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The last patent on AC-3 (Dolby Digital) expires at midnight (ac3freedomday.org)
578 points by robbiet480 95 days ago | hide | past | web | 222 comments | favorite



We in North America have been paying the Dolby AC-3 tax for the last 20 years. Dolby successfully weaseled AC-3 as the multi-channel audio encoding standard for MPEG-2 DVDs. This is despite the fact that MPEG-2 already has a multi-channel audio encoding (AAC). DVDs in Europe utilize AAC audio.

Thus every DVD and DVD player sold in N. America has to license AC-3 from Dolby.

The best way to steal from people is to do it without their knowledge.


I've not seen a single PAL DVD with a multi-channel MPEG-2 soundtrack. Even a stereo AAC soundtrack is rare. DTS is much more likely to be found, in fact.

The really interesting thing about AC-3 is how it is stored on a film reel. Back when it was developed, multi-channel audio was becoming a thing. For large format film (70mm), the solution was simple: 6 magnetic soundtracks. This actually far exceeds the quality of most cinema audio systems even today. But film companies wanted to get it on to 35mm film which the vast majority of cinemas could actually use. 35mm already has two optical soundtracks, and they didn't want to remove these and force cinemas to change their equipment.

One solution was to have the soundtrack stored on some other medium and synch it together with the film. This the approach used by DTS. But Dolby developed a technique to print the soundtrack between the perforations on the side of the film, thus producing a film that is completely backwards compatible and even has an analogue backup which can be automatically switched in case the AC-3 got damaged. As is often the case with technology, it wasn't the highest quality format that won, it was the one that could be practically used at the time.


Wikipedia has a great visual aid for this. No part of the film was untouched: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:35mm_film_audio_macr...


DVDs in Europe are required to have a non-AC3 audio stream, but not AAC - MPEG-1 layer 2 is one of the options.

AAC, while not controlled by a single company, still has its problems. AAC has had tons of stuff hacked on to it over time (I count 14 profiles), but only one license is offered. So you end up paying for things you don't use, and it's also quite expensive (4x the cost of H.264 video).


You're thinking of MPEG-2 Part 3 (also known as MPEG-2 BC) in Layer 2, a backwards-compatible extension to MPEG-1 Part 3 that allows multichannel audio.

MPEG itself has a FAQ entry on "When should I use AAC rather than MPEG-2 BC?" [1]; of course the point is moot in context of DVDs. This Apple documentation article [2] lists the supported codecs and lists the relevant one as "MPEG-1 Layer 2 Audio"... close enough. It talks about how AC-3 enjoys broad support worldwide, but MPEG-1 Layer 2 is only mandatory in PAL regions. It includes language to suggest that AC-3 may not play on very old players in PAL regions, implying that at some point AC-3 wasn't mandatory in PAL regions -- this is corroborated by empirical observations elsewhere, like this forum thread from 2004 [3].

The book 'Spatial Audio' [4] by Francis Rumsey mentions that MPEG-2 BC was supposed to be multichannel audio in PAL regions, but this push was later abandoned.

Dolby has lobbied extensively in favor of its own formats. This news article from MIT in 2002 recounts [5] an interesting situation where money exchanged hands between Dolby and MIT after MIT's vote to support Dolby AC-3 in a TV broadcasters consortium's recommendations to the FCC.

[1] http://mpeg.chiariglione.org/content/when-should-i-use-aac-r... [2] https://documentation.apple.com/en/dvdstudiopro/usermanual/i... [3] https://forum.videohelp.com/threads/164582-MPEG-Audio-Vs-LPC... [4] https://books.google.com/books?id=b3kqBgAAQBAJ&pg=PA108&lpg=... [5] http://tech.mit.edu/V122/N54/54hdtv.54n.html


Just looking at what Wikipedia says, AAC was standardized in 1997 and the first DVD players went on sale in Japan in 1995. So that’s probably why DVDs don’t use AAC.


DVDs in Europe nearly always use Dolby Digital / AC3. PAL players have to support MP2 (not AAC) as well as AC3 and uncompressed PCM that all players worldwide have to support, but very few discs actually use it.


I always thought Dolby's plan to steal from people was to Blind them with Science


Don't forget any audio receiver that accepts a digital signal.


I think AC-3 patents expires sooner than AAC, right?


It's also worth noting though that there is no need for an AAC license to transmit AAC data. You are only required to purchase a license to use or distribute codecs, which is a one time fee of about a dollar per codec (AKA per device which can play AAC).

I haven't looked into AC-3, but a lot of audio formats would require a per-item costs or related distribution costs for the data as well. That's one of the reasons why MP3 is annoying to deal with commercially, as it has a cost of 2% of revenue for music broadcast/distribution, or a $2,500 cost to bundle MP3s with a single video game title.


20 years just seems way too long for a patent, especially as fast that the tech industry moves nowadays. Even 3 or 5 years would be better if we're going to keep having government granted monopolies.


For groundbreaking technology, 20 years is shorter than you think.

It could take 5 years at university to get it working at all, 5 years as a startup to get the first product to market, 5 years to scale up the marked from zero. Then you only have 5 years left where you actually have a chance to make money.

Shortening the patent life to even 10 years would make it unattractive to patent groundbreaking technology.

If you immediately make it to market, the story is different. In the software-sector everything is moving much much faster than in the physical world. The negative effects of patents become much more obvious then.

One way to go about that is to limit the license fees the patent holder can get. This would change the game in major ways (mostly for the better I think).


Could is the most important word in your entire store, it could take that much time. But the story at hand really underlines that 20 years is longer than necessary.

Furthermore, the alternative (AAC) is open source. So there obviously exist incentives that are not patents. So 0 years of protectionism was enough for some people to innovate.

It is very common for people to act like patents are somehow necessary for innovation, but this is a story where patents were harmful.


'Could' applies to patents being too long too. 20 years could be longer than necessary. All scenarios in this argument have already happened in large numbers, companies have both failed and succeeded to realize financial protection and gain from their patents, in both too long and too short timeframes.

Shortening patent life will hurt big businesses somewhat. It might completely kill the use of patents for small startups and research groups, and completely eliminate whatever protections they have left, if any. Patent protections already heavily favor big businesses. Big businesses will be fine either way. Shortening patents will have little effect on whether they survive. What I wonder is what we can do to make the patent system useful to small businesses, like it is so often claimed to be, or what alternatives there are to incentivize and protect small business innovation.


Remember to consider both sides in your analysis.

It is absolutely true that longer patents would help some small businesses. But it is ALSO true that longer patents would HARM some small businesses. After all, large businesses own most of the patents. So long as their product only requires one patent, the small business is at no real risk from existing patents and is free to use their own patent to establish a foothold in the market. But do most products require only one patent? (Do any in this day and age?)

If a small business requires several patents to conduct their business and these are largely owned by existing, established firms, then patents may actually harm small businesses more than they help. I would be interested to see actual statistics on the size of each effect: I would be unsurprised if it turned out that patents do more harm than good to small businesses, even if the small business holds a patent.


Agreed, and this is a good point. I also wouldn't be surprised to hear that patents are a net negative for small businesses.

You are right, shortening patents could allow more small businesses to compete with tech that expires, it could be a positive for small businesses.

But, that doesn't directly encourage any innovation, or protect the development efforts of any individual small businesses. And once patents expire, everyone can compete. There's normally a lot of dis-incentive for a small business to even consider jumping into that fray after someone's got a head start on the market, especially if the patent holder was a big business.

I'm most interested in how to encourage and protect the technical innovations of small businesses without making it a tool big businesses use to crush small ones and monopolize markets for obvious and non-innovative progress. Shortening patents could have a positive or negative effect on the health of small business, but I worry that it wouldn't address the stated goals of the patent system for small businesses.


> But the story at hand really underlines that 20 years is longer than necessary.

And the scenario outline underlines that it may not be.


But one is a real story, the other is a hypothetical...


It is already unattractive to patent groundbreaking technology.

You are an inventor, and you want to create a new company. Your adversaries are big companies with lots of other patents and lawyers. If there is a conflict (they steal your idea), you don't have any real practical recourse.


