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back to article Patent attack on Google open codec faces 'antitrust probe'

The US Department of Justice is investigating MPEG-LA – the patent pool organization backed by Apple, Microsoft, and others – over the organization's effort to undermine the royalty-free V8 codec Google introduced last year, according to a report citing people familiar with the matter. The Wall Street Journal reports that the …

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it's good to be friends of Obama

This probe may well have merit, but I think it's interesting how swift action was taken since Google's interests are at risk. Compared to many other opportunities that the DoJ has passed on, this timing reeks of favoritism.

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never happens with Republicans

Yep after Micro$oft gave lots $$$ to W Bush's campaign I was proud how W allowed the antitrust proceedings to continue without interference. </sarcasm>

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E 2

Calm down fellow

What's with all your hating?

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FAIL

Both sides being corrupt makes it alright.

So Obama's corruption is acceptable because his predecessor was also corrupt. This is the kind of rationalization I would expect from a young child. If you are a US citizen and wonder why the government is so fouled up, look in a mirror and the answer will be starring back at you.

As to the original commenter: It is good to be friends with those currently in power, regardless of their names, political affiliations, etc. Examples of this kind of favouritism can be found throughout history.

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Black Helicopters

I would think....

...it's more about Google's cozy relationship with the NSA and various other intelligence agencies. They can't have anything stand in the way of their number one intelligence gathering tool on the web!

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Welcome

Friends of Obama

Wasn't a certain Mr Jobs also a recent visitor to the White House?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/02/17/obama_hosts_tech_titan_meeting/

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Anonymous Coward

Undermining HTML video

Maybe they should also be looking at how Google is undermining HTML5 video and forcing everyone to keep on using proprietary Flash (maybe in their own interest as it appears to

be, by far, one of the most popular features in Android)

No company in the MPEG-LA group can really take up WebM without shooting themselves in the foot, given Google's WebM IP rights grant condition.

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@Undermining HTML video

What the bloody hell are you talking about?

Forcing everyone to keep using Flash? How? Firefox 4 has native WebM support; so does Opera and codecs (free) are available for IE and Safari. Flash is only another alternative.

The only way companies in the MPEG-LA group would be "shooting themselves in the foot" by taking up WebM is that a chance for a stranglehold on HTML5 video they can exploit for their own benefit is lost. Are you suggesting that is a bad thing?

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Anonymous Coward

Dominant player

When the dominant player in a domain seeks to add barriers to entry and thus prevent competition, one should not need to be a friend of the president in order to get the DoJ to investigate.

Gk.pm: Google is try to prevent the open html standard from being dependent on a proprietary standard. Flash is proprietary, but it uses the plugin model which isn't. The pluggin mode is an indirection that allows proprietary tech to be used with an open spec.

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Anonymous Coward

HTML doesn't care for codecs

The HTML5 spec contains no restrictions on the video codec so it's not going to be less open or dependent on H.264. To me your answer is a bit unfounded.

Codecs themselves are "indirections" just like Flash but far more specific and less intrusive (ie. they don't try to be a self contained operating system like Flash)

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@HTML doesn't care for codecs

"The HTML5 spec contains no restrictions on the video codec"

True

"Codecs themselves are "indirections" just like Flash but far more specific and less intrusive..."

No. HTML4 had no video support at all. Players like Flash, Real Player, Silverlight, a Java-based player or anything else, operated outside of the HTML spec, using <embed> or <object>, and was thus arbitrary, and entirely optional.

HTML5 does support video, and thus imposes a requirement on browser design to support video natively. Exactly how the requisite codec(s) are physically incorporated into the browser can vary; nonetheless, this support is not an add-on, like Flash is to HTML4, and not optional.

HTML5 video doesn't mean a thing if users have to put up with videos that won't play because some use one codec and some use another. It is pointless hair-splitting to argue that codecs are immaterial because the spec doesn't require any particular one; in any practical sense, and with respect to the intent behind adding video support to the spec, HTML5 does indeed care about codecs.

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Anonymous Coward

Pointless hair-splitting

I'm sorry but I still think the pointless hair-splitting discussion is whether <embed> tags for flash and other content types are more optional than HTML5 video.

If you don't have support the content included in a <embed> it will not be shown even tough the document is asking that it be included, the same applies to unsupported HTML5 video codecs. If you think in practical terms - not from a HTML spec writer's perspective - is one really that different from the other?

