Saturday, March 03, 2007

MP3 Shows that America is being Trounced by Europe on the Corporate Battlefield

The MP3 Codec and its Licensing

MP3 is a codec, a standard for compression and decompression of music, developed in Germany by the Fraunhofer Institute.

The word CODEC is formed by the first letters of the words COmpression and DEComprression. MP3 is the short form for MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3. Wilson Yuen writes:

"MP3 is currently the most powerful algorithm in a series of audio encoding standards developed under the sponsorship of the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) and formalized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)."

The right to license the MP3 codec is owned by the French company Thomson (mp3licensing).

The MP3 Codec is a Standard for Compressing and Decompressing Music Files

MP3 is similar to the much older JPEG standard for graphics, which makes files smaller by removing color information while attempting to retain as much of the original picture intact as possible. MP3 is a two-pass compression system, utilizing Huffman encoding in the second pass, and in the first pass primarily removing music information to make music files smaller than e.g. the original CD versions. The fact that MP3 files are up to 12 times smaller than the original uncompressed files - with minimal loss of music quality - has made the MP3 codec very popular.

MP3 and Similar Standards should not be Subject to Patentability

MP3 is in our opinion one prime example of the kind of "alleged" invention that should never have been granted a patent in the first place (see the MP3 patent discussion here), nor should the alleged technology behind such an invention in any manner be eligible for patent protection. MP3 is a standard - there could easily be others. It is nothing more than a particular method of compressing and decompressing information, applying generally known principles and methods.

The Methods of Compression and Decompression are Limited and Known

There are only a limited number of basic ways in which information can be compressed and decompressed - principally by reducing the information indexed and by better notation of repetition and redundancies. Why should a codec like that be subject to patenting?

Take this sentence as an example of a unit to be compressed:
MP3 is a compression and decompression codec to compress and decompress music files.

We can compress that sentence by just leaving out "compression and decompression", resulting in MP3 is a codec to compress and decompress files, without thus losing much meaning and we can reduce it further by better notation of the word "compress" which still appears twice in the remaining sentence, so that we could then write MP3 is a codec to c. and dec. files. Upon decompression, "c." would again be replaced by the word "compress".

To call a codec an invention stretches the definition of "invention" past logical limits because doing so prohibits others from utilizing similar AND obvious compression methods - which are limited in number by mathematics.

All digital information consists of 1's and 0's, so that any method that can more compactly describe those 1's and 0's is potentially useful for a codec. For example, if we have a picture of 10 lines, each 100 pixels long, and that picture is white for the first 9 lines but contains a black straight line the entire length of the 10th line, then we do not need to make a separate notation for each of these 1000 pixels. Rather, we can treat the first 900 pixels as ALL white (all zeroes) and the last 100 pixels as ALL black (all ones), so that our notation can be short "900 0's in 10 lines and 100 1's in 1 line". If we set our default value to "0" then "100 1's in line 10" is notation enough. The picture is thus compressed. The principle in music is the same. But this recognition is not "an invention".

Although the actual application of any given compression and decompression standard such as JPEG or MP3 is of course more complicated when dealing with large masses of photo or music information, that is fundamentally all there is to it. There is nothing magical about it that needs the protection of patents. MP3 removes musical information that is hard for humans to hear but which microphones pick up. When such information is removed, music files are much smaller.

General Principles of Shorthand were known prior to Christ

General principles of information compression and notation were known long before JPEGs or MP3s came into existence. Shorthand has long been used in writing in law by court reporters (NCRA) and Greek and Roman tachygraphy was known already before the days of Christ. Hebrew language was generally written without vowels, presumably as a form of shorthand. Compression is simply a form of shorthand.

The Machine Rendition of Voice and Music began with Bell and Edison

Limitations of writing systems for recording purposes led man to develop machines for reproducing the human voice and music, which culminated in Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone and Thomas Alva Edison's invention of the phonograph. The patents awarded to Bell and Edison created empires which still thrive today.

AT&T's Patent-Based Monopoly remains Intact

One of the things that the political, corporate and legal establishment in the United States does not appear to appreciate is that patent monopolies, once granted, far outlive the actual duration of patents, and give the holders of those patents - on a silver platter - industrial empires which last centuries. The best example of that in Europe is the post monopoly of Thurn & Taxis, whose family, hundreds of years later, is still one of the wealthiest families in Europe.

Alexander Graham Bell's patents were challenged something like 600 times during his lifetime, but his patent-based monopoly could not be shaken and AT&T (later known as "Ma Bell") went on to control nearly the entire US telephone market, creating one of the most powerful monopolies of the modern business age.

