Audio Global Viewpoint – June 2020

Patent Concern

Innovation from industry is empowering broadcasters to deliver higher levels of immersive viewing. But where is the innovation coming from and what are the implications for us?

The recent resignation of MPEG co-founder Leonardo Chiariglione from the MPEG committee he led gave me the opportunity to consider how patents are influencing innovation in our industry. Chiariglione had a vision for how to make it easier to send audio and video over available bandwidth, and it’s fair to say he achieved his objectives with outstanding success.

The adoption of compression is booming. With the proliferation of broadcasters endorsing cloud, OTT and VOD, the need for efficient and quality compression is higher now than ever.

One of Chiariglione's LinkedIn posts caught my eye, he said "the number of HEVC Intellectual Property holders skyrocketing to 45 with 2/3 of them being held by one of three patent pools".

HEVC Advance LLC is one of those patent pools and on their website, they advise they are an independent administrator formed to support the rapid and widespread adoption of the HEVC/H.265 video compression standard. They go on to highlight their objectives of balancing the needs of both patent inventor and patent implementer.

It’s my understanding that the MPEG-2 specifications provided a design for a model decoder with a series of tools such as discrete cosine transforms, splicing and motion vector descriptors, and it was up to the vendor to actually design and build the encoder using the specified toolkit. This seemed like a fantastic idea as vendors were able to differentiate themselves and express their own creative solutions.

It was inevitable that to achieve the next level of quality with reduced data rate, new concepts had to be considered and new systems had to be designed. One of the major benefits of moving to Internet Protocol and COTS infrastructures is that system designers can take advantage of the massive developments in other industries.

Vast research continues to advance the fields of vision, image recognition and compression in universities and major corporates throughout the world. This research will one day lead to even better compression for broadcasters empowering them to deliver a greater immersive experience for their viewers. However, somebody somewhere needs to finance this research and in part, the patent and intellectual property helps facilitate this.

Advances in image processing have now got to such a complex technical level that broadcast vendors alone cannot possibly hope to make all the discoveries by themselves, and that’s before we start discussing the successes of machine learning. But they can benefit greatly from the research and achievements of those licensing their discoveries.

When first considering the growth of patent licensing I was initially concerned as I thought we could now be in a period of restricting creativity, or removing opportunity for innovators, as they were confined in what they could design for fear of breaching intellectual property rights. But the more I think about this the more I realize that the patent pools provide a massive opportunity for academics and industry scientists to finance their ground-breaking research, and for broadcast innovators and vendors to build on this and deliver compelling immersive viewer experiences.

I’m sorry to see Chiariglione has resigned from the committee he so passionately led, but I’m greatly excited by the amount of research from other industries that the broadcast industry can now benefit from.