As in the case of Robert Kearns (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Kearns) whose story was the inspiration for the film Flash of Genius (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_of_Genius_(film))

It took this man the majority of his adult life to win out in opposition to the Ford Motor Company's "acquisition" of his design for the intermittent windshield wiper.


> It could take 5 years at university to get it working at all, 5 years as a startup to get the first product to market, 5 years to scale up the marked from zero. Then you only have 5 years left where you actually have a chance to make money.

In practice the first 15 years would (and commonly are) simply stretched with continuation patents...


> limit the license fees the patent holder can get

So your solution to some of the issues caused by government-granted monopolies is to impose price controls!?

And don't think that an across-the-board royalty cap would last longer than a year or two. Price controls would only empower a new horde of bureaucrats and rules that would adjust royalty caps based on industry and company.

In this future, a patent means something different to each entity and in each sector.

Government wants to stimulate growth in a certain sector? Bump up the patent royalty cap.

Big business with lots of lobbyists and jobs? Bump up their caps (or reduce the competition's), for the sake of the jobs, you know.


>In the software-sector everything is moving much much faster than in the physical world. The negative effects of patents become much more obvious then.

So tune the law for software patents ? Software industry is large enough to get specific treatment.


And large enough to have lobbying budget to prevent exactly that...


5 years after product comes out the patent is expired. Also to have a clause that you only have 7 years to get your product to market or else the patent expires with a grand total of 12 years at the most.


> Shortening the patent life to even 10 years would make it unattractive to patent groundbreaking technology.

Which probably would not be a bad thing.


I had a neighbor who worked for the patent office. He worked on LCD screens for Samsung and some other manufacturers. He told me the patent office needs 2-3 years to grant the patent but the lifespan of the product is around 18 months. So, he told me, by the time the patent is granted the product is already off the shelves.

He got offended when I said the patent system was messed up


This is still true under the default filing workflow. But the USPTO has mitigated problem with a new program that lets you pay a few thousand dollars and have your case examined w/in a year. Allowances within six months are not impossible. But it's expensive.


Did you bring up Samsung's past implication in infringing upon the patents of other companies?


Comments suggesting Samsung disregards intellectual property are often down voted, and up votes go to comments on the triviality of designing of the rounded rect. What's going on here?


Definitely not a reflection of a large group of people with different opinions of different strengths. It's actually a big HN conspiracy designed specifically to piss you off. You figured us out.


It would be interesting to see the actual data on this.


Honestly, I don't think there is a good argument for patents at this point. If your thing is truly groundbreaking, keep it secret. The reward for having great ideas and successfully productizing them is lots of money; why do there need to be patents (and effective monopoly protections) on top of that?

There's a decent argument for drug patents (drugs cost a fortune to develop; makers only recoup losses if they can mark up the cost of drugs massively; competition gets in the way of that), but I'd argue this is a better argument against the whole industry and an argument for more public funding of drug research.

If you can't make your business work without patents, I think that's a bad sign.

I don't think it's feasible to get rid of patents, but I think they could (and should) be made easier to challenge and invalidate, and there should be some restrictions to discourage patent trolls (what restrictions exactly is debatable).


>Honestly, I don't think there is a good argument for patents at this point. If your thing is truly groundbreaking, keep it secret. The reward for having great ideas and successfully productizing them is lots of money; why do there need to be patents (and effective monopoly protections) on top of that?

Because if anybody else can also "productize" your idea, then it will in all probability be others that will make the money (especially if they are much larger than your company, can market more, have economies of scale, connections with retailers, etc.). So you get no reward at all for your idea, or a vastly diminished one.

People wont buy from you just because you had the original idea.

And of course "keeping it secret" AND selling it is usually not an option at all.


"So you get no reward at all for your idea,"

Idea's are a plenty. It's the correct productization that adds value. So - the correct fairness proposal is that the product development efforts to create a viable first example of a product category don't go to waste.

It's very easy to botch up the execution of a new idea into product. That's why it's not very good idea to trust historical specific examples to proof something does not work - maybe they just botched it. Now, when the first working example hits the market place competing players recognize that the method -in fact - can be implemented and have a bread crumb pathway lead ahead of them for viable product.

Now, the product development effort of competitors to reach market may not be any easier despite the breadcrumbs, but the initial product development had way higher risk because of no breadcrumbs to follow - and thus it's fair they should get higher return of investment for a while.

This is not to say the current implementation of patents is not messed up. It's quite telling that quite a lot of industrialization happened globally because people managed to ignore existing patents and implemented effectively industrial espionage to copy machinery. At least the world economy went ahead in leaps and bounds.


>Idea's are a plenty. It's the correct productization that adds value.

That's for common ideas. "Let's make a Facebook for dogs", "dollar shave club", etc. But those are not patentable in the first place (and if they are in some country, they shouldn't be).

Here we are talking for invention ideas. Which are not plenty, and which often require not just insight that billions couldn't manage to have (the invention of the carriage wheel -- which the pro-Columbian population of the Americas managed to miss, even though they had wheel shaped items for other uses), but also millions in R&D (e.g. to design. build, make efficient to mass produce and test a new kind of plane engine or a more efficient battery).

In a lot of those cases where the invention scratches an itch there's very little "correct productization" needed. If you make a better battery material for example, you just sell it like everybody else sells batteries (plus some marketing for its longer life). Some things literally sell themselves.


I'm not unsympathetic to this view point, but you are talking about a tiny, tiny fraction of the patents in the system. I'd WAG it at on one-thousandth of a percent, tops (while acknowledging the difficulty of measuring this).

So if the vast majority of the work being done is fundamentally different, does it make sense to set policy based on the outliers? The work of the patent office is almost entirely focused on "common ideas".

NB: I don't know the answer to this, just pointing out the difficulty.


So if the premise is that ideas are not patentable and inventions are, then what makes an audio codec constitute an 'invention'?


Codecs, as expressions of abstract ideas (mathematics, primarily), SHOULD be ineligible for patent. Nothing physical about anything necessarily involved in the implementation of a codec is novel these days, except the algorithms, and they're patently (badump-bump) ineligible.

But judges and PTO examiners have been getting it wrong so long they don't even know what's right anymore. But the letter of the law is quite clear and the SCOTUS is starting to come down harder on the side of the law, especially since rulings like Bilski.


I'm torn on this. Let's say you cook up a codec that allows for unheard-of levels of fidelity at unheard-of small file sizes. (Think PiedPiper levels of awesome).

Generally, I'm against software patents due to their easily abused nature (to the point where I think sacrificing all software patents would be a net benefit), but I find it very hard to argue that the person who came up with that codec shouldn't be able to patent their invention. Yes, it's math at the end of the day, but it's still novel math. Putting existing things together in actually novel ways should be patentable.


I'm against software patents for the same reason I'm against patents on things that are mathematics. Note, I've said "are" and not "like." Calling a mathematical formula, concept, or algorithm something else (e.g. "codec" or "my life's work" or "Fraunhoffer's intellectual property" does not make it more than math, and most certainly cannot serve to reify the abstract subject matter. Nowhere in the rules of eligibility is novelty contemplated as an exception to exclusions of abstract concepts and phenomena of nature.

Novel math is still abstract, and as such, strictly ineligible. Software is the same, in that it is purely abstract. It will take time for the courts to catch up to reality, but they have trended in that direction.

Whether I agree or not that, as you say, "...novel ways should be patentable." they are, by the letter of the enacting law, ineligible.


You're talking about the law, I'm talking about the principle that underpins the law and what the law should be as a result. These are two separate topics.


I am also saying I agree strongly with the law's straight-forward stipulation that abstract material is ineligible. There's no justification for letting someone patent things just because they went to a lot of trouble to find or create something obscure, if it is entirely imaginary (abstract) or part of nature.


How would you allow for novelty without opening the door to patenting a novel new application of integer math or gravity?


>then what makes an audio codec constitute an 'invention'?

That it involves not just some singular "let's do an X" moment, but tons of math, hard work, novel techniques for better compression, faster decoding, etc?


A detailed, original, reproducible, non-trivial specification of the algorithm used.

I think you'll find this takes a little more work than "Hey, wouldn't it be great to make audio files smaller?"


Perhaps it's a mistake to reward people just for good ideas.


