard, this would likely solve the problem, but they don't do it.
              • 'submarine' patents don't show up, so you can't know if one party involved in the standardization process is trying to patent the system too(rdrimms anyone?).

                i'm not a lawyer and yadda yadda.

                but the patent afaik the patent isn't 'public' when it's being processed, thus you can't know if something is going to be patented in the near future, and there are ways to delay the patent processing so that you can get even more possible profit from doing a thing like this, iirc the guy that patented car in the usa
  • by Voltas (222666) on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:32AM (#5660180) Homepage Journal
    There is a fine line between Patents protection and prevention of the propagation of technology. How close do you hold your cards to your chest before you release that your product is so proprietary that no one uses it?

    Sony was using JPEG in there cameras... that kept the oh so VALUABLE compressed image technology on our systems. If yah sue everyone that uses your tech then your tech will disappear. We have maybe one other image compression tech? oh no wait, we've got a tone.

    I'm not an open source junky ... some of us need to get paid, but chasing patients on industry standards just because you gave it away and now EVERYONE uses it is dumb.
    • by adzoox (615327) on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:45AM (#5660251) Journal
      Exactly, I liken this to a "new mafia" that has arisen in the tech sector.

      Instead of working hard and being creative, companies (and individuals) have chosen to litigate with crooked lawyers. These lawyers (think Johnny Cochran type) aren't creative, aren't smart, they are simply crooks. It's almost like they advertise and recruit through high profile cases such as this. Juries, Judges, and the public at large are being taken advantage of the same way the mafia takes advantage of an industry or commodity. In this case and cases such as Bezos being able to patent every type of transaction that uses a mouse click, and in most cases, the entire Microsoft Apple/Netscape trials, the judicial systems knowledge of the small details are taken advantage of.

      I agree with you, this will have the effect, if successful, of invalidating the technology (JPEG) - a new standard will arise. I am both happy and concerned that it may be Sony though. They have the muscle and marketting/liscensing power to make a new standard adopted very quickly. However, they also tend get all googly eyed when they have the opportunity to make something proprietary and be the SOLE distributer or patent/copyright/license holder.

    • If yah sue everyone that uses your tech then your tech will disappear.

      They are not doing that, they sat on it for over ten years, and now their dipping into the pockets deep enough to pay. Anyway, I'm baffled where this patent came from. Remember this page [gnu.org]? It goes on and on about how gifs are evil because of patents and uses a jpeg for an image.
  • by mark2003 (632879)
    Can I get a patent that covers the application of coloured "pixels" of coloured compounds to a flat surface to be used as an approximation of my visual interpretation of the world as I see it?
  • by Fallen Kell (165468) on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:33AM (#5660193)
    It wasn't Forgent Networks that won the 25m, it was St. Clair Intellectual Property Consultants Inc.. It just happens to be that the Forgent Networks patent lisence fees that Sony began paying allowed St. Clair to win the case.
  • by Raphael (18701) <quinet&gamers,org> on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:36AM (#5660201) Homepage Journal

    The headline and the text of the Slashdot submission are wrong. Sony paid $16M to Forgent Network some time ago as part of an out-of-court settlement. But this article is about a different company: St. Clair Intellectual Property Consultants Inc. of Grosse Pointe, Mich. That company is the one that has won $25M in court.

    Please read the text of the article and the press release appended to it, and you will see a different story than the one given in the Slashdot submission. The press release contains a quote saying: "this lawsuit is similar to out-of-court settlements reached by Forgent Networks and Dallas based law firm [...]" but the two cases are different. They are both bad, but the companies are different.

    • by 200_success (623160) on Friday April 04, 2003 @10:35AM (#5660521)

      Actually, if you read the patents linked from the article, they aren't even patents on JPEG. They make claims on the use of compressed storage formats in digital cameras, such as JPEG.

      • #6,496,222 [uspto.gov] Digital camera with memory format initialization
      • #6,323,899 [uspto.gov] Process for use in electronic camera
      • #6,233,010 [uspto.gov] Electronic still video camera with direct personal computer (PC) compatible digital format output
      • #6,094,219 [uspto.gov] Electronic still video camera with direct personal computer (PC) compatible digital format output
      • #5,576,757 [uspto.gov] Electronic still video camera with direct personal computer (PC) compatible digital format output
      • #5,138,459 [uspto.gov] Electronic still video camera with direct personal computer (PC) compatible digital format output

      What digial camera doesn't have the capability to store compressed images? Nobody would buy a camera that wasted memory by storing uncompressed images. Therefore, these are essentially patents on digital cameras!

