back to article Steve Jobs: mystery patent pool to attack Ogg Theora

Steve Jobs has apparently claimed that a patent pool is being assembled to "go after" Ogg Theora, the open source video codec used by the latest browsers from Google, Mozilla, and Opera. The claim was made in an email the Apple CEO appears to have sent in response to an open source software advocate who questioned Apple's …


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  1. Stephen Hurd

    Responded perfectly...

    Roy said "... that H.264 is not an open standard", and the reply stated that "an open standard is different from being royalty free or open source". This directly addresses Roy's point.

    If Roy's point was that Theora is a "better" solution, Steve addressed this too. When he stated that "A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora..." this would be a solid reason to not ship it.

    The letter was written sppecifically to remind Steve of things he may have fogotten... specifically that H.264 is not an open standards (it is) and that the FSF definition should trump that of the ITU-T (pure silliness).

    1. hugoroy

      Definition of open standard

      H/264 is not an open standard. The definition of Open Standard that FSFE is using has already been used since 2003. This definition comes from the European Commission's Interoperability Framework which gives a definition of open standards. And H.264 is not an open standard! Ogg Theora is. That's all.


      1. ThomH Silver badge

        Ogg Theora isn't open according to the document you cite

        Per Florian Mueller in the article, "there's no such thing as a video standard 100% unencumbered by patents". Per the EU definition you point to, a requirement of an open standard is that "The intellectual property - i.e. patents possibly present - of (parts of) the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty- free basis." (Page 9 of the European Interoperability Framework for Pan-European eGovernment Services).

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    El Reg seems to have missed today's other H.264 news

    namely that it's the only codec IE9 is going to support under HTML5. That kind of kicks the seats out from under Ogg and Flash video in one fell swoop, I suspect.

    1. John Bailey

      Not quite

      A few little problems with your assertion..

      1) It's only in IE9. A browser that has yet to appear outside beta. IE's market share figures comprise of IE6-8 currently, and IE is not as quickly updated as other browsers such as Firefox/Opera/Chorme.

      Not as big a threat as you think.

      And will not be likely to see significant uptake until it is released as part of an OS. So what.. three-four years yet? A lot can happen in that time.

      2) IE9 is going to be Vista/7 only. So again, a majority sector of the Windows platform left out. With full adoption today of all computers that are capable of using it.. 40% tops. So less than Firefox, but more than Apple's single digit browser share. Perfect adoption is however, unlikely. Because of all the people who use windows, about half or more use a non IE browser. So maximum number of IE9 users would be closer to 20% Add another 10%(being generous) for Safari,and you have a minority market share of browsers who will be compatible with the same codec. HTML5 compatibility on the other hand.. With these two?

      3) IE's market share world wide is going down, has been dropping for months while others are all going up or staying the same. Chrome in particular is showing steady growth. If you check it by country with a site like StatCounter, the last month has seen pretty dramatic drops in IE use all over the world. And corresponding rises in Firefox and Chrome.

      4) While IE as a whole may still have the largest share, depending on location, it is what it doesn't have that is still very important. Firefox started gaining significant share once it became too big to ignore. About 10%? So any site that decides to use HTML5 will not see it as a good idea to ignore 30%+ of the browser traffic. And as the sticking point is only the video aspect, not a huge deal. They can still use Flash or what ever for streaming video.

      5) Silverlight.. Great success eh? How come it hasn't replaced Flash already? IE support is not nearly as much a guarantee of success as it used to be. Especially when some high profile Silverlight sites have gone back to Flash.

      In reality.. this is a committee decision. And all the major players have representation there. Not a battle of market share. And the open internet side has a very significant presence.

      MS and Apple agreeing should scare the hell out of everybody who wants an open web. So expect the iFanboys to forget who made it possible for them to use the internet without IE, and go for Mozilla next.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        That'd be Apple...

        "iFanboys to forget who made it possible for them to use the internet without IE"

        If memory serves correct, Safari (no it's not 'based on Mozilla or Firefox, it was release over a year after Safari ) was first released as a bet in January of 2001 , with a full release in June 2003. The last release of IE for Mac was June 2003. The Mozilla/5.0 part of the user agent string is to 'spoof' the web server into serving Netscape compatible pages, which these days is a total irrelevance...

        1. Not That Andrew

          No, that would NOT be Apple...

