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AV1 is a Copy Cat Codec

AOMedia asserts that AV1 is open source as if magically constructed without the use of existing patented technologies. A recent article in the Beamr blog contradicts this and shows how AV1 uses many of the same building blocks used by other codecs. Specifically, the Beamr article compared AVC, HEVC, AV1, EVC, and VVC, and made the following observations regarding the technologies incorporated in AV1 and the other codecs (emphasis supplied).

Hybrid block-based coding – “All these codecs use a hybrid block-based coding approach, meaning the encode is performed by splitting the frame into blocks, performing a prediction of the block pixels, obtaining a residual as the difference between the prediction and the actual values, applying a frequency transform to the residual obtaining coefficients which are then quantized, and finally entropy coding those coefficients along with additional data, such as Motion Vectors used for prediction, resulting in the bitstream.”

Partitioning – “We will begin with a look at the block or partitioning schemes supported. The MBs of AVC are always 16×16, CTUs in HEVC and EVC-Baseline are up to 64×64, While for EVC-Main, AV1 and VCC block sizes of up to 128×128 are supported. As block sizes grow larger, they enable efficient encoding of smooth textures in higher and higher resolutions.”

Prediction – “All video codecs from AVC onwards employ both INTRA prediction, where the prediction is performed using pixels already encoded and reconstructed in the current frame, and INTER prediction, using pixels from previously encoded and reconstructed frames…EVC-Baseline supports only 5 INTRA prediction modes, EVC- Main supports 33, HEVC defines 35 INTRA prediction modes, AV1 has 56 and VVC takes the cake with 65 angular predictions.”

Filtering – “In-loop filters have a crucial contribution to improving the perceptual quality of block-based codecs, by removing artifacts created in the separated processing and decisions applied to adjacent blocks… Wrapping up with AV1, a regular DB filter is used as well as a Constrained Directional Enhancement Filter (CDEF) which removes ringing and basis noise around sharp edges, and is the first usage of a directional filter for this purpose by a video codec. AV1 also uses a Loop Restoration filter, for which the filter coefficients are determined by the encoder and signaled to the decoder.”

Entropy coding – “The entropy coding stage varies somewhat among the codecs, partially due to the fact that the Context Adaptive Binary Arithmetic Coding (CABAC) has associated royalties… AV1 uses non-binary (multi-symbol) arithmetic coding – this means that the entropy coding must be performed in two sequential steps, which limits parallelization.”

In their launch materials, AOMedia stated that “AV1 is designed from the ground up, to create a high quality, royalty-free video codec.” Even a cursory examination of the key building blocks reveals that this isn’t the case, and in fact, AV1 relies on many patented technologies, including all those included in the Sisvel AV1 patent pool."


Sisvel announces First Licensees of AV1/VP9 Patent Pools

On May 27, 2020, Sisvel announced that Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and Spain-based Tremmen Tecnologica S.L. have entered into patent licensing agreements for Sisvel’s VP9 and AV1 Licensing Programs. The companies are the first two licensees of the pools, where were announced in March 2019 with the patent lists published in March 2020.

The VP9 program includes twelve patent owners and the AV1 program has fourteen. The initial lists of patents included more than 650 for VP9 and over 1,050 for AV1. Once the evaluation process for the patents identified to-date is complete, Sisvel expects to reach a total portfolio offered for license of around 1000 patents for VP9 and nearly 2000 for AV1. The current lists of patents are available at this link.

More information on the patent pools is available at this link. You can view the press release by clicking here.


Sisvel VP9/AV1 pools re-launch and editorial response

On March 10, Sisvel re-launched the AV1 and VP9 patent pools, adding nine new members and releasing initial patent lists for both pools. You can access the press release here. This blog post lists the news coverage relating to this announcement, with quotes and comments about each article.

Bloomberg, Susan Decker, March 10, 2020 (subscription may be required)

Ms. Decker is the patent reporter for Bloomberg News in Washington. As the headline suggests, Ms. Decker initially focused on the new members and reported that the pool brought “together hundreds of patents owned by a dozen companies as a “one-stop-shop” for companies that use the VP9 and AV1 video coding formats” citing Sisvel sources.

