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Forgent's logo. Click here to visit the Forgent website! Forgent JPEG claims: groundless?
(Monday, July 22, 2002 - 12:55 EDT)

Joint Photographic Experts Group's committee suggests Texan software company will have a fight on its hands over its "get rich quick" scheme to license a patent related to the JPEG standard...

We told you on Friday about a press release from Forgent Networks Inc. claiming that the company has rights to a compression technology used in the popular JPEG standard, and has suddenly decided to enforce its patent. As we expected, digital imaging enthusiasts are in uproar at the suggestion, which is understandably seen as an attempt to cash in and turn a fast buck on a standard in whose creation and adoption the company has played little part.

At least two companies have already handed Forgent a total in excess of $15 million, but it seems the patent claims may well be groundless - and if Forgent wants to line its pockets further it will have to fight for the money. The 'Joint Photographic Experts Group' (JPEG) has posted a news release on its site stating that it feels the portions of Forgent's patent affecting JPEG may well be invalid.

A little background on patents is pertinent at this point. The idea of a patent is that an inventor should be entitled to control their creation, deciding who can use it and earning profits from it for a period of time - normally 20 years from when the patent application was first filed. A patent cannot be granted (or if mistakenly granted, can be overturned) if certain definitions regarding previous description or use of the invention are met - what's known as "prior art".

The definitions of prior art in the USA are roughly as follows:
  • If the invention was "known or used by others in this country, or was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country" before the date of invention by the patent holder or applicant, prior art exists.
  • If the invention was "patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of the application for patent in the United States", then again prior art exists.
According to the JPEG's committee, after a brief examination of Forgent's patent it feels that prior art does exist for the portions which are related to the compression technology used in JPEG. The statement notes that at least two other companies (Philips and Lucent) are similarly claiming to have patents that relate to portions of the original JPEG standard, and expresses disappointment that some organisations are trying to cash in on what was developed to be a license and royalty-free standard.

Attempts to profit from JPEG won't proceed without a fight, though... Not content to roll over and play dead, the JPEG committee apparently decided at a meeting in Boston last Friday to formulate a response to these intellectual property claims. Provisionally by October, the committee will launch a new website where it will solicit submissions of prior art, "particularly where the content may be applied to claims of intellectual property".

As we predicted in the previous news item, the JPEG website also noted that "agreement [has been] reached with over 20 large organisations holding many patents [related to its] up and coming JPEG 2000 standard", which it feels will allow it to proliferate "without payment of license fees or royalties".

Original Source Press Release:

Concerning recent patent claims

Considerable interest has been expressed in the views of the JPEG committee concerning claims made by Forgent Networks Inc on their web site concerning intellectual property that Forgent have obtained through their acquisition of Compression Labs Inc. They refer specifically to US Patent 4,698,672, which refers amongst other claims to technology which might be applied in run length coding, found in many technologies including the implementations of a baseline version of ISO/IEC 10918-1, commonly referred to as JPEG.

The committee has examined these claims briefly, and at present believes that prior art exists in areas in which the patent might claim application to ISO/IEC 10918-1 in its baseline form. The committee have also become aware that other organisations including Philips, and Lucent may also be claiming some elements of intellectual property that might be applied to the original JPEG and JBIG (IS 11544 standards). As a response to this, the JPEG committee will be collecting, through its new web site (to be launched shortly) a substantial repository of prior art and it invites submissions, particularly where the content may be applied to claims of intellectual property. A note will be placed on the web site shortly explaining the process for such submissions.

This effort will take some time to organise, but the JPEG committee hope to have it in place prior to its next meeting in Shanghai in October 2002.

It has always been a strong goal of the JPEG committee that its standards should be implementable in their baseline form without payment of royalty and license fees, and the committee would like to record their disappointment that some organisations appear to be working in conflict with this goal. Considerable time has been spent in committee in attempting to either arrange licensing on these terms, or in avoiding existing intellectual property, and many hundreds of organisations and academic communities have supported us in our work.

The up and coming JPEG 2000 standard has been prepared along these lines, and agreement reached with over 20 large organisations holding many patents in this area to allow use of their intellectual property in connection with the standard without payment of license fees or royalties.

Richard Clark
JPEG Webmaster and editor
Committee member since JPEG's formation (and before´┐Ż).

Reviewed and approved at the 27th WG1 Boston Meeting, July 19 2002

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