> why do there need to be patents (and effective monopoly protections) on top of that?

It's explained here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Clause

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

It's to avoid free-riders copying an invention after someone else researches the related dead ends.


I understand the argument, I just don't think it "promotes the Progress of Science and useful Arts". If you were to remove patent protections, the progress of science and useful art would not suddenly take a nose dive. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that patents stifle progress in art and science.

Also there's a big distinction between copyright and patents. You don't hear about copyright trolls as often; it's not as crippled of a system.


You'd get a short term boost, with a flurry of activity around the suddenly freed patents, leading to a lot of incremental work.

You'd then get a longer term slump, as all companies stop investing in basic research and long-term R&D, since they can just wait and copy someone else's research instead. When building real physical products, being second to market by a few weeks costs far less than the years of R&D required to build a truly revolutionary product, not to mention you can use that R&D money to either (a) polish the your product more than the inventor's original product, or (b) splurge on marketing.


> being second to market by a few weeks costs far less than the years of R&D required to build a truly revolutionary product

Can you point to a time where this has turned out to be true by your estimation? An example of a product where there was a tremendous amount of R&D required and the only thing saving the company from being destroyed by competitors beating them to the market 2 weeks later was a strong patent portfolio?

Even in the original iPhone presentation, there's a point where Steve is like, "Oh, and you bet we patented it, lol." But was that why the iphone succeeded? Was that why it could exist in the first place? Were it not for those patents, would Apple have been crushed by competitors mimicking them?

The pro-patent arguments are always expressed as hypotheticals, whereas there are numerous specific examples of patents hurting smaller companies unable to afford the cost of defending themselves. I'd be very interested in situations where the upshot is, "Oh boy, good thing for science and art that those patents existed."


A huge company like Apple is a bad example. The best example of patents working well are when they are used by startups formed from university research groups.

You have a group of people that has performed basic research with minimum funding and decides to commercialize an idea. Since the group's work is already published in conferences and/or journals[1], it is extremely easy for a huge company to just throw some money at the idea and come out with a commercial implementation. But with patents in hand, the research group and the university can decide to either sell the patents to the highest bidder, or continue developing the product if they see the potential. And since the idea is protected by the law, no amount of money can kill the company.

I actually believe that the US patent system is one reason behind the success of advanced tech startups here.

[1]: Publication of results is a requirement for virtually all types of research funding. In other words, if you don't patent the outcome of your research, it's essentially in the public domain.


That sounds pretty reasonable, but what's a specific example of this happening? One that comes to mind is CRISPR, and the patent dispute over that has literally held the field back. CRISPR is the thing that's going to cure cancer, and it's being held back because of patent nonsense. I can't prove it, but if patents didn't exist, I'm pretty sure CRISPR (and the specific nuances at the heart of the actual patent dispute) would nonetheless have been discovered.

Meanwhile compare to something like deep learning, which is uniquely unencumbered by patents for several reasons. Yet somehow corporations seem to be interested and the pace of progress is rapid.


The massive data required for machine learning presents an opportunity to create a moat around those businesses. Releasing the algo but not the data doesn't help competitors much. There's also often a first-mover advantage in data collection: operating a service can give you a unique opportunity to collect relevant data, making it very hard for competitors to catch up. The canonical example is Google search: a competitor can scrape the web (at great cost), but they can't get Google's result click data until they're competitive with Google. And without the data it's damn hard to be competitive.


If a university research group has public funding -- then what? My tax dollars go to support a company that then makes billions from a technology that wouldn't be possible without my involuntary investment.


The university takes a cut, so your money contributed to the US education system, and probably ended up funding more research endeavors.


Pharmaceuticals are a great example. The actual chemical compounds are mostly trivial to manufacture. This is the central reason generic drugs are so cheap. Once you know a particular chemical is useful as a drug and someone else has done the legwork of proving it to regulators, copying that drug is simple and cheap.


The R&D process for pharmaceuticals is long, hard and expensive because it needs to pass regulations. And it kinda needs to be like that to keep the safety of people. But most areas of invention are not like that, there are no such strict regulations, or the need for them. So an idea would be to remove patents as a general invention-protecting mechanism, and replace it with a protection tailored specific to the regulations that cause the problem to be so significant, like in pharmaceuticals. Maybe the FDA could even administer/enforce it.


Anything to back your prediction up? The startups I've worked for got patents, but everyone knew (including our investors) that the patents were useless if anyone actually copied our work.


Agreed; the conventional wisdom around filing patents at the startups I've worked for has been to increase the value of the company (a patent can be valued as an asset). No one ever expected us to file suit against another company that might infringe on our patents (which would take years to get issued, anyway). Doing so would be such a time suck that it would distract us too much from building an actual product.


I agree with you, I have been involved in startup and patents, and the feeling was similar. I can add that patents can also be viewed as a "freedom to operate" certificate: lower chances that someone else claims you can't do what you are doing.


I once worked for a small company that decided to sue their competitor for patent infringement. Not only did it take a huge amount of time and money, but in the end they lost the suit anyway. Eventually they ended up merging with said competitor so the only winners were the lawyers.


> You'd then get a longer term slump, as all companies stop investing in basic research and long-term R&D

There would be a different type of slump too, as companies kept important technologies secret, rather than patenting them


I would suggest that anything that can be implemented as an abstraction in software alone probably should be limited to no more than 5 years of protection, without any possibility of extension patents... Even then, it would be far better than what we have.

Drug/Medical patents need some reform that may need to include compulsory licensing after 3-5 years, and a dual-source requirement (two manufacturers) in order to be covered by government subsidized/paid for insurance programs (including VA, Medicare and gov't employees).


> You don't hear about copyright trolls as often; it's not as crippled of a system.

Strongly disagreed. Copyright is at least as broken as patents, if not more. Mickey Mouse and most of the Disney catalog should have gone out of copyright years ago but they lobbied our corrupt Congress for an insane extension which is now uniformly used throughout the industry. Our public domain has been thoroughly robbed.

For more about abuse of the copyright system and courts in general, see the history of abuse meted out by Prenda Law against various innocent parties. That shit show never should have happened, and it took courts years to stop it. Prenda attorneys are now turning state's witness against each other because they're so busted.


> If you were to remove patent protections, the progress of science and useful art would not suddenly take a nose dive. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that patents stifle progress in art and science.

Why would corporations be motivated to promote progress in science if someone else could come along and get all of their hard-earned research and development for free?

It costs millions or billions of dollars to drive innovation, and there are very few (if any) corporations idealistic enough to spend that kind of money if they don't think they will be able to earn it back.


Because the other option besides innovation is to compete in the "drive margins to zero" space, which isn't very profitable. Patents don't drive innovation. They supposedly prevent innovation from being locked up in trade secrets to live and die with the inventor.

But today's patents are written by lawyers and for lawyers. Patents are usually so terrible at their one job - elucidating inventions - that it takes years of debate between experts just to decide whether a patent even applies to an existing product. They are of no value to the public 20 years later. The whole system has become a make-work welfare program for lawyers and a barrier to free competition.


It's a compromise. The framers of the Constitution had battles about that. Some of them thought patents were bad, some thought they promoted innovation.


Note that the term "useful Arts" as used in the Constitution doesn't mean art as in performance or fine art, it means the same thing as if you were saying that something is "state of the art" -- methods of construction, craftmanship, or manufacture.

(Though you could probably say that copyrights might in some ways stifle people's artistic expression.)


I suppose needing a license to be able to repeat any non-trivial part of anything that anyone has done over the last lifetime + 70 years could stifle artistic expression in some way. Who knows.


But you do hear about them. SCO, Las Vegas Review Journal, Warner Bros., Prenda Law, etc.


> "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts ... "

That's begging the question. How much innovation is gained and how much is lost? Nobody can give an answer.


>It's to avoid free-riders copying an invention after someone else researches the related dead ends.

How much did you pay to use the language and the vocabulary you're using in this post?


> If your thing is truly groundbreaking, keep it secret.

The whole point of patents is to encourage disclosure.


Yeah. That's the idea, all right. The reality, not so much. Anyway, if you disclose the idea, all anyone has to do is come to an agreement with you to use it. And if you keep it a secret ... it's exactly the same! All anyone has to do is come to an agreement with you to use it.