In a nod to the contributions of non-practicing entities, Ms. Decker also noted that “The pool members, which also include Dolby Laboratories Inc. and InterDigital Inc., are tech companies that have been contributing to the growth of the streaming industry but have no other way to recoup their investments than royalties on patents because they don’t make money directly from products.” Ms. Decker did note that “the new pool could face pushback from the companies that developed the two formats, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google.”

Streaming Media Magazine, Adrian Pennington, March 10, 2020

Mr. Pennington is a freelance writer who has written about AV1 and the Sisvel previously at (login required). His overview positions the pool, which he reported should “reach a total portfolio offered for license of around 1,000 patents for VP9 and nearly 2,000 for AV1,” against AOMedia, which is “supported by companies either controlling huge ecosystems or developing chips that are used by hundreds of millions of customers worldwide.”

Quoting Sisvel CEO Mattia Fogliacco, Mr. Pennington also concisely frames the business and legal issue as follows: “AOMedia member companies have a good reason to offer their technology in AV1 for free,” Fogliacco argues. “They sell chips, video cards, or devices so they make money to finance their R&D techniques in other ways. “The people we represent don’t have that outlet for their contribution to video coding technology and are seeking to obtain in the form of a licence and royalty.

“It boils down to the fact that many patent holders for VP9 and AV1 are not members of AOMedia and so did not make any pledge to make this technology royalty free.”

The article also delineates Sisvel’s position on what is licenseable, stating, “Sisvel will not seek royalties for encoded content and currently only hardware implementations are being licenced – but this could change.”

C|Net, Stephen Shankland, March 10, 2020

Mr. Shankland is a senior reporter for CNET who has written about AV1 and other codec-related stories. Essentially, Mr. Shankland positioned the debate as between “Open vs. Proprietary,” reporting that, “Fans of open sharing — such as those in the now dominant open-source software movement — benefit from cooperative development and free use of the resulting products. The proprietary realm, where technology only may be used after fulfilling copyright and patent license agreements, is more restrictive.”

As a result, the article has a narrow focus and doesn’t cover several essential goals and aspects of the VP9 and AV1 pools. It has been pray of misinterpretations in blogs, where AOMedia company members have been presented as virtuous do-gooders who want video to be free, and pool members as those who “think there needs to be a new toll on the streaming video road.” This characterization ignores the fact that Google and AOMedia, who are the only one designing VP9 and AV1, choose to use technology protected by the patents in the Sisvel pools without consultation or authorization, and unfairly presents Sisvel and the patent owners as the bad guys in this story.

No design choices made to include third parties IP, no infringement, no patent pool; if AV1 and VP9 infringe upon the patents in the pools, the patent owners have every right to charge royalties.

IAM, Joff Wild, March 10, 2020 (subscription required)

Mr. Wild is Editor-in-Chief of IAM, which the magazine presents as the world’s leading IP business media platform. He starts by concisely detailing the announcement, writing, “Dolby, ETRI, Ericsson, GE, InterDigital, IP Bridge, NTT Docomo, SK Telecom and Xylene have joined forces with JVCKENWOOD, NTT, Orange, Philips and Toshiba Business Expert Corporation, which were already members of the platform that launched in March 2019 and which comprises two licensing programmes: one for over 650 patents relevant to the VP9 coding format and the other for more than 1,050 rights covering AV1.”

Citing Mr. Fogliacco, Mr. Wild succinctly describes the opposing stances taken by the AOMedia and the patent owners in the Sisvel pools. “Businesses invest in R&D for many reasons, Fogliacco states. Members of the Alliance for Open Media, he argues, believe that their best route to monetisation is to build products and services that use the AV1 codec and then to charge for items such as operating systems, CPUs, graphics chips and SoCs, and computers and mobile devices, as well as services and content. On the other hand: “The members of the Sisvel pool believe the best way to monetise their deep investments is through licensing.”

Also citing Sisvel’s CEO, Wild details the due diligence supporting the patents included in the pools. “Two levels of technical due diligence were performed on the patents, he says: one was done by technical experts in Sisvel, who have many years’ experience of participating in video coding standardisation efforts; while the other was undertaken by independent, third party, professionally accredited evaluators. This was to guarantee a very strong level of scrutiny of the patents included in the programmes.”