The legal community in the United States appears to be overwhelmed by Ma Bell. The "trustbusters", not understanding that patents were at the root of Ma Bell's power, decided to break up America's biggest and most powerful corporation in 1974. The result has been the creation of a multi-headed hydra of "Baby Bells" which resulted from the break-up of AT&T who now threaten to join together into one great corporation with even greater powers than before. Ma Bell is still quite alive and kicking - patent monopolies, once granted, have a long life.

"Ma Bell Still Has You by the Bells"

One used to say that "Ma Bell Has You by the Calls" (non-native speakers who do not understand that joke should be aware of the American idiom "have someone by the balls").

Part of the Ma Bell legacy is found in the now spun-off Lucent Bell Labs of what is the French company, Alcatel-Lucent (Bell Labs was formerly AT&T Bell Laboratories viz. Bell Telephone Laboratories):

"At its peak, Bell Labs was the premier facility of its type, developing a wide range of revolutionary technologies, including radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, information theory, the UNIX operating system, and the C programming language. There have been 6 Nobel Prizes awarded for work done at Bell Labs."

This 6-Nobel-Prize-producing former American laboratory is now owned by the French.

The Alcatel-Lucent Patents in the Patent Suit Against Microsoft

An American jury has just awarded the French company Alcatel-Lucent $1.5 billion for the patents below, to be paid by Microsoft (but of course, the bill is actually paid ultimately by the American consumer), and Alcatel-Lucent have numerous patent suits more in the pipeline against Microsoft.

Will French ultimately own Microsoft?

US Patent 5,341,457 - Abstract
Perceptual coding of audio signals
"A technique for the masking of quantizing noise in the coding of audio signals is adapted to include geometric interpolation between the thresholds for a tone masking noise and for noise masking a tone, in order to reduce use of bit-rate capability where it is not necessary for transparent or high quality. The technique is usable with the types of channel coding known as "noiseless" or Huffman coding and with variable radix packing. The stereophonic embodiment eliminates redundancies in the sum and difference signals, so that the stereo coding uses significantly less than twice the bit rate of the comparable monaural signal. The technique can be used both in transmission of signals and in recording for reproduction, particularly recording and reproduction of music. Compatibility with the ISDN transmission rates known as 1 B, 2 B and 3 B rates has been achieved."

One of the inventors of the above patent, James David Johnston, retired from AT&T and became an audio architect for Microsoft Corporation. See Perceptual Coding of Audio Signals - A Tutorial. Is that the root of the problem? Johnston is also the inventor of the following patent.

US Patent RE39080
Rate loop processor for perceptual encoder/decoder
This is a reissue application of U.S. Pat. No. 5,627,938 filed Sep. 22, 1994 as application Ser. No. 08/310,898 which is a continuation of application Ser. No. 07/844,811, filed on Mar. 2, 1992, now abandoned, which is a continuation-in-part of application Ser. No. 07/844,967 filed Feb. 28, 1992, now abandoned, which is a continuation of Ser. No. 07/292,598 filed Dec. 30, 1988 now abandoned.

"A method and apparatus for quantizing audio signals is disclosed which advantageously produces a quantized audio signal which can be encoded within an acceptable range. Advantageously, the quantizer uses a scale factor which is interpolated between a threshold based on the calculated threshold of hearing at a given frequency and the absolute threshold of hearing at the same frequency."

Those are the two patents for which a jury just awarded Alcatel-Lucent $1.5 billion. Not bad considering that Alcatel paid only about $11.5 billion for the entire company Lucent - and that was merely a stock deal, no cash at all. If Alcatel gets similar judgments on its other patent suits, its purchase will have been a STEAL, and we do emphasize the world steal. Lots of money flowing out of America into Parisian coffers.

At the same time, Alcatel-Lucent plans to cut 12500 jobs worldwide (12% in France) - which means more unemployed on the streets and more money for execs such as Patricia J. Russo, whose entire career is littered with thousands of people losing their jobs under her leadership.

European Commission Fines Microsoft

The European Commission found Microsoft to have engaged in anti-trust activities in Europe and fined it $357 million, threatening to continue to fine it several million dollars a day until it opens up its proprietary software to European companies. The European Commissioner for Competition, Neelie Kroes, who imposed the fines, was at the time on the board of directors of
.... Lucent.

France and Germany Seek to Force Apple to Open its iPod DRM

And how about Apple, which is being forced by France and Germany to open its iPod DRM?
Will Apple be another French company soon?

The European Strategy Against Corporate America

On the one hand, European companies are using the Alice in Wonderland US patent laws to relieve American corporations of billions of dollars of cash. On the other hand, European companies and the European Union are forcing American corporations to open their proprietary software to their European competitors and to dismantle their product protection in Europe for the benefit of European products.

Can it really be that corporate America does not understand what is going on?

Crossposted to LawPundit.

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