          >"iFanboys to forget who made it possible for them to use the internet without IE"


          >If memory serves correct, Safari

          If memory serves me correctly iCab (the first iProduct in 99 BTW), Mozilla, OmniWeb and Opera (among others).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            'fraid not old boy...

            Yes, those browsers did indeed exist at the time--HOWEVER (caps, 'cause it's a big one) in 1999 the dominant browsers on the Mac, if memory serves correct, were Netscape 6 (Mozilla--hence the Mozilla/5.0 in the browser strings...) and Internet Explorer for Mac. iCab, OmniWeb and Opera were, as they still are, relative niche players on the platform. The point is that Mozilla & Opera weren't the saviours of the internet for Mac users that John Bailey would have you believe.

      2. Goat Jam


        You are all missing the point, which is that the widespread adoption of Firefox on Windows was the catalyst to awaken web developers who had been for far too long stuck in a "This site requires IE" stupor.

        The fact that Safari et al predated Firefox has nothing to do with that.

    2. Number6

      Pull the rug first

      Imagine a world where lots of popular video was put up on the web using any of the supported codecs except H.264 before IE9 was released. That would sort of discourage people from using IE9 if suddenly the boot was on the other foot and the IE users were the only ones who couldn't access the content.

  3. Quxy

    His Steveness wants H.264: end of discussion

    Well, Apple has made this assertion before about the uncertain patent situation surrounding Ogg Theora. And while Theora supporters claim that it doesn’t violate any patents in the H.264 pool, MPEG-LA has stated that they believe otherwise.

    But probably the most worrying issue is that of "submarine" patents. H.264 would naturally also violate those patents; but if the holder of a submarine patent were to sue over H.264, MPEG-LA could countersue using the patents in the H.264 pool. In comparison, Theora users are unarmed against such an attack.

    It seems likely that Apple (perhaps through companies they've acquired) holds unpublicised patents which any modern video codec would infringe. And it's in their strategic business interests to force competitors to their preferred HTML5 codec out of the pool, either through lawsuits or simply FUD. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the "mystery patent pool" includes both Apple and Microsoft.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Quxy

      "but if the holder of a submarine patent were to sue over H.264, MPEG-LA could counter sue using the patents in the H.264 pool."

      Errr... Not necessarily. MPEG-LA could only countersue if the company infringed on MPEG-LA patents.

      Many companies have patents for things they don't actually implement (The definition of a patent troll) and it is possible that H.264 infringes some that are owned by companies that don't actually use them.

      MPEG-LA would then not be able to counter sue and have to licence the patents.

  4. Nexox Enigma

    Open Standards? Fuck'em

    """an open standard is different from being royalty free or open source"""

    So what we want is apparently not open standards, since they give us nothing at all, seeing as how people can't use them with out paying. What we need is open source and royalty-free standards. "Open Standard" is apparently just worthless marketing gibberish, since it doesn't get anyone any farther than a "Closed standard." As far as I can tell, the difference is whether a standard is open or closed is whether it's published or secret. Beyond that they're the same, and you get in legal trouble for doing anything beyond reading them.

  5. Stephen Hurd

    Re: Open Standards? Fuck'em

    Yes, an open standard is one which can be implemented by anyone who wishes to under a reasonable and non-discrimanatory licence... like NTSC, VHS, PCIe, USB, CDMA, and Bluetooth. A closed standard is one where you cannot implement it because you are unable to licence/access the specification... like the Microsoft protocols.

    Apparently you want people to design things for free and give them to Apple/Nokia/Microsoft/Whomever so that those companies can then sell/give them to you.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Open Standards? Fuck'em

      "Yes, an open standard is one which can be implemented by anyone who wishes to under a reasonable and non-discrimanatory licence... like NTSC, VHS, PCIe, USB, CDMA, and Bluetooth."

      Are you the appointed patent apologist of the day or something? Yes, you can claim stuff is "open" according to a number of definitions of the word: according to your assertion, it's "open" if you can join the club for a fat fee and promise to uphold the cartel. The whole "RAND" advocacy is all about that: impose a tax on stuff, typically stuff that has been shoved into publicly mandated standards, and exclude everybody else from not only competing on implementations, but also competing on stuff which serves the same purpose.

      "Apparently you want people to design things for free and give them to Apple/Nokia/Microsoft/Whomever so that those companies can then sell/give them to you."

      No, that's your narrow-minded interpretation projected onto everybody else. In this case, you're just articulating the classic bogus argument of "tiny inventor sits at big table with big boys thanks to patents" - something which the patent system hardly ever delivers, or only delivers when the "big boys" are feeling very generous indeed.