World Intellectual Property Review Rory O’Neill, March 11, 2020 (login required)

Rory O’Neill is a journalist with WIPR who covers intellectual-property related matters. His story largely focused on the timing of Sisvel’s licensing efforts. On this, O’Neill reported that “Sisvel’s CEO Mattia Fogliacco says the platform will look to begin licensing negotiations with manufacturers in the next month…Fogliacco said he is confident that their offer is fair and accessible to the market. ‘I am sure that whoever looks at the licence offer we are putting on the table will see that it is intended to endorse adoption of the technology.’”

O’Neill, accurately reported that it was Google’s and AOMedia’s actions that resulted in the patent pools being formed, not Sisvel. “One of the worries I had, when we launched the platform, was that patent owners and Sisvel would be blamed for charging royalties,” Fogliacco told WIPR. “But we did not have any say in choosing which patented technologies are used in the VP9 and AV1 formats,” he added., Adrian Pennington, March 10, 2020

Another, more general article on codecs by Mr. Pennington, where he accurately summarizes how the pool announcement impacts Google and AOM, and how the pools can benefit the codec market. On the first point, Mr. Pennington reports, “Sisvel has published a list of additional patents – more than 650 for VP9 and 1,000 for AV1 – and expects to reach a total of around 1000 patents for VP9 and nearly 2000 for AV1. That means that the AOM either needs to concede licence terms with Sisvel or contest Sisvel’s pool claims – a process which at best could delay implementation of AV1 and at worst lead to huge legal expense and the internecine wranglings which beset HEVC.”

On the potential benefit to the market, Mr. Pennington shares, “Our goal with these pools is to reduce the friction in the market,” says Sisvel chief executive Mattia Fogliacco. “We believe pools create efficiency by enabling potential implementors to sign one agreement licensing multiple patent portfolios in one transaction at a reasonable and transparent cost.”


The Video Coding Licensing Platform as a one-stop-shop

When launching the Video Coding Licensing Platform (VCLP) and the two patent pools on VP9 and AV1 in March 2019, Sisvel and the founding members were strongly convinced about the value that this effort would be delivering to the video coding ecosystem: balancing and meeting the needs of both innovators and implementers.

Here we explain why Sisvel decided to dedicate a full year to fostering the inclusion of additional Patent Owners in VCLP before initiating any licensing operations.

At that time, Sisvel decided to dedicate a full year to fostering the inclusion of additional Patent Owners in VCLP before initiating any licensing operations, striving to create a true One-Stop-Shop for VP9 and AV1, which is the ultimate goal of every patent pool administrator.

In this past year, Sisvel has been humbled by the participation of many new Patent Owners alongside our founding members. The pools now see the active engagement of many key innovators in the video coding domain and we are happy to re-launch the two pools, having now 14 members contributing several hundred patents to the VCLP.

This impressive increase and participation proves that our decision to dedicate time to be as inclusive as possible has paid back, to the benefit of the ecosystem as a whole. Once it became clear that many unlicensed patents were reading on VP9 and AV1, creating an easy, efficient and transparent system to obtain licenses under those patents was important to foster the technology adoption. We believe that the creation of VCLP has achieved this goal, also thanks to the choices made by the Patent Owners and Sisvel, namely maintaining the royalty rates at the same level, notwithstanding the surprising growth of patents offered for license, and keeping content distribution royalty free under the pools are just some examples.

Strong investments have been made in carefully selecting those patents which are now part of the programs, with a two-pronged approach to the evaluation of patents: both seasoned technical domain experts in Sisvel as well as independent and professionally accredited third-party evaluators have been engaged. The validation of the patent portfolios participating to the license offers implied the use of a tremendous level of resources: the investments made to date by Sisvel and the Patent Owners will be key in supporting the market players when assessing Sisvel´s license offer and the necessity for a license. Sisvel will welcome requests of technical discussions to explain how patents offered for license are used when practicing VP9 or AV1.

Today, Sisvel and the VCLP Patent Owners are even more convinced about the value of our efforts: we believe that today is a positive day for the entire innovation ecosystem in the video coding domain.

For more information about the licensing terms, please visit: this link.