Patents are parts of the public record and expire. So it will eventually be part of the public domain. For secrets there is no such guarantee. Of course these days patents are written in such an obfuscated manner, that maybe they aren't very useful as references in the future.


Without patents, how much time and money would be wasted obfuscating how things work, making it harder to duplicate?

Patents are about giving legal protection to explain how things work, to put it right there for everybody.

That said, eliminate software patents.


> There's a decent argument for drug patents (drugs cost a fortune to develop; makers only recoup losses if they can mark up the cost of drugs massively; competition gets in the way of that), but I'd argue this is a better argument against the whole industry and an argument for more public funding of drug research.

Most people wouldn't go and see a doctor who clearly states that they're just after money, because you know they have tuition to pay back and if they leave money on the table then competition is gonna take it and drive him/her out of business. Public health is obviously a public good, but somehow handing it over to companies with non-aligned interests (eg. pushing some of the dubious drugs to recoup on R&D) is ok.


The hacker news community, and more generally the computer technogolgy, often have this point of view. There's no doubt that patents for our industry could use some work.

However, go to many other idustries and you'll find that people have a much more positive view of patents. We hear about it when patents don't work. You don't often hear about patent success stories.


> You don't often hear about patent success stories.

True enough, can you share some? (preferably post 80s, ie not Robert Kearns?)


Lonnie Johnson invented the Super Soaker in his garage, while working for the USAF. He licensed the technology to Larami Toys (now Hasbro) and later used the same principle to develop the Nerf gun. After an arbitration hearing in 2013, he was awarded nearly $73m in unpaid royalties. He is currently working on a variety of technologies related to sustainable energy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lonnie_Johnson_(inventor)

To give an extremely niche and rather longwinded example:

Fine engraving is done with a specialised reciprocating tool that works a bit like a tiny pneumatic jackhammer. There are two real choices if you want one of these tools. GRS were first to market and are the dominant player; they make a relatively complicated system of tools that use a bulky desktop control unit. The alternative is the Steve Lindsay Airgraver, a beautifully simple design that connects directly to a compressed air source.

GRS would easily have the muscle to push Lindsay out of the market if it weren't for his patents. They have an international network of dealers and training providers; he has little more than a great product and some very satisfied customers. Lindsay's sole commercial advantage is superior technology.

The original patents for both the GRS and Lindsay tools have lapsed, but both tools have been continuously improved over the intervening years with many subsequent patents. If either side stops innovating, they're likely to be decimated by cheaper knock-offs as soon as their last useful patent expires.


Thanks, those are good examples. I do want to point out however: these aren't exactly earth shattering inventions of the kind that justify the sentiment that patents are helping advance art and science.

Because the super soaker guy wants his patent, small software companies have to eat shit from patent trolls and millions (billions?) has to be spent by companies in litigation?

The positives don't outweigh the negatives.


Software patents are obviously bogus, as shown by the Curry-Howard correspondence. Software is not patentable in many jurisdictions.

Abandoning the patent system because of software patents would be an egregious example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The USPTO and the American civil legal system is broken in a lot of quite fundamental ways, but that doesn't invalidate the basic idea of patent law.


To be fair, our civilization is built on accumulating such "small" inventions. Even such (literally) Earth-shattering invention as the atomic bomb required thousands of smaller inventions across many different areas of science and engineering.

I agree that software patents situation is shit, though it would be great if we could handle patent systems of different industries in isolation.


Pharmaceuticals, for instance.


In my PP I specifically said:

> There's a decent argument for drug patents (drugs cost a fortune to develop; makers only recoup losses if they can mark up the cost of drugs massively; competition gets in the way of that), but I'd argue this is a better argument against the whole industry and an argument for more public funding of drug research.

Got any others?

And/or since you brought it up, I'm legitimately asking: what's the best example in your mind of a drug that probably would not exist without patents?


Patents (and any other IP protection except trademarks) are based on two competing objectives:

(a) increase invention

(b) increased distribution of invention

The mechanism of a time-limited protection tries to increase (a) at the cost of (b). Any discussion must start with the acknowledgement that both goals have merit, and that the mechanism of how IP law affects them is basically sound.

There's obviously a point of diminishing returns in the time-limits. For example I'd argue that the money earned "70 years after the death of the creator" contributes very little to the motivation of today's writers. On the other hand, very few people will argue that an exclusive right to sell a book for the first year has never in history influenced a writer's decisions.

It's impossible to find the exact point where the curves meet without looking at a lot of actual data, and it's probably different for every product.


For the most part I agree with what you said, however there are a few points that I think you've gone a bit too far.

I agree that both goals you mentioned have merit, but I think it's going to far to say that the mechanism of IP law is necessarily sound. Granting exclusive right to an invention might be the obvious solution, but is not without problems, so I don't think it's right to dismiss any discussion that doesn't affirm IP law to be basically sound.

Secondly, the exclusive right to sell a book (or more generally, the reproduction of any work) for one year, did no exist for large parts of history, so I don't see how it could possibly have influenced a writer's decisions during those times. At the very least it's not the case that books don't get written without copyright.


I was trying to speak against the very error you seem to be making, i. e. the idea that IP rights have either only good or only bad effects. They're always trying to strike a balance between conflicting goals.

Would any books be written without copyright? Yes, of course – although the laws go back to the 17th century, so it's hard to argue that there ever was a golden time of freedom, considering the printing press was newish at the time and the collective creative output has, even per-capita or GDP-adjusted, increased by about a dozen orders of magnitude.

The two mechanisms which I consider "basically sound" is that (a) financial incentives generally work to stimulate creative output. It's not the only motive driving the useful arts, but you'll have a really hard time showing that it's a net-negative, considering that limitless evidence for the efficacy of financial incentives.

The other mechanism is (b) that the restrictions on distribution created by IP laws diminish the actual usefulness of creative output, which includes the number of people having access to it as one factor.

Both mechanisms are obvious, yet they work in opposite directions. The total benefit of IP is (simplified) <works created, i. e (a)> * <people reached, i. e. (b)>.

There are some examples for how to avoid this conundrum, such as 'fair use', or the government (or interested groups/individuals) buying IP rights and donating to the public domain. I also believe quite firmly that copyright terms of death+70 years are far beyond the point where they create enough benefits in (a) to offset the losses in (b). The situation for patents is a bit more murky.


The usual poster child for patents is drug development. It costs about $1 billion to get regulatory approval for a drug (this is also why drug costs tend to be high). Once you know the formula of a drug, it's not particularly hard to work out how to make it, and the marginal costs of actual production are almost nil.

The main value proposition of patents is that you entice inventors to make their inventions public for promoting further innovation, with the cost to society of given them exclusive practice for a short time. The problem with trade secrets is that reverse engineering exists, is generally legal, and is surprisingly easy. Give me a shipping binary and it's effectively equivalent to giving me source code.

I recently was thinking about patents, and software patents in particular. It's clear that the current patent system doesn't work very well here. SCOTUS has heard several cases about this general area of patents, and has found all of them distasteful (note that State St. was not a SCOTUS decision, and in Bilski, SCOTUS went out of its way to complain about how bad State St. was), while still struggling to be able to articulate a useful test.

The problem with software patents, in a nutshell, boils down to the fact that an invention like, say, the Enigma machine is the sort of prototypical invention that everyone would agree is patentable, while it's not clear that the software analogue should enjoy the same patentability (leaving aside questions of novelty, here). Should we prejudice a modern inventor just because he implements his useful machines in a virtual question, they ask, with the implicit response hopefully being no. And it's that response that drives SCOTUS to shying away from categorically saying that this sort of stuff that's never patentable.

And the answer I would give is yes. It is inherently more difficult to realize an idea in a physical domain than it is in a virtual domain--after all, I can try many different implementations in an afternoon (it's called recompiling). Furthermore, one of the great revelations of the information age was that you can equate many different concepts with relatively simple encoding systems--think about how we can use integers to represent, say, floating point numbers or strings. The essence of patentability is that you had to figure out something new, which is to say you had to realize an abstract idea into something concrete in a new way.

