[whatwg] MPEG-1 subset proposal for HTML5 video codec

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at gmail.com
Sun May 31 13:17:06 PDT 2009

2009/5/31  <jjcogliati-whatwg at yahoo.com>:
> Since the near complete MPEG-1 committee draft was publicly available in December 1991,

You keep repeating this particular piece of misinformation, so I'm
worried that people are going to take your word for it and get into

What you are claiming with respect to the inventors disclosure and
patent duration is correct for patents filed and granted today but it
not true for patents from the mid-1990s.

Prior to mid-1995 was possible to use application extensions to defer
the grant date of a patent indefinitely.  You could begin an
application in 1988, publicly expose your invention in 1991, all the
while filing extensions only to have the patent granted in 1995.

I am somewhat surprised that you are unaware of this issue,
considering that you mentioned it specifically by name (submarine

I'm more familiar with the area of audio coding than video, so I don't
have a ready list of patents that read on mpeg1 video. However, There
are mid-90s patents which read on both layer-2 (e.g. 5,214,678) and
layer-3 audio which followed the 'submarine patent' style of prolonged
application and late disclosure times.

Additionally, Theora avoids some techniques used in MPEG1 which have
been believed to be patented.  For example, the differential coding of
motion vectors. While I don't have the knowledge needed to provide a
detailed analysis, even I know enough to point out at least a few
engineering reasons why Theora has less patent exposure surface than

Without the benefit of mpeg layer-3 audio MPEG1 is left enormously
handicapped compared to Theora+Vorbis. 16kHz 16bit stereo PCM is
512kbit/sec on it own, which is comparable to the total bitrate 'high
quality' option delivered by sites like Youtube. And 16kHz audio is
pretty poor for anything that needs to carry music.  While you could
argue for using MPEG1+Vorbis, none of the few parties who indicated
that they would not ship Theora have stated they would (or are
already) shipping Vorbis. (For example, Nokia does not ship Vorbis on
their Linux tables)  Everyone shipping Vorbis already seems to have no
issue with Theora.

Even if you pay fairly low prices for transit the cost of sending PCM
audio vs Vorbis is likely enough to pay for the H.264+AAC licensing no
matter what it turns out to be in 2010.  A 'free' format which has an
effective price much higher than the 'non-free' stuff would be
something of a hollow victory.

And really, now that we see multiple large companies with experienced
legal teams and non-trivial exposure committed to shipping Theora I
think we're kidding ourselves when we attempt to analyze this as a
legal issue. It's not. It's a business/political decision. The market
is now going to battle it out.  Enjoy the show.

More information about the whatwg mailing list