      In fact, people just want technical progress to be made available as widely as possible so that further progress can be made, instead of everyone being milked until the incumbents can be bothered to get off their backsides and nudge the state of the art forward a bit more.

  6. Robert Heffernan

    >Insert Title Here<

    Why not have the browser just tap the OS's video codec pool and work out a list of supported codecs and use them. It works well enough for almost every other media playing application out there. Pointless to take out second licences for a codec when the OS already has them.

    *Grenade : A gift for patent trolls

  7. Rob Glidden

    MPEG Issues Resolution on Type-1 (Royalty-Free) Standardization

    Of related interest:

    "MPEG Issues Resolution on Type-1 (Royalty-Free) Standardization"


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: >Insert Title Here<

      In Windows the set of decoders is handled by a part of DirectX, which now is part of the basic OS install. However, in Linux/BSD--and I believe OSX as well--the decoders are really only available at the application level.

      There are a few Linux programs that do tap a set of readily available video/audio decoders from one of the major media players, but many still have a monolitic design to them (mplayer). Quicktime also has the same monolithic design, all of the decoders are contained inside the Quicktime player. I believe OSX currently uses Quicktime as a plugin for media rendering.

      In either case there is some degree to which the user needs to have a plugin to decode the video and this is part of what the browser designers are trying to avoid.

      Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing some of the "supported" codecs fall off the map anyway. (I hate trying to install Indeo.) So I wouldn't really want web developers to have the option to use any codec they might find--or force me to install--on my system.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        RE: re: >Insert Title Here<

        "Quicktime also has the same monolithic design, all of the decoders are contained inside the Quicktime player."

        Bzzt. Wrong.

        Look in /Libraries/Quicktime

        On my Mac, I have Flip4Mac (WMV), FLV, LAMEEncover (MP3s) and Perian (loads of codecs there).

        Of course, all the default Apple ones are there too.

    2. Gilbo
      Thumb Down


      Even if the browser did that the video stream itself would need to be encoded into the right format.

      Meaning any website embedding video into their pages would need to host the video streams in a multitude of different formats.

  8. marcelo

    El Hombre

    cubans say 'El Hombre' (the man) when refering tho Fidel Castro!

  9. Nordrick Framelhammer

    The reason Apple is so tied to H.264?

    It couldn't possibly be due to having a finger in the H.264 patent pie, could it?

    Why else would they so vociferously preventing anything but a patented codec being used in an supposedly open standard?

  10. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Right to be cautious

    Given Apple tends to get targeted by patent trolls it's better to be cautious.

    Look at FAT as used by Tomtom and how they're having to pay money to Microsoft.

    1. Marcus Aurelius

      I think

      Apple would rather work with a Codec where they know they have secure access to all the patents etc rather than one where they didn't. Whilst I'd rather support a completely open format myself, I can certainly see the direction he's coming from

  11. Dr. Ellen


    Steve Jobs is being uncommonly cranky of late - apps, flash, now Ogg Theora. I think he is going emeritus.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      He's losing the plot

      I'm genuinely a bit concerned for Steve Jobs - we all know he's not been a well man, and now he's speaking out loud possibly against the best interests of Apple corp. It's a bit like watching a despot who's had too much power for too long, and is now starting to act against his country's best interests. He's starting to sound a bit Mugabe-ish. I'm concerned for him that he's speaking a bit fast and loose as he's had some bad news and doesn't really care any more.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        For the first time in almost 30 years Apple has the power to call the shots and shape the market for the next decade. Jobs is no fool, and recognises this.

        Microsoft? They're history. Like it or not, Apple and Google are where the future is at. Choose your poison.

  12. Jonathan Morton

    Patents Schmatents...

    Theora *is* covered by patents - the ones owned by On2 and irrevocably licenced to the community. Since surely the existence of a patent on something theoretically excludes the same thing being patented by someone else, Apple has nothing to fear about implementing and supporting Theora.

    But even these patents - and the MPEG pool too - are *software* patents. Which means they stand a good chance of being ruled invalid in the near future. And then there will be much rejoicing.

    1. Lou Gosselin

      @Patents Schmatents...

      The likelihood of any arbitrary new code infringing someone's patent pool is so great that it's practically futile for any software engineer to try and avoid them. Most companies just fly under the patent radar until suing them is profitable.