The downside is that this suggests that software should be patentable, although the bar should also be recognized as being much higher. And when you go back and you read the Alice decision, you can see SCOTUS sort of reaching towards that idea: you have to do something inventive with the abstract idea to meet §101 requirements.


Yeah, agreed re: drugs. Given the current state of the industry, "How do you develop drugs without patents?" is a legitimate question. As I said in my PP, I think it's more of an indictment of the industry than a good example for why we need patents. But yes, I agree, drug patents are the best leg patent proponents have to stand on. I still think drug patents should be massively weakened, but it's a longer argument.

> Should we prejudice a modern inventor just because he implements his useful machines in a virtual question, they ask, with the implicit response hopefully being no.

If the sentence starts with "Should we prejudice a modern inventor just because...", the answer is probably "Of course not!" because it's such a loaded way to phrase it. Just saying.

But your larger point is well taken; I understand that this is exactly the analogy used in court decisions that end up being pro-patent. "Even though the method of implementation of ideas has changed, the spirit of the original concept of patents still stands true, as it has historically." But my takeaway from looking at basically the same evidence is "Patents weren't a very good idea in the first place, and now they're a really bad idea because times have changed because of software and the patent-industrial complex has made the software business worse for the little guy."


> If your thing is truly groundbreaking, keep it secret

That's kind of the point of a patent. It allows research into the open instead of secret so others can improve on it while the patent holder monetizes what he created.

without it, corporate research would be entirely kept private.


If corporations were so confident of their ability to keep research private, they wouldn't apply for patents. However, I suspect most inventions are either of little practical interest, or would soon be rediscovered by somebody else. How long would it have taken before somebody else thought of 1-click buying, for example?


I was advised never to read patents when inventing something. What's so useful about a system that's supposed to help people innovate when it's so questionable to use that lawyers are advising against it?


Lawyers advise against it because damages go way up if the patent owner can show you knew about the infringing patent. A very perverse outcome.


So doesn't that ultimately sabotage the idea that it brings information to the masses faster, if no one can act upon it?


My uncle invented a new type of sprinkler. It's perhaps not groundbreaking but it was significantly better than anything on the market that time. If not patenting it then how do you suggest he went about making money out of it? He have invented that thing in his garage over quite a few years of tinkering, it's not like he had the capital to build a factory to mass produce it. No, he patented it, went to the manufacturer, sold it, and everyone was happy. Yes, even the manufacturer was happy because the R&D costs to create a product that much better than the competitors would've been much higher. It was a win-win situation for everyone involved.


> but I'd argue this is a better argument against the whole industry and an argument for more public funding of drug research.

Ok so the US publicly funds the development of a new drug. It costs US tax payers $1bn. 3 months after the drug is approved, factories in a BRIC start manufacturing it for peanuts and selling it all over the world. How do US tax payers recoup their costs? You've just pushed the freeloading issue away from 'other companies' and over towards 'other nations'.


"Recoup their costs" - the same way we recoup them by providing welfare. Human capital. If we don't believe that keeping people alive and healthy is worth investing in, what, exactly, are we bothering to spend any money on in the first place?

The reward/loss proposition is "does this drug help people and would have it existed otherwise", not "did we turn a monetary profit"


NPR recently aired an opinion by someone who claimed that the US federal government could save money in the long run by buying the (publicly traded) inventor of a Hepatitis C drug on the open market (for about $500M) and then manufacturing and giving the drug gratis to all diagnosed Hep-C patients. The large up-front expenditure is recouped on the back end by reducing the expensive liver transplants that would likely be required, and then paid for by Medicare.

It is an argument-in-miniature for reforming health care in the US.

In all likelihood, the US should be operating its own generic pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, for all clinically relevant patent-expired drugs, that would, at minimum, serve all VA, Medicare, and Medicaid patients. If you can pay from an effectively unlimited purse, that just encourages the generics manufacturers that you buy from to raise their prices to just beyond the limit of what is reasonable.

Curing disease is usually less expensive than continuously treating them until the patient dies (or runs out of money). The patent system encourages research into the latter. A public health system would prefer the former.

The quest for (economic) profits in an industry is by definition the quest to make it more expensive relative to other industries. You can't get better than average returns from companies in it unless their customers are paying more money into it relative to other industries. Granted monopolies allow firms to achieve economic profits. Health care is expensive in the US because it is protected from commoditization. That is by design, so that health care businesses can be (economically) profitable!

It stands to reason that you cannot achieve lower costs without destroying opportunities to realize economic profits. That is why this administration and all previous administrations fail at "fixing healthcare". They are already committed to preserving the profits. Health care company shares make it easier for those that own them to live at the expense of those who do not. The noise about insurance plans and coverage is distracting everyone from the root cause: for-profit businesses with protected monopolies.

Drug research can be done with the goal of improving quality of life rather than the goal of making more money than can be earned by investing on the no-risk baseline.

Patents make an industry more expensive for everyone else to buy from. That is their purpose. The original intent was to make otherwise untenable investments in R&D pay off. But in mature, non-nascent industries, they are a drag on the economy.


> If your thing is truly groundbreaking, keep it secret.

That's a lot easier said than done.


Maybe because you will be sued to death if you do not have any up


There are a lot of things that you and I take for granted that simply wouldn't exist without the patent system. I think many people underestimate the amount of R&D effort that goes into coming up with a novel idea and its implementation. If there was no system in place to protect IP, commercially-funded research would basically die, and the average Joe would end up being the biggest loser. However, I am completely against silly patents like the infamous attempt by BT to patent the hyperlink[1].

[1]: http://www.zdnet.com/article/bt-loses-hyperlink-patent-case/


Technically drugs have the same patent lifespan (3 years, 2 year extension for testing/R&D). Sadly there are ways to game the system (only patenting part of the molecule, part of the process, part of the anything) and then continually keeping the hold for years and years on specific drugs.

The same would happen in software. They'd write all the software, patent a part of it, and then repatend a different part of the software as time went on. If anyone else attempted to patent an unpatented part they claim they invented it first and will be awarded the patent (because it is their patent). If anyone uses an unpatented part they just file for the patent and sue when they're awarded it.

What's broken isn't the lifespan, it's the patent system.


  Technically drugs have the same patent lifespan (3 years
You might be thinking of New Clinical Investigation Exclusivity, which is 3 years, and is an entirely different thing. https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DevelopmentApprovalProcess/ucm0790... Drug patents last 20 years, same as any other patent.

The patent expiration tricks you describe don't... exist? (You do have to patent the entire molecule.) Pfizer made a hojillion dollars from Vigara. Its patent expired in 2012, and it's now a generic. "From 1996 to 2012 under the trade name Lipitor, atorvastatin became the world's best-selling drug to that point, with more than US$125 billion in sales". Lipitor is a generic now, and is dirt cheap. If Pfizer could have keep Lipitor under patent, by any means at all, they would have!

Drug companies make sequel compounds, sure, and market the heck out of them. But you don't have to buy them if you don't want to. The old drugs still exist.

Your description of software patents is equally strange. You know patent examiners don't actually look at code, right? The process, or "apparatus" is described, and they award the patent based on that. You can rewrite the implementation all you want, as long as it's doing the same thing, it's covered by the same patent. You have do something different to get a different patent. What counts as "different" has, of course, been a topic of heated argument for the last two centuries.


> "From 1996 to 2012 under the trade name Lipitor, atorvastatin became the world's best-selling drug to that point, with more than US$125 billion in sales"

Also note that 1996 to 2012 is not 20 years. Drug trials eat up the patent time. This is problematic for some diseases, e.g., for cancer, where ideally you might prefer early-stage interventions or cures, but late-stage trials are faster to conclude and therefore can give drugs with longer patent protection.


Sometimes the drug companies will use tricks like finding some side effect in their current drug that makes it difficult/impossible for a generic version to get approved. But no worries, they've already invented and patented a replacement!


The US went first-to-file in 2011 for those that live or do business there. And in software, it would be trivial to determine the other parts.


It seems like the exact date was March 16, 2013 and if so then I stand corrected on that part.

I thought FtF applied to any part of the invention. So you patent a specific part of the invention, then you've filed that invention. I could be wrong. IANAL

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_to_file_and_first_to_inv...


