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Video patents have their foot on the throats of our video screens

Once again patents inhibit innovation

There has been quite a bit written lately about Google "caving in" and licensing H.264 patents from the MPEG LA group, effectively killing off VP 8 as a potential rival to H.264. Several writers have said Google didn't do right by the open source community and was cowed by the prospect of a patent fight. I say rubbish. Have you ever seen Google back down from a fight they thought they could win before? To me, it is obvious that Google sized up the claims of the MPEG LA group and realized that they had a very strong hand. Google realized they couldn't win.

Google is not a fraud. They really do support open source communities, but they are also a rational company who will not throw good money after bad in a losing effort. Can you blame them? It is obvious to me that MPEG LA had the goods. Google realized that VP 8 was infringing on existing patents. A court fight would have been a disaster.

The real issue is the patent system. Here we are, all these years after video over computers became real and we are still paying the bill for it. When does it end? When you look at the companies behind MPEG LA, they are not patent trolls - they are a companies that have their feet on the throat of LCDs on our computers, phones and tablets everywhere. They have made their investment back many times over. When is enough, enough?

It's not only a question of a reasonable profit, but how much innovation these patent holders have stifled. You are talking to someone who remembers watching herky jerky postage stamp-sized video (it was the movie, It's a Wonderful Life, which was in public domain at the time) on my computer screen years and years ago, thinking wouldn't it be great to watch digital video on your computer. 

Video has gotten better since those days. The same wonderful robber barons behind H.264 are now getting ready H.265. It promises 50% better compression and you will still pay the same folks. Like the song says, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

But I can't help but think that if we threw off the patent overmasters, what new innovations would we see? Would only high-bandwidth customers be able to receive HD video. Could we see 4k TVs sooner and cheaper?

It is time we are set free from patent slavery. It is not just video, either. Patents are clogging our innovation networks just at a time that we need innovation the most. It is a system that has outgrown its usefulness. It either has to be brought into the 21st century or scrapped all together.

We rail against patent trolls, but you can't blame a tiger for having stripes. If there was not an advantage to having stripes, you would see it quickly shed its stripes.

Yes, I understand that patents protect people and companies to recoup and profit off the investment they made in developing patentable technology. You should be allowed to profit off from your invention. But when it is used as a blunt instrument to thwart innovation, it has to be brought to heel.

So, video is the latest example, but what's next? It is high time that, in a country where it seems we don't have the political will to get anything done anymore, we do something about patents.

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