It's looking almost certain that users will have to download their own codec "plugins" (like MS's Chrome H.264 support pack) , so maybe HTML5 video really doesn't mean a thing.

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@AC

Legally it's not that simple. Patents are a government granted monopoly over the ideas they contain. The simple act of having patents and of asserting patents is not (legally) anticompetitive, but the grant of them is explicitly a barrier to entry in that it prevent other people from using your intellectual property in the marketplace completely without you.

Based on the wording of the article, this sounds like it is more about the tubthumping. Since MPEG-LA don't yet assert to have any members with patents that use of WebM would infringe, the running around trying to create an atmosphere of doubt may be anticompetitive. If they find patents that cover WebM then it probably isn't.

In short: it's not the simple presence of barriers, it's whether those barriers are the ones the state likes to provide.

Add me to the list of people calling for patent reform, as I strongly suspect that WebM will be covered by MPEG-LA member patents when someone turns in their patent for "displaying video on a screen" or "encoding video such as for transmission via the Internet" or some such.

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@ThomH

Patents are supposed to be a government granted monopoly over the specific implementation of an idea.

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@Keith Williams

Sorry. Obviously: "a method for displaying video on a screen", which describes the idea of having the image for each frame of video within a memory area and transmitting it to a screen via an electric cable, and "a method for encoding video such as for transmission via the Internet", which covers one device sending another video data in sequential order so that it can be played.

After all, Net2Phone obtained a patent in 2000 on "point-to-point internet protocols" ("A point-to-point Internet protocol exchanges Internet Protocol (IP) addresses between processing units to establish a point-to-point communication link between the processing units through the Internet"; source: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=6,108,704.PN.&OS=PN/6,108,704&RS=PN/6,108,704).

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Moreover, in the US anti-trust laws focus

on collusion rather than actual market share. If you capture a market without engaging in collusion, that is perfectly legal. But if you and I were to make a secret agreement to corner the market for nanobot video codes, that would be subject to criminal charges.

If you do achieve monopoly power, you can't use that monopoly to create another one. They treat it as sort of a one-company collusion.

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@Pointless hair-splitting

The content types in <embed> or <object> tags and the modules that handle them are not specified in the HTML language (by definition), and are thus optional. HTML5 video IS specified, and is thus not optional.

"It's looking almost certain that users will have to download their own codec "plugins" (like MS's Chrome H.264 support pack) , so maybe HTML5 video really doesn't mean a thing."

Correct on both points, and that's the problem. Like anything else in the HTML5 spec, or any other Internet spec for that matter, it just has to work; otherwise it's worse than useless. In this case, it will only work if external, unspecified requirements are met (those being the choice of a codec), and that is a very serious flaw in the specification. Browser publishers cannot guarantee that their product will render all video because they cannot include the necessary codecs with their product, or even guarantee that they will be available at all.

That is why, as things stand, a browser's technical compliance with the spec is of little meaning in and of itself.

The availability of the WebM codec does not correct the omission in the spec; but it at least makes it possible to create full-quality video content that all browsers can render, and in the process respect the central design philosophy of an Internet that is open and free. It is imperfect--WebM is patented, but the patent-holder has expressly made it freely available, guaranteed, which is at least the next best thing.

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Jobs Horns

Lying turd

"We have no dog in that fight [the fight over which video codec wins out]."

- Except of course for his job as if VP8 succeeds the whole MPEG-cArteL will be forgotten as an unfortunate period in history and he will be as unemployed as Mussolini's tailor.

But Horn did have some strong words about VP8. "I can tell you: VP8 is not patent-free," he said. "It's simply nonsense."

Nice bit of FUD and misdirection Mr Horn, VP8 is not about patent free, it is about not enforcing a license which says "your customer has no rights at all, they are not even allowed to breathe unless Sony say so". Of course Google (or the org they acquired) had to patent everything involved to stop MPEG LA members patenting it after seeing it on the Internet and then suing them in the Eastern District Court of a state which keeps income tax down by taking a cut of patent settlements but has no conflict of interest or corrupt judges.

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Gates Horns

Nice Codec you got here

It'd be a shame if anything "happened" to it, wouldn't it?

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Boffin

American Needle got there first

In that case, last June, the US Supremes handed down a ruling that collaborative exclusionary action by competing bodies could infringe the Sherman Act. (Competition Law) and now there's this. More here

http://www.opensourceconsortium.org/content/view/133/89/

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WTF?