Sorry yes, they signed it in 2011 but it went into effect in 2013


This is why the drug companies love biologics so much. The patent can expire, but without access to the cell line that produces the drug, it can't be relocated. An equivalent cell line would have to go through clinical trials.

Humira is out of patent protection, but still costs thousands for a dose


> If anyone else attempted to patent an unpatented part they claim they invented it first and will be awarded the patent (because it is their patent). If anyone uses an unpatented part they just file for the patent and sue when they're awarded it.

Wouldn't the one-year rule apply in those cases, preventing the original inventor (or anyone else) from filing for a patent for something that has been public knowledge for more than a year?


If the unpatented part is put into production by the original inventor, can they still patent it many years later?


No, they can't. gravypod's explanation is not how patents work.


Don't know if things have changed recently, but last time I was involved you'd have a year after going into production to apply for the patent. Miss that deadline, kiss your patent goodbye.


It really depends on the industry I think. Some industries like machine learning move fast enough that a 20 year patent can kill a whole field. Even 2 years is forever in machine learning.

But I also think some fields move slow enough and need enough R&D that much longer timescales make sense. Things like wind tech, nuclear tech, fusion tech.

I'm really not an expert on any of this, but a I don't think a one size fits all scheme is sufficient.


Yeah, a patent would destroy machine learning. 2 years? Try 2 weeks on arXiv... :D

But on the other hand, I'm of the opinion that patents should stay, but trivial ones should stop being granted. And perhaps progressively increase the length based on triviality? Something super novel should get a longer lifespan, but something simple(r) should only get 5 years or so.


I have thought that there could be an IP tax that increases over time, and once you do not pay the tax, the IP in question becomes public domain automatically.

The increase rate could be different for different IP, but typically first few years could be free, and after 20 years the tax should be in billions.

This would solve quite a few problems with IP (orphan works would be a non-issue, and patent trolls would have difficulties operating)

Of course, I think there would be some "small" details to be solved on the international side...


"The increase rate could be different for different IP"

I would expect that to end up as just one other thing patent lawyers will use to dispute patents, as that would have the patent office (partially) decide not only whether something is original, but also, to some extent, what it is worth.


I meant not in individual patent level, but higher level. Copyright for books might need a separate tax schedule from patents in medicine, which again might have different requirements than software patents.

Or, one schedule might fit everything, I have not done that detailed anaylis of this idea.


I am confused. If I invent something; I pay the government a tax or I lose what I invent?

"Hey this is a really nice restaurant; it'd be a shame if you were to have a fire or something."


Yes, the government and society helps you to protect your idea and monopolize it over some time. Paying for that privilege with a tax is not very outlandish.


I see it more like: I own property. I pay the government a tax on the property or I lose it. I own intellectual property. I pay the goverment a tax on the intellectual property or I lose it.

I am not interested here to engage in a libertarian argument that all tax is theft or mafia type coercion.


All tax is organized theft, backed by irresistible force. You are welcome not to face that fact, but it doesn't change the truth.

The only real opportunity for disagreement is whether that theft is justified. And, I suppose, we can play games with substituting another term for "theft". Perhaps "confiscation" or "seizure".


All property (intellectual or otherwise) is organized theft, backed by irresistible force. You are welcome not to face that fact, but it doesn't change the truth.

So libertarian views on this are pots calling the kettle black.


Proudhon's "What is Property?" is a good read on this. Private property is theft from society.


An obscure joke on this topic that's always tickled me though perhaps not objectively funny:

https://mako.cc/copyrighteous/property-2


Hah, I like this.


He's getting unfairly downvoted in that the point is that if you invent something you need to pay the government to get protection but if you create something you get copyright protection for free. Which seems weird.

So if I sign a schematic its a work of art and can't be reproduced without my permission and I don't need to register it before filing suit on anyone infringing my copyright (although it would help at trial...)

On the other hand someone else can steal the design off my schematic unless I pay the government to protect me, which seems weird to me.

It would be like the government protecting me for free if someone stole the arrangement of my lawn chairs on my patio, but not having police protection from stealing the physical chairs unless I paid protection money.

Shouldn't the government in a capitalist country protect inventors stronger than it protects artists? Or maybe this isn't as much of a top to bottom capitalist country as some people insist.

Artists and property owners are protected by the government for free. The work of the engineer, not so much.


I referred to IP more generally than just patents. (Note my comment on orphan works)


If you think 20 years is bad, wait till you see what Disney is pulling off.


How much are AC-3 license fees?

Like, should I be outraged at the fee built into TVs, or is it basically irrelevant?


According to https://ec.europa.eu/assets/jrc/events/20110428-tto-circle/j... both Philips and Dolby collected royalties on AC-3 in DVD players totaling $1.05 for one capable of 5.1 output. By comparison, the high-volume per-unit fee for H.264 is $0.10, and because of the annual cap on H.264 fees, the effective per-unit fee for large companies is actually much smaller. So AC-3 costs over an order of magnitude more than a video codec (HEVC is, of course, aiming to fix this), and does not, to my knowledge, have an annual cap.

You can view a sample license agreement, which does not mention such a cap, here: https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1114084/000101287003... Annual caps are essential for anyone whose business model involves giving away software for free on the internet (even an existing user downloading a new version triggers another royalty).

You may also notice that that agreement charges royalties for products made or distributed in "Non-Patent Countries", including those that purport not to have software patents. This is pretty standard. Essentially, if you'd like to sell your product in the US, you have to pay royalties on all units you sell, anywhere in the world.


I wish we'd have the same outrage over the various taxes that constitute a product's cost as we do the license fees. Gasoline taxes for instance are higher than the profit made from selling gasoline.


I'm outraged that gasoline taxes aren't higher, if that counts, since it's use literally poisons children and leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year amongst other externalities it imposes on people.


Compared to copyrights, patent expiration is much more reasonable!


True, but if you are writing software, it is vastly easier to avoid violating copyrights than it is to avoid violating patents.


I sincerely hope we aren't using "more reasonable than current copyright law" as a measure of anything.


Just think about the nonsense Disney did with all the characters that should be in the public sector... But aren't... I don't understand why the patent office doesn't understand the point of a patent - to protect a novel idea, not to allow people to patent everything and she each other over it...


>I don't understand why the patent office doesn't understand the point of a patent

That's the copyright office. And they understand it fine, but they take orders from lawmakers who are paid under the table (or over it) to extend copyrights.


isn't that a copyright issue, not a patent issue?


Yeah. Example was copyright but I was thinking of patents...


What if a technology takes 3 years to develop? Should the company only have 3 years of protection?


I'm not sure if this is what you meant, but that's an interesting idea: Patents that last for as long as you can prove you spent developing the technology behind them.

If the discoveries and investigation behind a patent took you 20 years, then you get a 20 year patent. If they only took you five minutes because you're advancement is relatively trivial (and yet somehow still qualifies for a patent) then you get a minimum of a year or something.

I'm sure that such a system would be just as game-able, but I feel like it would kill at least some of the most pollutant patents.


Not really what I meant. I was more implying that companies should have a right to protect what they spent time and money developing. No one invest in R&D if they would only get a small amount of protection. I think 3 years is likely too short. But I don't know what the right amount is either.


20 years ago things weren't moving quite as fast.

But I do agree with the sentiment.


The MPEG-2 patents also ran out recently. Even MPEG-4, as used online, may be out of patent. The newer patents in the MPEG-LA portfolio for MPEG-4 are mostly for things nobody uses online, such as interlace and 5-channel audio. It's about time for someone to take a hard look at the remaining MPEG-LA patents.


Hmm, does this mean the raspberry Pi licences should be free soon?

http://www.raspberrypi.com/license-keys/


Are H.264 and MPEG 4 the same thing? I can never remember the relationship.

Does this mean that the WebM fight is closer to being moot?


H.264 in context of MPEG is MPEG-4 Part 10 "Advanced Video Coding", published in 2003. It's probably what OP is referring to, since pretty much no one on the web uses the other MPEG-4 video coding (anymore), MPEG-4 Part 2, which dates to 1999.

MPEG-4 Part 2 was made famous by the encoders DivX and Xvid, but didn't see the magnitude of professional usage as either its predecessors MPEG-2 Part 2 (also known as H.262) and H.263 (which was a teleconferencing codec to which the widely-deployed Sorenson Spark, used in Flash 6 and 7, was fairly close to) or its successor H.264.

