Hey Google: Stop Trying To Patent A Compression Technique An Inventor Released To The Public Domain

from the being-evil dept

For the most part, Google has actually been one of the good guys on patent issues. Unlike some other Silicon Valley companies, Google has long resisted using its patents to go after others, instead only using the patents defensively. It has also fought for patent reform and experimented with new models to keep its own patents out of the hands of patent trolls. But it’s been involved in an ongoing fight to patent something that an earlier inventor deliberately released into the public domain, and it reflects incredibly poorly on Google to keep fighting for this.

A Polish professor, Jarek Duda, came up with a new compression technique known as asymmetric numeral systems (ANS) years back, and decided to release it to the public domain, rather than lock it up. ANS has turned out to be rather important, and lots of companies have made use of it. Last summer, Duda noticed that Google appeared to be trying to patent the idea both in the US and around the globe.

Tragically, this happened just weeks after Duda had called out other attempts to patent parts of ANS, and specifically said he hoped that companies “like Google” would stand up and fight against such attempts. Three weeks later he became aware of Google’s initial patent attempt and noted “now I understand why there was no feedback” on his request to have companies like Google fight back against attempts to patent ANS. In that same thread, he details how there is nothing new in that patent, and calls it “completely ridiculous.” Despite noting that he can’t afford to hire a patent lawyer, he’s been trying to get patent offices to reject this patent, wasting a bunch of time and effort.

While a preliminary ruling in Europe appeared to side with Duda, accepting his evidence of prior art, Google is still fighting against that ruling and is continuing its efforts to patent the same thing in the US. This is getting new attention now after Tim Lee at Ars Technica wrote about the story, but it’s been covered elsewhere in the past, including getting lots of attention on Reddit a year ago and Hacker News soon after that.

Google’s response to Lee at Ars Technica are simply ridiculous. First, it claimed that Duda’s invention was merely “a theoretical concept” while it is trying to patent “a specific application of that theory that reflects additional work by Google’s engineers.” But if you read through the analysis by many people who understand the space, that doesn’t appear to be the case. There’s very little that appears “new” in the Google patent, or non-obvious based on what Duda and others had already disclosed.

Google’s second response is even more nonsensical:

“Google has a long-term and continuing commitment to royalty-free, open source codecs (e.g., VP8, VP9, and AV1) all of which are licensed on permissive royalty-free terms, and this patent would be similarly licensed.”

While that’s true, that’s no excuse for locking up what’s in the public domain and promising to treat it nicely.

The thing is there is simply no reason for Google to continue down this path. Again, the company has almost never been an aggressor on patents preferring to use them defensively. And it can still do that here — by just pointing to the public domain to invalidate anyone else’s attempt to patent this. The fact that Google is being slammed in various forums over this (and has been since a year ago) should have clued the company in to the fact that (1) this isn’t necessary and (2) harming its own reputation with engineers just to secure a patent it doesn’t need is not a good idea.

Google has tons of patents. It doesn’t need this one. If it really thinks that its own invention here goes beyond what Duda did — and Ars Technica notes that Google ignored multiple requests to explain what is different in its patent application — then the company needs to be much more transparent and upfront about what is different from Duda’s work and the company can just as easily release the same information to the public domain as well. Yes, that would be giving up on one patent, but Google can survive donating a patentable idea to the public domain if it actually has one.

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Companies: google

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Comments on “Hey Google: Stop Trying To Patent A Compression Technique An Inventor Released To The Public Domain”

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43 Comments
Rekrul says:

It’s no surprise that they’re doing this. Since Google no longer has any live humans at the company and everything is now run by AI, it simply dedicated that this somehow benefited the company.

And if anyone wants to dispute that Google is now run by soulless machines, I dare you to post any email address, forum or other contact method that will put you in touch with an actual human being.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Mike: “Google should be shot in the head.”

You: “Look at Masnick wanting us to donate bullets to Google as if they don’t have enough. Shill!”

Also you: “Corporations are bad…unless they’re intellectual property maximalists who have cheated actual artists and creators out of the fruits of their labors since the time of Queen Anne.”

Anonymous Coward says:

it claimed that Duda’s invention was merely "a theoretical concept" while it is trying to patent "a specific application of that theory that reflects additional work by Google’s engineers.

Just like doing it on a computer and doing it on the Internet takes so much engineering effort that it is the favorite trick of patent trolls.