Browsers and their use will determine the prevailing standard

Even though MS Internet Explorer is ahead by a mile in the browser business, Safari is small potatoes. The ones that will count are Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

MS wins as it is the free and default browser but what will happen when Google's (free?) OS hits the market? Since hardware manufacturers are always seeking ways to improve profits taking on Chrome is a sure fire way to further those goals.

Android has demonstrated that this model works for both Google and manufacturers so it is not too pioneering from others, particularly hardware manufacturers who already have Android products.

Content is another determining factor. If browser users visit YouTube this enhances the adoption of the royalty-free V8 codec. What popular content does Apple or MS offer?

I just checked our company work centre computers and of the 165 computers only one has used Apple's Quicktime in the past three months.

With the DOJ kicking the tires/tyres of MPEG-LA it will force them to put up ... or shut up.

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Uh...

"Safari is small potatoes. The ones that will count are Chrome, Firefox and Opera."

If Safari doesn't belong on that list, then Opera sure as hell doesn't either.

Repeat after me: Opera is not the second coming. Opera is not the second coming.

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Linear gradients...

Opera doesn't even do pretty basic CSS3 like linear gradients, used in buttons all over the place.

WTF are their devs thinking?

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Anonymous Coward

Huh?

You do it deliberately don't you?

"Even though MS Internet Explorer is ahead by a mile in the browser business, Safari is small potatoes. The ones that will count are Chrome, Firefox and Opera."

On the website that I manage, (as of 2 minutes ago) Firefox is in the lead with 29.78% of visitors,

Safari is second with 19.71%, IE8 and Chrome keep swapping places in the third slot with 16.8 and 16.48 respectively at the moment. Opera9 has a meagre 0.48% and Opera7 is just on a par with Netscape at 0.06%.

In case you think the stats are skewed - the dominant OS is WinXP with over 30%, Win7 is next with 24% and then MacOS with 19% and then Vista, the last one in double figures.

Below vista there is an OS marked 'Unknown" which swaps places daily with iOS at about 3%. Linux is just under 2% and Android has just cracked 1%

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and how would IE do

And how would IE do if it were not a forced purchase?

Or, if IE were not commingled so that customers could uninstall it?

If you have a copy of IE, your opinion just does not matter. And it does not matter what you do or what your job entails. You do not count.

Just ask Microsoft. They force you to buy IE regardless.

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Stop

IE is NOT free

Being bundled with the OS does not make IE free. Not economically. And not legally.

It is simply a forced purchase.

If you have a copy of IE, your opinion simply does not count. Microsoft makes it so.

Other than that, it is true that use will determine the prevailing standard.

Google's brouser and OS (when it becomes available) will be free. As is Opera and Firefox. But, IE is not. You pay money when you take it. And you do not have the choice not to take it. It is illegally bundled and commingled into the monopoly OS.

Check your company computers again. Did you really buy IE for all of them? Just because you had no choice in the matter and your opinion does not count, does not make it free.

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if IE isn't free

how come you can download it for free....just because it is already installed doesn't make it paid for. My pc came with firefox pre-installed, does that mean I paid for it?

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Not a big Opera user myself,

but I get the impression that Opera is to the browser Market as Apple use to be to MS: the place where most of the innovating happens. Then the other app makers say "Coolness! How do we implement that differently so we don't infringe on their copyrights or patents?"

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you may have paid for Firefox

Pre-installed does not mean you paid for it. The OS and associated applications may have been without cost.

IE is not. everytime you buy a Microsoft OS you also purchase IE.

Acting like you can not tell the difference between paying money and not paying money does not mean IE is free. It clearly is not.

If you have a copy of IE, your opinion does not matter anyway. Microsoft makes that the case.

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my opinion doesn't matter?

So your argument is that because you have to pay for Windows that you therefore pay for IE as well? Massive flaw in that logic. IE is available for mac as well, so is that not free either?

Your argument is against free vs paid for OS, it has nothing to do with IE at all, and no amoutn of BS you spout will make it any different.

For the record I don't use IE, not because of any anti MS bias, I just think it's crap as a browser, but thats only my opinion, which you claim doesn't matter.

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<title></title>

Ideally the W3C needs to grow some balls and just standardize a codec. The problem then (In Theory) goes away since anyone not providing the codec is not following the HTML5 spec.