That being said, the MPEG LA maintains a (very, very long) list of patents [1] in the H.264 patent pool, with recently expiring patents (sometimes?) notated for convenience. Submarine and unlisted/uncovered patents notwithstanding, an interested party should be able to start with this list and research if they are truly necessary to implement decoding and encoding of H.264 as used on the web today.

[1] http://www.mpegla.com/main/programs/AVC/Pages/PatentList.asp...


I could not understand this, >>Submarine and unlisted/uncovered patents notwithstanding

How could a standard that is alive and used widely for nearly a decade now still has Submarine patents. I wish there is a rule if anyone dont come fourth within say 5 - 8 years when the standard is formed and used they could no longer claim these patents against the standard.


Patents cover detail of the implementation, not just the details in the standard. Is the software you are using to encode/decode also 20 years old? If not, more recent changes might be patented.


H.264 is a subset of MPEG-4. It's another name for MPEG-4 Part 10 (Advanced Video Coding).

MPEG-4 itself includes many other parts, including a container format, audio (AAC), and another video codec (Part 2, popularly known as DivX).


H.264 is MPEG-4 Part 10. If I am not mistaken H.264 is only the video compression part, while MPEG-4 is full audio, video, and container.


I thought that might be correct. So I guess H.264 is still under patent?


If OS News is correct it will be patent free on 29 nov 2027.

http://www.osnews.com/story/24954/US_Patent_Expiration_for_M...


No, H.264 is a newer codec.

Now the fight is H.265 vs AV1.


Could this lead to a Linux distro supporting MP4 by default?


Most distros do to my knowledge.


Fedora and the all FOSS ones tend to avoid patent-encumbered codecs. I'm not sure about Debian based ones.


> "You have probably paid many AC-3 license fees over the years. AC-3 license fees are part of the cost of TVs, game consoles, and other AV equipment sold in the last 25 years."

I'm curious ... what's the ballpark end-user license cost the public has been paying for the ability to decode AC-3 on their TVs and receivers and consoles and other devices?


This forum post is the closest I can find, although it only relates to the producer's costs. It looks like it ranges from next to nothing for small-budget releases to 10k for cinema releases.

http://www.reduser.net/forum/showthread.php?39633-Licensing-...

The replies to that post include a link to an application page, which also includes options for products which decode the audio. Maybe someone could troll the page, assuming it's automated.

https://www.dolby.com/us/en/professional/licensing.html


When Japan opened up to the West, Korekiyo Takahashi visited the US in 1886. "We said, 'What is it that makes the United States such a great nation?' And we investigated and we found that it was patents, and we will have patents."

http://www.iphalloffame.com/korekiyo_takahashi/

You need to reward innovators or you won't have innovation.


The patent system no longer rewards innovation. At best, it's a non-participant and at worst it quashes innovation.

I'm not trying to agree or disagree with anything else you wrote, just clarifying what I think is a point you left ambiguous.


If I was ambiguous, it was unintentional. I'm very pro-patent and moreover, I'm always surprised with opposition to them at the engineer level. I haven't met any entrepreneurs who were anti-patent.

I rather disagree that patents don't reward innovation; that is exactly what they do. As Lincoln said, The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius. Lincoln was among many many things, a patent attorney.


Any quotes newer than 19th century?


Damn. And I was gonna quote Twain:

  for I knew that a country without a patent office
  and good patent laws was just a crab,
  and couldn't travel any way but sideways or backways


> Any quotes newer than 19th century?

What you're doing is called Chronological Snobbery, acting as if an idea or concept has no value simply because of age.


> The patent system no longer rewards innovation. At best, it's a non-participant and at worst it quashes innovation.

> I'm not trying to agree or disagree with anything else you wrote, just clarifying what I think is a point you left ambiguous.

That's a ridiculous oversimplification.


Patent lifespan of 20 years maybe was ok in 1886, but it's too long now, when multiple tech revolutions can happen in 20 years.


BTW, that multiple tech revolutions can happen in 20 years point argues for longer not shorter patent terms. If at great effort and expense, I develop and patent a nuclear powered widget and then four years from now the market moves on to quantum-based widgets, why should my nuclear powered widget patent have a shorter patent term? If a patent is an incentive for me to invent (and it is) then increasing the velocity of technology while keeping RD costs constant and then shortening the patent term dis-incents me.


Of course any creator of patented nuclear powered widget wants the patent to exist longer, not shorter, because it's easier to make money. But shortening patent life is for world progress' sake, here the most beneficial strategy for individual might be not the most beneficial strategy for the world. Progress is in many ways evolutionary and future inventions are based on the previous ones. So if you would make patents indefinite in time, you'd effectively remove this step from progress and will make it work around (also disincentives creator of patented technology to innovate, if it's market leader it can also slow down everything), possibly slowing it down. Patents make sure that inventor have time to return investments, it's a balance exercise. Nowadays world communicates/works on much faster speed and contains much more people/companies that's why I think this balance should be moved to the shorter patent length.


They were 17 years in 1886. We've increased them to 20 years to harmonize with Europe, China, ... and gone First To File. I think both of these changes are improvements.


Okay, so that is what a Japanese person in the 1880s thought. I'm not convinced yet.


>You need to reward innovators or you won't have innovation.

It's unfortunate that the "reward" needs to come in the form of a monopoly over an idea. The fact that ideas themselves are valuable is such a capitalistic thing.

I don't believe copyright or patents are justified enough; the idea that someone can force you not to implement a particular algorithm or not to share some data with your neighbor, I find it ridiculous.

I have no respect for "IP", and no respect for private property. Down with the monopolies over what we can say and make and share, and down with the state that protects it.


Do you not believe that ideas are inherently valuable? You think they only have value in a capitalist society?

If you find a copyrighted work valuable enough to use or share with your neighbor but you don't think you should have to pay to support its creation, you're a freeloader. If everyone acted in this way, no one would be funding the development of such works and they wouldn't exist for you to share. I know most of us skirt the rules in various circumstances but at the end of the day, someone has to be paying for these works or they wouldn't get created in the first place.


>you're a freeloader

In this case, I can't see the problem with being a freeloader. Information is a non-scarce resource, and the arguments against freeloading don't apply to sharing information, other than the continuance/incentive aspect. This aspect is present in capitalism, though not necessarily in other economic systems. I personally do not care if future material is no longer produced. I'll find something else to do. What other people do is not my business.

Also, most businesses rely on employing people for wages, which I believe is exploitation, so in the case of information I don't really have a problem with these capitalists failing.

>someone has to be paying for these works or they wouldn't get created in the first place.

And if someone wants to pay, they surely can. I won't though.


I'm typing this comment using close to 100% free software that I did not pay for.


Free as in freedom, free as in beer, but not free to develop. Someone's paying for the development of those works.


Yes. There are a variety of business models in free software, just like there are a variety of business models in producing copyright content.

So, now that we know that, why are you calling basically everyone on the planet a freeloader? e.g. why am I freeloading if I read articles in the 'free' newspaper (advertising supported, of course.)


You seriously have no respect for private property? Could you elaborate on this - I don't think I understand what you have written as-is.


Private property includes land and the machinery used in order to exploit labour within capitalism; I don't believe that those who hold the 'right' to this property do so legitimately, as they can only back up their claim via (i) the state (which has not been shown to be legitimate) and (ii) title transferred from a previous owner. The latter is a result of violent defence of property that someone claimed as his own long ago; again, the legitimacy of this has yet to be shown.

I regard the following as illegitimate: (i) private property used in order to create profit via exploitation of labour in exchange for wages, and (ii) private property which is neither used (i.e occupied) nor laboured upon.

My aim is not to have property shared amongst people, but rather to abolish the concept altogether, along with all concepts of morality and justice.


I hope that you do not act on your ideas or you will almost certainly spend some time in prison. While a house guest of the state should you continue to act on your ideas there, then daily you will be rather forcefully reminded of their inadequacy.


>I hope that you do not act on your ideas or you will almost certainly spend some time in prison.