/s,just in case our favorite trolls sarc meters are broken.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

From the making-your-opponents-point-dept.

The general problem people have with patents is highlighted in Google’s commentary. Under current software patent rules the ‘theoretical idea’ (aka the core math that explains ANS) has been considered patent worthy. And in fact that concept is true in Patents in general. Explain the process behind windshield wipers and you own that process. Any application of that process. A specific application of the windshield wipers is still covered by the windshield wiper patent. But Google, in the application, due to obfuscating language and the difficulty of avoiding the Alice decision, is effectively claiming the use of ANS in video compression. That’s like claiming that the specific case of the wiper process on the Back window is a specific patent.

Without specific code, or an explanation of what this does technically that is radically new (something they are legally supposed to explain anyway for patent protection), it appears a generic application for ANS. And the fact that Google is unwilling to show news outlets the distinctions that they need to publicly demonstrate for patent protections kinda proves that it is nothing more than what Duda claims.

Chris says:

Re: From the making-your-opponents-point-dept.

Under current software patent rules the ‘theoretical idea’ (aka the core math that explains ANS) has been considered patent worthy. And in fact that concept is true in Patents in general.

This is entirely wrong. The ‘theoretical idea’ or ‘core math’ is precisely what is not patentable. See, in the US, 35 U.S. Code § 101, the ‘Alice’ decision, and the patentability of an abstract idea. See, in Europe Articles 52 and 56 EPC, the ‘Comvik’ approach, and the prohibition against inventions that relate per se to schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, and programs for computers.

And the fact that Google is unwilling to show news outlets the distinctions that they need to publicly demonstrate for patent protections kinda proves that it is nothing more than what Duda claims.

Google need to show distinctions to the patent offices and courts. If they can do this, then they will get the patent. If they can’t then they won’t get the patent. So many people, on this blog and elsewhere, seem to equate having a patent application with having a granted patent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why you Never Criticize "Google", Techdirt!

Yes, this one side-adventure along TD’s usual anti-patent crusade totally makes up for two decades of never mentioning Google’s everyday spying on everyone, the gigabytes that it stores, and providing "direct access" to NSA according to Snowden.

Anyone at all wondering can go to Copia and where brazen Masnick PROVES that he’s a corporate shill — not just for Google:
https://copia.is/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/sponsors.png

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why you Never Criticize "Google", Techdirt!

“two decades of never mentioning Google’s everyday spying on everyone”

Erm, you know there’s a search function that instantly proves you wrong, right? You can even use Google to find the fact that you’re lying if you wish.

“Masnick PROVES that he’s a corporate shill”

No, it proves that he has corporate sponsors for a specific project, not directly related to this site. Something which he has publicly and openly announced on day one of that site opening, yet you keep pointing to it as some kind of gotcha.

You are yet to provide any proof that this has altered the editorial content here, of course, nor do you ever mention any of the other sponsors. You have nothing except the evidence that’s been transparently and voluntarily been made publicly available by the man you claim is lying, yet you still have provided zero evidence for your own claims.

Years later, and you still have nothing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Several comments saying how this exonerates TD / Mansick...

Was that an explicit purpose? Or just the silly fanboys pick up on that because antsy over the soundly-based criticism in Masnick’s 20-year history?

Either wayk, it’s NOT a substantive criticism of Google’s core SPYING and TRACKING.

Sheesh.

Anonymous Coward says:

The EPO does a thorough job of examining patent applications. You can see the prosecution history for the EP application at https://register.epo.org/application?number=EP16819781&lng=en&tab=doclist

Attorneys for Google filed an amendment that narrowed the claims on May 10, 2017. Prosecution of a patent application can go back and forth many times between a patent office and an applicant before claims issue as a patent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Counterintuitively, if an inventor wants to help to provide free use of their invention, then the inventor should still get a patent. A first inventor might invent a process that includes step A. A second inventor at a company that is not against bullying people with its patents might invent and get a patent on a process with steps A and B. The process that includes steps A and B might become entrenched in the industry. If the first inventor had patented A, then the first inventor could have at least stopped the bully company from practicing anything that includes step A, even though the company has a narrower patent on A and B together. This could be used by the first inventor in negotiations with the company to stop it from using its own patent on A and B to bully people. (“I will let you do A if you stop bullying people that do A and B.”)

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