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Re: MP3 decoder packaged with XMMS

On 7/19/05, Raul Miller <moth.debian@gmail.com> wrote:
> On 7/18/05, Michael K. Edwards <m.k.edwards@gmail.com> wrote:
> > If the question is, "is it remotely plausible that Fraunhofer claims
> > to have patented the Discrete Cosine Transform or its application to
> > music compression", the answer is "no".  How's that?
> Strawman -- overly specific.

OK -- how about this:  Fraunhofer, AFAICT, has not attempted to patent
any well-known technique of converting data from a time series to a
frequency spectrum, nor the idea of applying such a technique to music
compression, nor would they or anyone alse have a prayer of litigating
such a claim successfully in court.  (IANAL, TINLA.)

> > > If you don't have a simple answer for these questions, please don't
> > > imply that you have.
> >
> > Where, exactly, did I imply that?  Either you're using the word
> > "covered" in some way that has nothing to do with the claimed scope of
> > the patent (in which case you are IMHO engaging in empty rhetoric), or
> > you have been grossly misinformed as to the claimed scope of the
> > Fraunhofer patents (and others claimed by reputable players in
> > multimedia compression).  I'm guessing both.
> You're great with implying things, but...

There are a few things for which I have simple answers.  What exactly
is patented (or patentable) about the MP3 technology suite isn't one
of them, and I don't think I implied it was.  But there are some
questions in that area with simple "no" answers, such as whether
Fraunhofer claims to own the DCT or its cousins.

> I'm grossly misinformed as to the "claimed scope of the Fraunhofer patents"
> in the sense where you say "AIUI a court of fact has the discretion to more
> or less completely rewrite the claims of a patent when it is litigated, "

The court's discretion is to promote justice by correcting the record
to reflect the truth where they are not prohibited by constitution,
statute, or rule of law from doing so.  When we are talking about the
record of an invention, if the patent examiner misunderstood or
mis-applied the rules about how claims are supposed to relate to
statute, disclosure, and prior art, or if well-pled claims about
procedural defects and/or additional prior art are brought before the
court, then the claims can be reshaped to reflect the facts more

If you fear that a competent court will rewrite the claims of any
patent to grant a monopoly on the use of the Fourier transform, then
you might as well not get out of bed in the morning.

> By "covered" I mean "appears in the claims of a patent".
> Am I being overly broad?  Perhaps.  But considering the lengths Ogg
> Vorbis have had to go through, to avoid litigation, I think my approach is
> representative of what the MP3 patent holders feel is valid.

What lengths are those?  They have been careful to avoid some of the
more obvious pitfalls by keeping the end-user component (the decoder)
pretty generic and hewing closely to the older prior art (such as
Ehmer's 1959 papers).  They sought opinion of competent counsel on one
occasion in the vicinity of the Vorbis 1.0 release.  They respond with
care and courtesy to inquiries about the relationship between their
work and patents that they know to be relevant.  So far, that's all
good practice in any technology field.

On the other hand, their executive team has publicly been less than
diplomatic with a major patent holder on at least one occasion (Google
it yourself) and they've based their business strategy on the
marketing benefits of patent-free-ness rather than the prevailing
"have some patents of your own to bring to the table" advice.  I
admire them and wish them well, and I like to see Debian promote their
formats over MP3 and its ilk, but saying they go to great lengths to
avoid litigation seems a bit exaggerated unless you know something I

> If we're talking about "avoiding distribution of software to avoid potential
> but as yet non-existent challenges", we're going to need to be fairly
> broad in our consideration of what would be a potential threat.

Not so broad as to wildly misrepresent how the system works or to
woefully exaggerate what is "covered" in an unnamed patent.  I'm not
saying you are knowingly doing these things, just that you risk doing
so if you repeat things like "the use of time -> frequency domain
mapping is ... ostensibly covered by the presumptively valid patents".

- Michael

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