In reality that won't happen and Google is in the perfect position to win the whole thing.

Youtube is the linchpin to this whole HTML5/H264/WebM debacle.

Google needs to start a move to HTML5/WebM on Youtube exclusively. If users of non-WebM compliant browsers suddenly couldn't view the videos and were given a link to download a browser that could, then the vast majority of people would up and migrate on the spot.

Sure, you would have some trolls flaming forums about it, but trolls are trolls and use any excuse, hell, they flame people for poor spelling while their own posts are even worse!

*Bonfire.. for the MPEG-LA, Patent Trolls, General Trolls, and the rest of the scum in the bottom of the interwebs bucket.

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Anonymous Coward

Google will do no such thing

They can only gather attention to themselves by dropping H.264 support from their small market share browser, while keeping good company with Adobe Flash to make sure that even there H.264 still plays.

On the other hand have you seen the number of devices accessing Youtube content? Those don't come with WebM and won't for a while now. Would Google be willing to give up all those partners? Of course not. Not even Flash supports it yet so content would still need to be in H.264 for Youtube's flash interface alone

Plus we're not anywhere near non-H.264 hardware-accelerated video playback for HD content.

Given what's already out there (know any WebM-native cameras?) I'm sorry but it's simply insane to think that WebM will ever replace H.264 as the dominant codec.

Maybe If it was any better, but at the same level of compression and quality (or even worse) there's no chance.

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you forgot to add

You forgot to add that other codecs have little chance as long as IE is a forced purchase.

If you have a copy of IE, your opinion does not count. And that is true even if you know you are buying IE.

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@Google will do no such thing

I don't think the poster is suggesting that Google switch to exclusively WebM overnight. By gradually shifting the encoding of video to WebM, it will allow time for an orderly transition.

Firefox 4, which is just now edging toward release, supports WebM natively. Opera already does, and is very rightfully proud to. (They originally proposed the <video> tag).

http://labs.opera.com/news/2010/05/19/

Flash support for WebM is quite close at hand.

http://blogs.adobe.com/flashplatform/2010/05/adobe_support_for_vp8.html

WebM codecs are available for IE and Safari, so there is only minor inconvenience for users of those browsers even without depending on Flash player.

WebM hardware acceleration may not be as far off as you think. ATI and nVidia are both working on it.

H.264 does seem to have a (very small) edge in quality vs. compression. WebM is evolving, but even as it is now, the benefit of avoiding the encumbrances of H.264 is far and away worth that small compromise.

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Grenade

Death to the US patent system!

I have no doubt MPEG-LA will find a few patents held by their members which -could- be read as covering the VP8 codec, video encoding, "moving pictures" and why the hell not, light itself. We need to stop handing overly-general patents out, and we should probably stop handing out patents on non-mechanical ideas entirely.

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Patent-ly ridiculous

I'm a huge fan of--and user and developer of--Free/Libre and Open Source Software, but I also recognize that it's nearly (completely?) impossible to create any non-trivial software, today, without violating any software patents. Therefore, I have no doubt that VP8/WebM is in violation of many patents, and even the FFmpeg developers have said as much--see http://x264dev.multimedia.cx/archives/377 , in the paragraph starting, "Finally, the problem of patents appears to be rearing its ugly head again."

That said, it's amazing that the US DoJ is investigating under antitrust laws what amounts to a coalition of patent holders who are attempting to enforce the patents granted them by the USPTO. Since even the Department of Justice can't understand how the US patent system works, it seems clear that US patent law is in dire need of reform--ideally, including the abolishment of software patents. (After all, patents are for inventions--copyright is for ideas!)

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Troll

MPEG-LA's trolling would make 4chan blush.

Ahh, but they aren't enforcing their patents, that's the problem! They keep saying "we think we have patents in here" loudly, and publicly. It looks like they are just lying, trying to discourage potential users. If they really have patents, lets lay the cards down, and file a lawsuit. Until then, it's anti-competitive FUD. The talking with no action taken is what the DoJ is investigating.

Of course, proving a negative is difficult at best, and in the article you quote it also reads: "It’s quite possible that VP8 has no patent issues" and "This doesn’t mean that it’s sure to be covered by patents."