      • Therefore, these are essentially patents on digital cameras!

        You are right. A better title for this article would be: "St.Clair wins $25M from Sony for digital camera patent".

  • Unisys (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:40AM (#5660221)
    The patent on GIFs expires soon (June) .. I wonder if Unisys will donate the patent to the public domain a month before it expires (in the tradition of RSA) or will they wait around till it expires and milk every dime off a patent everybody knows they dont deserve.
    • If they need a tax write-off, you can bet that it will be donated before the expiration date. Not directly to the public domain, but rather to some non-profit "shell." I think this kind of tax-evasion was covered here recently, or maybe that was kuro5hin.
    • I wonder if Unisys will donate the patent to the public domain a month before it expires (in the tradition of RSA) or will they wait around till it expires and milk every dime off a patent everybody knows they dont deserve.

      Why would they stop being bastards now? The real question is whether there are any other submarines in the water, or if LZW becomes totally free and clear on whatever magical day in June.
  • Implications for C# (Score:5, Interesting)

    by j3110 (193209) <samterrell@@@gmail...com> on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:40AM (#5660225) Homepage
    If you can give a product to the ISO body as a standard, then still file patent claims against people, then what does the ISO standard mean???

    Does this not pave the way for MS to enforce patents on anyone implementing their .Net functionality?

    Also, why is it that people say Java is proprietary, but ISO standards are not? In the JCP, in order to get anything accepted, you must relinquish all patent rights in it. Sounds to me like the JCP is better than ISO of ensuring that a standard is not proprietary.
    • But is JCP still any good? Just because you relinquish your patents doesn't make Java any more open, just saves Sun's big fat ass.

      What we need is a system where standards becomes fully free, free to use, free of patent claims, etc.
      • Yeah, they are. Exceptions are made for logo testing from SUN, but the spec itself is open. Apache is actually on the JCP board now that SUN has allowed access to the testing suites as well. AFAIK, the first API from SUN to be included in this new license will be J2EE 1.4. Apache's Jakarta project already makes use of some of these API's.

        However, you are free to implement any of them from what I can tell. SUN doesn't want people to use their logo or claim compatiblity until you have been certified, bu
    • The ISO means that you're potentially gonna make more money as an ISO standard is more likely to be adopted than some unknown method some boffin has pondered up...
    • Does this not pave the way for MS to enforce patents on anyone implementing their .Net functionality?

      ... don't think they'll do that. They can't convince people to use .Net the way it is, imagine if they started suing people for using it.
  • 2004 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:41AM (#5660226)
    "Supposedly Forgent only has until 2004 to get all it can out of the patent."

    So what? They can still dedicate the next 20 years suing people who violated their patent before 2004.
  • by MORTAR_COMBAT! (589963) on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:54AM (#5660292)
    GIF, JPEG, ...

    MP3. Get it through your heads, people. Using these patent-encumbered tech only comes back to bite you where it hurts -- 5 years down a committed tech track. PNG, OGG, ... support open standards in your products NOW while you can choose to do it.
    • duh (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Smallest (26153)
      up until last year, JPEG was considered "open". nobody here even suspected JPEG would be in patent trouble.

      maybe tomorrow someone will pop up with a patent that covers the compression that zLib uses (g'bye PNG).

      who would you yell at then?

      -c
      • if someone can buy and sell the JPEG patent, then naturally there can be patent trouble. There isn't a publicly known patent involved with PNG or OGG.

        Bottom line, you can't trust that a 'friendly' company won't end up selling its 'friendly' patents to a 3rd party which doesn't feel like being so friendly any more.

        Don't use any patented code, whatsoever, for any reason, unless there is a legal basis for believing that the patent will not be used against you. Don't trust the goodwill of a company.
        • That's non-viable.

          The entire point is that you may not KNOW if there's a patent involved or not. Sure, there's not a publicly known patent involved with PNG or OGG. That LZW patent (which affected GIF) was really well known now wasn't it?

          As the prior poster said - what if it's discovered that part of OGG or PNG or whatever is patented? Then you're just as SOL as you are now.