      "Theora *is* covered by patents - the ones owned by On2 and irrevocably licenced to the community. Since surely the existence of a patent on something theoretically excludes the same thing being patented by someone else"

      In the US, the validity of patents are unknown until upheld in court, not when they're granted. Also they can cover incremental "inventions" without being exclusive to other patents on the same technology.

      As is typical of software patents, there is a very good chance that On2's technology could infringe someone else's patents even though On2's work may be completely original. If that sounds like a contradiction, your not thinking like a lawyer.

      "But even these patents - and the MPEG pool too - are *software* patents. Which means they stand a good chance of being ruled invalid in the near future."

      Unfortunately in the US, software patents are permitted. Patent reform is badly needed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        USA != World

        Title says it all. Move the servers somewhere sensible.

  13. Greg J Preece

    God's sake, this bullshit AGAIN?

    Someone build a firewall around America, so we can get on with technological progression while they wallow in the bathtub o' shit that is software patenting.

    1. Captain Thyratron

      We kind of deserve it!

      Much as I enjoy reading Der Spiegel and The Register from here in the US, I have to agree with you. Our legal precedents about software are just plain fucked, and it's not fair for us to ruin standards worldwide on account of it.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: wallowing in a bathtub of sh...

      That's pretty much what will happen. People outside the US will, quite legitimately, develop codecs for patent-encumbered standards and use them, quite legitimately, as they like. US residents will then have to decide between obeying local laws and enjoying the same web experience as the rest of the developed world.

      My guess is that the US population will make the same decision as the Chinese population on that one, and tell their broken government and legal systems where they can stick their restrictions on pure ideas.

  14. Cowboy Bob
    Thumb Down


    My thoughts precisely. I can implement an H.264 codec right now because the standard is online and I won't have to pay a penny to anyone. Why? Because software patents do not apply here. Why do we care if the Americans have to pay for this license or that patent agreement? The fact is that in 99% of countries in the world H.264 IS an open and free standard.

    To the Americans - we don't care about your domestic problems. We don't care if your software industry implodes into one giant patent lawsuit. We just do not care.

    1. Lou Gosselin

      @Cowboy Bob

      As a US developer, I think your statements are a little unfair.

      Many of us in the american software industry strongly oppose the regressive nature of software patents and recognize the harm they cause world-wide.

      However we're not the one's who have imposed this chaotic system, it is the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are responsible. Those entities are the very same as the MNCs who continue to mount well funded campaigns every year pushing to pass software patents in europe and elsewhere.

      I think it would be a mistake to let one's guard down, since it could happen outside the US too.

  15. Johnny Canuck


    Software patents are stifling innovation. I agree with Greg that the rest of the world should firewall the US (but not us Canucks). Then the rest of the world can get on with advancing civilization while the US wallows in its legal mire.

  16. Captain Thyratron
    Thumb Up

    Damned patent parasites.

    Thanks a lot, Diamond v. Chakrabarty.

    When you postulate an absurdity, you can establish anything.

    1. henrydddd

      Re: Damed patent parasites

      I have been a programmer/systems analyst since the 70's. Originally no software was considered to be not patentable. The parasites then, via courts and legislation, made software patentable. I remember Bill Gates getting ticked off because people were copying MS-Dos diskettes, yet he essentially stole MS-Dos (not actually stealing like Apple essentially stole GUI from PARC, but paid a unrealistically low price for it). This greed has to stop. There can only be only so many bottom feeders (like Apple) on the software development chain before the whole thing collapses.

  17. Chronigan

    Patents and Trade

    The reason other countries care is because of the WIPO and WTO. If countries start ignoring one another's patents it could very likely lead to a trade war. Suddenly people who want to sell to America can't. American companies won't be able to sell to other countries, and entire manufacturing and distribution channels would be destroyed. The world is simply to interconnected to through a hissy fit and take your ball home.

    1. Mark 65 Silver badge


      I'm not sure this really applies. After all, the Chinese really don't seem to give a shit for a start.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Put up or shut up

    As with Microsoft saying that they 'believe' linux infringes on 'some' patents without ever saying what these patents are, this is more BS.

    Steve, I know you're reading this and you can not help yourself from responding with another 1500 word essay on the company's website.

    Either put up, or shut up.

    1. Quxy

      But Theora developers have been saying that for over a decade...