Jason Garrett-Glaser may be an expert in video compression, but I don't think he is an expert in patent law. It actually sounds to be like he doesn't even have any patents in mind when he wrote the article, exempting intra-prediction, which he had to correct in an update:

"Update: spatial intra prediction apparently dates back to Nokia’s MVC H.26L proposal, from around ~2000. It’s possible that Google believes that this is sufficient prior art to invalidate existing patents — which is not at all unreasonable!"

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Day Late Chaps

If they'd wanted to challenge it they should have done so long before Google ever purchased (it). No, this is clearly fear in their hearts that you can't compete with free, by not defending one's patents they should lose ownership... not that I'm implying that they have a valid claim, rather that even if they /did/, they don't now.

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It reminds me of school

where the bullies used to beat up the clever boys if they got good marks in the vain hope that they wouldn't look so stupid when the clever boys couldn't do their homework with broken fingers. Got them support from hangers on who hoped to benefit too.

I just hope some kind of precedent get set here where you cant say 'you infringe our patents' without actually mentioning which ones - after all you own your patents and with open source you can see the stuff that might be infringing. OK that means someone can work around the patent but the idea of patents was not to stop anyone else doing anything ever which is the way it seems to be being used.

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Linux

Flash

Buggy Flash has just done it again, this time YouTube vids are displaying in red/white.

See: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1698956

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Paris Hilton

Patent-pool license?

"MPEG-LA chief executive Larry Horn said the organization was looking into the formation of a patent-pool license for VP8 and WebM".

Can anybody explain to me what that sentence means? Why would one group be looking for a license for a competing group's software?

Paris, because I'm dumb where IP law is concerned.

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pretty simple actuallly

MPEG-LA is in the business of collecting royalties for patents. That is what they do.

Of course, they want to collect royalties (keeping a share) for everyone's patents if they can do so.

They only make money if technology is encumbered by patents.

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I'll give it a shot, but the explanation has an obvious fallacy.

Mr. Horn's group doesn't actually own the patents, they are only the managers for the companies that do. So his company doesn't know what is actually in the patents, and therefore doesn't know what might actually be infringed. They make their money from people who purchase a license for the codec because those people believe it is the best option for their purpose. Think of it as a SCO like operation with the exception that in the case of MPEG-LA, they've actually been hired to collect the royalties.

Now being the observant Reg reader that you are, you've obviously noticed the fallacy: patents are public, so MPEG-LA should damn well be able to know what is in the patents they are licensing.

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Barack Hussein Obama is a disgrace

Along with US Democrats Left Wing party.

What is DoJ under Obama order going to do then? Are they going to kill MPEG LA and crush the whole IT industry to defend their Google managers because now Google is to their new puppet?

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Grenade

When will some people realise?

The US Democratic party is in pretty general agreement over its stances about many things with the UK Conservative party. This is the most right-wing but mainstream party in Europe!

No, it does not show how far left the rest of the world is. In the army, you are taught that if everyone else is out of step with you you are the one that is wrong.

No, this is not some sort of tyranny of the majority. If you call something green, but almost everyone else says it is red, you are the one that has a visual problem - not the rest of the planet.

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And that can get people killed.

Just because everyone is charging into a known fortified position doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. Just because it doesn't occur to them to sneak around to try to flank them doesn't make it the wrong thing to do. If someone doesn't think "outside the box", someone on the other side will to potentially devastating effect.

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FAIL

You can always tell a US troll

They include Hessein in Obamas name. Its the sign of the redneck moron.

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Patent pool?

They are trying to create a patent TROLL pool!

I am sick on how the US patent office operates.

NO to software patents.

NO to patent trolls.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/graphics/icons/comment/fail_32.png

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Opera is small potatoes, not safari

When you're a web developer you look at market share as that correlates with client visitors.

Like it or not that means Opera is actually small potatoes (at 2%) with Safari at (5%) being Small-Medium potatoes with well over twice the share. Also since your client might have an iPhone or iPad, then your reason to do good Safari testing just went up past it's desktop market share value. Customers with money are not happy if your site doesn't work on their precious fondle slab. Those sorts of people think of fat women singing if you say Opera too.

If something is broken in Opera because Opera didn't follow standards or there's a bug (it happens) most of the time I will just ignore it. It's not worth writing fixes for.

(Source was gs.statcounter.com, worldwide share)

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Flame

Libya

Could Qaddafi's fighters not leave the poor civilians alone for a few days, and go on an overseas excursion flattening MPEG-LA instead?

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