          And while I support going to less encumbered standards (such as OGG or PNG), the reality is that the entire patent system needs to b
        • How do you know whether or not it's patented? There's hundreds of thousands of potentially applicable patents, in all sorts of languages, with clauses written in mind-numbing detail (and the clauses are deliberately written to be both broad and obscure). Furthermore, you'd have to figure out whether or not a patented algorithm is equivalent to yours, which is a hard problem in general (this is how LZW got patented twice).

          The bottom line is, you can never be sure that a program or standard is free from p

      • maybe tomorrow someone will pop up with a patent that covers the compression that zLib uses (g'bye PNG).

        That isn't likely since the compression method was published at least 26 years ago. I only say "isn't likely" since many bogus re-patents have probably slipped through.
    • Yes, PNG is a good idea for now... but how long before some greedy corporation that has no other way to make a profit slips some sort of patent through on PNG?

      I wouldn't say it's impossible, either. Especially when you consider some of extremly broad software patents that have made it, such as the JPEG one.

      Patents are not doing anything close to the original intended function, unless that was to provide a revenue stream for worthless companies that can't make a buck on their own merits.

    • What was the best audio codec before mp3? It wasn't ogg. What was the best graphics compression format before jpeg?

      My point is that oft times patent encumbered tech is the only tech available for that application. If the choices that are available today, were available 5 years ago, I have no doubt that most developers would've made the 'right' choice.

      I agree that using patented technology has its drawbacks, but if there's nothing else around, it's what you will use.

      Why is this so bad? If I develop a
  • What next? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Andrewkov (140579) on Friday April 04, 2003 @09:58AM (#5660313)
    First GIF, now JPEG? I guess we'd better all start using Windows BMP format!
  • 2004 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ajs (35943) <ajs&ajs,com> on Friday April 04, 2003 @10:43AM (#5660579) Homepage Journal
    Don't assume you're safe in 2004. If they can demonstrate that they were doing research into infringement since before the patent expired, I suspect they can press a case against anyone who did not pay them for back royaltees up to when it expired.

    This means that you shoudl not be USING the patented technology UNTIL the patent expires.

    Does anyone know EXACTLY what's covered? JPEG is huge and has many optional peices. If someone tells me what bits are patented I will start looking at public code to see what can be changed to preserve functionality while still providing JPEG access.
  • by luv_jeeps (444165) on Friday April 04, 2003 @11:15AM (#5660856)
    All of your JPEGs are belong to us.
  • Do you have evidence, in the form of an actual product or description in a publication that any of the following was invented prior to November 1990:
    1. A digital camera equipped with a removable digital media and capable of storing the captured image in one of several user-selectable data formats.
    2. A digital camera as in #1 with an option for letting the user select the compression ratio or other compression algorithm parameters.
    3. A digital camera as in #1 with the removable media being a floppy disk.
    • In 1990, I had what I thought was a spiffy NEC Powermate 286/10 with EGA. I thought that a greyscale hand scanner was the height of digital imaging tech. The only (removable?) ram devices I knew of at the time were ISA cards with battery backups, which don't lend themselves to cameras. There was not yet any such thing as PCMCIA ram cards. As far as I know, the first digital camera with a floppy disk was (ta-da) the Sony Mavica, which didn't come around until what, 1996 or 1997? The patent was non-obvio
    • On the agenda today..

      1. Patent digital car equipped with a removable digital media capable of storing route and diagnostic data in one of several user selectable formats

      2. #1 with an option for letting the user select the compression ratio or other compression algorithm parameters.

      3. #1 with the removable media being a floppy disk.

      The CCD has always been solid state, and in fact Sony's first Mavica [digicamhistory.com] unit dates back to 1981. It had removable media. To be able to patent any sort of digital data capture dev
      • To be able to patent any sort of digital data capture device, but with the addition of compression, is folly.

        What format did this first Mavica use? The patent is not on the addition of compression - it's on letting the user select the use of a standard format common on Macs (PICT) or on PCs (I think it was PCX at the time) depending on what machine the user was expecting to read the pictures on.

        Yes, it's a lame patent, but it was novel and nonobvious at the time.
  • As if it weren't already perfectly clear how urgent this is.
  • When it comes to intellectual property, let he who lives by the lawyer, die by the lawyer!

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