I appreciate your concern, but I don't think an unjust law has weight; the only reason why I follow the ones that I do is so that I'm not put in prison. Not because I believe they are right. And the laws I break I do so when there is a smaller risk of being caught.

Being a citizen is by no means being a house guest, as I am forced to be a house guest of some state anyway. I regard the state is illegitimate.


> the only reason why I follow the ones that I do is so that I'm not put in prison

Ok, so you are aware of disincentives. Well, patents are incentives.


An incentive at the expense of my own freedom, which I refuse to accept as valid.


There are over 200 sovereign nations you can choose to live in. The fact that you're not happy with any of them suggests you might have unrealistic expectations.


>suggests you might have unrealistic expectations

I hear this a lot, but I disagree with it. Of course I do not expect the state to just vanish, but my point is that I do not want to 'settle' for a state, because I disagree with the fundamental concept of the modern state, because it is neither anarchistic, nor implementing direct democracy, nor supporting the abolishment of private property.

I don't want states to change. I want them to be destroyed.


You are, however, not offering any good reasons for this. I've had a lot of arguments over the years with libertarians and I find them to be simplistic at best. Anarchists don't even rise to that level of engagement.


I'm not a libertarian in the economic sense. My reason for wanting the state abolished is firstly because it provides support via conferring of private property rights to the bourgeoisie; secondly, because the state's authority is unjustified as the world's entire divison into states results in non-voluntary association, thirdly because the state insists upon censorship and imposition of authority with threat of violence rather than voluntary association, thirdly my belief that man is born free, only constrained by power and class relationships which exhibit themselves currently as government-citizen and bourgeois-proletarian.

But I would like to ask: upon what authority does the state, the private property owner and the landlord declare their dominion? Remember that if the defence of the state is something like "it has been democratically elected" it would follow that any other institution elected via democracy to replace the state would be in legitimate competition with the state, and be just as valid. Furthermore that the officers of the state are not subject to instant recall, and many parts are not democratic at all.


Under what authority? The consent of the governed. Even in North Korea, it comes down to the consent of the governed. At the same time, there's not a lot of interest in relocating to failed states because whatever freedom you would find there, you would find even more threat and even less opportunity.


>Under what authority? The consent of the governed.

That's strange, I don't remember consenting.


I think what he means is that government derives its authority from people respecting its authority and following its laws. If everyone in the US woke up tomorrow and agreed that we were better off if we just abolished the government, it would cease to exist. The fact that that hasn't happened suggests that people on some level feel that we're better off if we don't do that. I don’t think this is a very strong argument though; e.g. in a place like North Korea, it’s very difficult to overthrow the government even if a lot of people might feel that would make them better off.

I agree that people don’t “consent” to being governed just by virtue of being born, but I don’t think it’s possible to have a world where people consent to being a part of every power structure they’re forced to participate in, nor to have a world without such power structures.


> There are over 200 sovereign nations you can choose to live in

There are, perhaps, over 200 sovereign nations, but far fewer that allow at-will immigration such that you are simply free to unilaterally choose to love in them.


You can't patent an idea. You can only patent an implementation of an idea.


This makes Laserdisc a completely open format!


And DRM-free! I'm watching one tonight in celebration.

Sadly, there's practically no documentation online about the Laserdisc physical format.


What's the practical upshot of this? Are there some apps that are waiting for this bit to expire so they can finally make things work the way they should?

For example, Audacity for Windows doesn't install with MP3 support. You have to download a plugin from Germany before Audacity will read/write MP3. Which I presume is because patents.


> For example, Audacity for Windows doesn't install with MP3 support. You have to download a plugin from Germany before Audacity will read/write MP3. Which I presume is because patents.

Presumably, yes. Although, coincidentally enough, mp3's patent expired recently as well. So you may not have to anymore.


> Although, coincidentally enough, mp3's patent expired recently as well. So you may not have to anymore.

Are you sure? According to wikipedia it ends at the end of 2017 (in the US) [0] Also, http://www.mp3licensing.com/ is still up and running.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3#Licensing.2C_ownership_and...


I guess decoding expired a while ago: https://lists.fedoraproject.org/archives/list/legal@lists.fe...

Encoding is still encumbered for a little while.



Apple blocks apps on iOS that have AC-3 support without a license. Even VLC got bit by this and thrown out of the App Store.


Seems you can do AC-3 on iOS now by using the OS to do the decoding.


This makes, possibly, one of the most Widely used and Hardware compatible codec patent free. ( All MP3's patent will expire in Dec 2017 )

And AC-3 offer lossless mode, which means you now have a Free, Lossloess codec that can be played on a very wide range of media player.

My previous experience ( that was properly more then 10 years ago already )was that AC-3 sounded a lot better then Mp3 at high bitrate / 256Kbps.

Not sure how it fares with AAC.


AC-3 does not offer lossless mode, only the extension TrueHD, which is still covered by patents.

As mentioned in the article, AC-3 is pretty horrific by modern standards. Use Opus or FLAC instead.


Why would they still use old codec when there are modern and free ones like Opus?


From the site:

Developers When would I need to decode AC-3?

    Playing most live TV content
    Playing most recorded TV content
    Playing many videos from DVD
    Playing many videos from Blu-Ray
    Playing videos recorded by some digital camcorders
    Playing some online streaming content offered in 5.1 surround sound
When would I need to encode AC-3?

Hopefully never! In practice, there are a few cases:

Encoding surround sound audio for some legacy TVs and devices that only support AC-3 for surround. Modern devices can decode other multichannel formats such as AAC, DTS, and Opus.

Encoding surround sound audio to be sent to a legacy AV receiver using an optical cable (S/PDIF). Modern AV receivers can accept other formats over HDMI, including multichannel PCM.

Is AC-3 any good? Should I use it for new stuff?

No, of course not. AC-3 is over 25 years old and horribly inefficient.


AC-3 is a part of many current standards (i.e. is a hard requirement) and has wide hardware support.

Opus lacks both hardware and software support on many platforms (notably iOS) and ultimately, doesn't perform that much better than existing, supported codecs like AAC, which already have to be licensed for other reasons.

I love Opus and it's used by some big players like YouTube but ultimately I don't see it taking the place of MP3/AAC for music or AC-3/DTS for premium video anytime soon.


AAC is patent encumbered, so it's not a suitable option for replacing standards. That's what I'm talking about. Standards aren't supposed to be forever stuck with old tech. I see no reason why Opus couldn't be part of more standards (it's already part of WebRTC), besides of course Apple which can't stand free codecs.


Is there a similar status page somewhere for DTS/DCA? I think that's the last of the first generation multichannel audio codecs which is still both widely used and patent encumbered.


The remaining patents on DTS Core expired last year.

http://dts.com/patents/bd-dvd-players lists 4 patents, all expired.

(DTS-HD is still patent-encumbered, but DTS-HD content is backward-compatible with DTS Core.)


Good news for Fedora ? With native mp3 and ac-3 decoding in 2017, who knows what this new world holds in store for us. /s


fedora finally ships an mp3 decoder, but won't ship the encoder until then.


Yeah, it was over the news when they announced that. There's also some effort to get H264 through cisco's openh264, but that's also very basic and doesn't do most of the useful stuff


I happened to open this link with about 5 minutes left on the countdown, so I totally watched it tick down all the way to 0. Unfortunately no fireworks at the end, just the clock starting to show the time the patents had now been expired :)


Yep, all it does is update the countdown message: http://web.archive.org/web/20170319195114/https://ac3freedom... and it uses jquery-countdown. Sounds to me like we need jquery-fireworks: https://codepen.io/P3R0/pen/yyqdxR.


I have an AVCHD camcorder that is excellent in all respects, except for the fact that it uses AC-3 at something like 256 kbps for its stereo sound: compression artifacts are quite noticeable.


I think the last MP3 patent will expire by the end of the year, I always thought AC-3 is younger than MP3 but well. (Almost the same age) MP3 is also an example of prolonged patent validity, it was approved in 1991, published in 1993 but the last patent expires in 2017.


Does that mean that VLC on iOS will be able to play AC-3? Now, one can't play a movie on an iOS. device, you have to transcode it first.


does audio still have that much innovation, isn't it now a good idea for dolby to look elsewhere for patents?




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