Welcome to Sisvel VP9/AV1 blog

Greetings and welcome to the Sisvel VP9/AV1 blog. I’m Mattia Fogliacco, CEO of Sisvel Group.

As you may know, video codecs have progressed over the last few years on two tracks; standards-based, royalty-bearing codecs like MPEG-2, H.264, and HEVC, and open-source royalty-free codecs like Ogg Theora, VP6-9, and now AV1.

Sisvel VP9/AV1 patent pools

Recently Sisvel announced two patent pools on VP9 and AV1. We formed these pools because after performing extensive technical due diligence, both internally and through highly respected third parties, we believe that the VP9/AV1 codecs as promoted by Google and the Alliance for Open Media (AOM) make use of patents owned by companies participating in the pools. Recognizing that AOM and Google have been positioning VP9 and AV1 as royalty-free, open-source codecs for many years now, we created this blog for several reasons.

First, to keep interested parties aware of key information about the pools as it becomes available. During this summer, we will announce via this blog the availability of the essential patent list, and several new licensors who have added technology to the pools.

Second, since we recognize that the formation of these pools will be an emotionally charged issue for many technology pundits and users, we wanted to create a place to respond to criticism and complaints, and present our side of the story, which roughly is this.

  • Sisvel helps companies monetize their investments in R&D, often via patent pools. We’ve been in business since 1982, have been licensing technology for over 35 years, and have over 60 engineers, licensing, and legal professionals on staff.
  • We believe that patent pools simplify access to new technologies by enabling potential implementors to sign one agreement with one party at a reasonable cost to acquire all rights needed to build products using the covered technologies.
  • We believe that our patent pools have helped accelerate the deployment of the covered technologies for the benefit of the inventors, implementors, and end users. Certainly, in the video codec space, patent pools have clearly accelerated the deployment of video codecs like MPEG-2 and H.264.
  • We believe that AOM members have the complete right to form, in essence, a royalty-free patent pool of their own intellectual property. However, to the extent that AV1 (and VP9) make use of the IP owned by members of our pools, these members have the complete right to seek reasonable royalties from those who implement VP9 and AV1 in their products and services.

That’s it. This blog will be monitored, and we won’t publish any abusive messages. Otherwise, we’re committed to publishing questions and comments on both sides of these issues.


What Would the COVID-19 Lockdown Been Like Decades Ago? A Technology Perspective on Video Codecs.

On June 23, 2020, over 500 technology and licensing professionals watched the online Talk on “What would the Covid-19 lockdown have been like decades ago? A technology perspective on video codecs.” The Talk reviewed the recent history of codec innovation and detailed how the patent system and patent pools help fund these efforts.

Who’s At Fault Here?

For the most part, the editorial response to Sisvel’s AV1/VP9 patent pools has recognized the appropriateness of the pools and their formation. That is, a group of patent owners discovered that AV1 and VP9 infringed upon their patents so they formed a pool to gain compensation from this usage and enable the fair and legal commercialization of these codecs. However, some articles have criticized Sisvel and the patent owners for “imposing a toll on the streaming video highway,” with bloggers being even more obnoxious and critical. Here we explain once more our position.

It’s beyond interesting that these writers position Sisvel and the patent owners as the “bad guys” here, and give a total pass to the parties who have consistently misstated that their technologies are royalty-free and don’t infringe upon third-party IP. However, while forming the pools, Sisvel performed two layers of due diligence that revealed just the opposite; that both VP9 and AV1 use IP contained in the pools.

To be clear, neither Google or AOM asked Sisvel pool members if their use was acceptable; they simply integrated the pool owners’ IP into their codecs. A simple analogy helps illustrate the correct positioning of the parties.

Suppose you owned some property. Without your knowledge, a third-party advised others that they could build houses on your property, and they did so. You later discover this and ask for fair compensation. Who’s at fault here? The third-party who started it all, or you the property owner? In Sisvel’s view, and indeed the view of most who have written about the pools, it’s clearly not the property owner.

Similarly, who’s at fault regarding AV1/VP9? The groups that have consistently misrepresented the royalty-free nature of their technologies while misappropriating third-party IP? Or the pool members who after two layers of due diligence can prove that Google and AOM are leveraging the pool member’s IP without compensation?


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