[rtcweb] H.263 licensing situation

Stephan Wenger <stewe@stewe.org> Mon, 18 November 2013 16:36 UTC

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From: Stephan Wenger <stewe@stewe.org>
To: "rtcweb@ietf.org" <rtcweb@ietf.org>
Thread-Topic: H.263 licensing situation
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Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2013 16:35:47 +0000
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Subject: [rtcweb] H.263 licensing situation
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Here is what I know or suspect regarding H.263 licensing:


Leon is correct, there are type 2 patent declarations in the ITU against

Maik is also correct, H.263 baseline is a subset of MPEG-4 part 2.  MPEG-4
part 2 is generally considered royalty bearing and the license has been
enforced.  However, very few (no one?) is using strict H.263 baseline, and
even for an only slightly more advanced use of H.263 (no need to go to
H.263+, for example), the MPEG-4 portfolio license would not apply.

H.263 has been the predominant codec in the video conferencing industry
for close to a decade (ca. 1996 through ca. 2005).  In all this time, I
have heard of one single instance of patent assertion by a non-troll
against several of the large video conferencing vendors.  However, since
those vendors all used a chip produced by the non-troll, they had enough
commercial leverage to fend off those assertions without the dispute ever
going to trial and, so I hear, without paying any premium for the use of
the patent.   The patent in question has now expired.

H.263 baseline is insufficient for rtcweb¹s purposes, as it does not allow
arbitrary picture sizes.  You want to have at least the PLUSPTYPE picture
header extension which allows arbitrary picture sizes.  You also probably
want a few of the optional modes, especially the bug-fixes (improved VLC)
and the deblocking filter.  Patents related to this technologies are not
covered under the MPEG-LA MPEG-4 part 2 license.


Since we would most likely not use strict H.263 baseline, the war-chest of
the MPEG-LA pool cannot be used to enforce a patent against our
hypothetical H.263 implementation because it is not MPEG-4 part 2
compliant.  Which, in turn, means that the MPEG-4 part 2 rightholders
would be on their own in asserting their patents.  Which, in turn, means
that there is no difference between H.263 and other non-pooled video
codecs from an MPEG-LA related risk assessment.

There have been patent assertions by trolls allegedly related to video
compression in general and H.263 in particular, but those happen all the
time and there is not much one can do about them.  Once you are a juicy
enough target (based on the troll¹s perception of relationship between
your legal competence versus your size) the troll will find you.
Technicalities such as whether the patent is actually infringed or related
to standards are secondary at best in the eye of a troll.  Their business,
at least when going against smaller companies, is to settle for a few
hundreds of thousands--an amount the alleged infringer can pay without
excessive hurt--thereby filling their war chest and then go to the next
³customer².  When they meet determined opposition (based on a combination
of legal and technical competence), they often move on to greener pastures.

As H.263 is fairly widely deployed, and I have not heard about patent
assertions except the cases mentioned above, the risk of a successful
patent assertion is probably manageable for almost everyone with
sufficient legal resources.  At least in countries that allow equitable
defenses (implied license, laches, estoppel).

So is it worth evaluating H.263 further?  IMO, probably not.  It¹s
doubtless technically better than H.261, but the risk is inproportionally
higher.  And the whole idea of this substandard baseline codec has been to
be essentially without risk.