      When Monty Montgomery (founder of, the body overseeing Theora development) was recently asked about MPEG-LA's Theora-is-not-patent-free assertions, Montgomery was fierce in his reply:

      "For 15 years, Xiph.Org has carefully 'played by the rules', fully within the bounds, intent, and letter of intellectual property and patent law. For the past ten years we've informed the entire world, including MPEG LA, of our specifications and algorithms in detail. We've requested in open letters that any group believing we are infringing to inform us so that we make take immediate corrective action."

      "I predict that MPEG LA may counter that they know groups have been pressured into licensing patents in order to use Theora. This has been a recent back-room assertion. You might want to ask point blank if MPEG LA itself or any of its constituent members has engaged in this practice, thus manufacturing the evidence that 'vindicates' their patent allegations. I beg you - tell me immediately if you get a straight answer (or good video of any squirming)!"

      "I'm sure you can tell I'm a bit peeved; this has been going on for over a decade. It's amazing they've never been called out on it."

    2. hahnchen

      Re: zef

      I totally agree zef, let's get this shit out into the open, so that the Open Source community can work around it, or fight.

      What we're left with right now, are H264 licensors spreading FUD to protect their licensing revenues. Let's see what they actually have, so it can be addressed.

      There should be protection for open source projects against submarine patents. In open source software, everything is available for anyone to see, there should be no excuse for the existence of submarine patents. In the same way that trademarks are ruled invalid if they are not defended, so should software patents against open source software.

  19. Ray Simard
    Thumb Up

    Movie: "Patent Absurdity"

    Downloadable directly or with Bit Torrent. The HD version is a pretty good demonstration of the performance of Ogg/Theora/Vorbis.

    The MPAA and kindred won't like you getting this by P2P either...but for reasons quite different from the usual.

  20. Ray Simard

    From wariness to antagonism

    There seems to be rather little notice here of the change in tone from Jobs' earlier objections to Ogg/Theora/Vorbis. The "uncertain patent landscape" concern sounded like caution--on the surface, anyway. This sounds more like open antagonism. "Going after" it? Sounds like this bunch intends to sink it, or at least try. Why?

    1. frank ly Silver badge


      "Sounds like this bunch intends to sink it, or at least try. Why?"

      I think you'll find that money is involved. Lots of it.

  21. sleepy

    Try a straightforward interpretation of what Jobs says

    I usually find Steve Jobs' public statements to be straightforward and difficult to argue with, yet they always seem to be considered "controversial" or "arrogant". Try interpreting his statements as truthful and rigorously logical (but of course, in Apple's interests too). Here he has said something interesting, that this "open" video standard is not unencumbered by patents, and if adopted is likely to actively be opposed by a pool of patent holders. In other words he's saying better the H264 devil we know, than something with unknown patent encumbrances.

    Patent trolls go where the money is, and that nowadays means Apple. If Apple implements Theora, it's Apple that gets sued. Until Apple implements Theora, it's probable there won't be any action from these opposing patent holders, and we won't know what their claims are.

    It's pretty clear that a cornerstone of Apple's defeat of the Microsoft monopoly has been to enforce content standards licensable by all without constraints. And it's worked. AAC has defeated WMA. Apple's Webkit work has been freely given, and adopted by Google, Nokia, RIM and others, and it's a major part of ending Microsoft's browser dominance. H264 is well on the way to defeating Flash and other video formats. HTML5/Javascript is well on the way to defeating proprietary offerings from Adobe and Microsoft.

    It may be that Apple patents are included in that "pool being assembled" against Theora, but if it comes to a showdown, Apple needs to keep its leverage on both sides of the battle. Of course they aren't going to unilaterally support Ogg Theora.

  22. Dodgy Dave

    @Lou Gosselin

    You're damned right. Such a lot of obviousness is patented nowadays that it's pointless to even try avoiding it.

    The fact is, the patent system refuses to acknowledge independent invention of the same or similar things, but in reality it happens all the time. Why, in absolute terms, is that a bad thing?

    What really sucks is that you don't own intellectual property by thinking of it, you own it by employing lawyers.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Software patents fuel the executives' myopic "buzz rush"

    It's purely short-sighted, to propose as if a software industry could exist in a market constrained with patent litigation. Nonetheless, it must give the stumps in the boardroom quite a rush, to hear their company's patent lists run over again. (Do they even understand patent law? Do they even understand basic math, for that matter?)

    Mine's the one fit for riding a Chopper bike with - something to really run things over with.

    Anonymous because [expletive deleted]

  24. tempemeaty

    It was only a matter of time...

    So the Corporates full on attack on open source begins...


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