Is it time to boycott the JPEG graphics file format?

Is it time to boycott the JPEG graphics file format?

Summary: News.com's Michael Singer has a report that reminds us of why there can be a hidden toll of patents on standards.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Patents
21

News.com's Michael Singer has a report that reminds us of why there can be a hidden toll of patents on standards. Already reeling from a Supreme Court setback in one patent case, Singer reports that BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) has inked a royalty-payment structure deal with alleged JPEG patent holder Forgent.  No one really knows how many JPEG images are floating around out there.  But Singer's story says that there's a good chance that many of them have in some way shape or form resulted in royalty payments to Forgent. Even the ones you're using.

The committee responsible for devloping the JPEG standard refuted the patent claim in 2002 and about 40 companies including Apple, Dell, HP, and IBM are in no mood to pay Forgent.  So Forgent is suing them.  This isn't the first time that patents on graphics file formats have reared their ugly head.  Unisys has long claimed that its patent on the LZW compression technique used in the popular GIF image file format entitles the company to royalties as well. Meanwhile, the very much unencumbered Portable Network Graphics format which can be used in place of JPEG and GIF in many situations isn't getting the usage it should (if you have an opinion, feel free to chime in).  Some Web sites, like the Free Software Foundation sponsored GNU.org go out of their way to explain why GIF files don't get used on their Web pages. Forgent also claims to have patents that apply to digital video recorders (eg: TiVo) and is suing 15 TV and media conglomerates

In the bigger picture, the RIM situation serves as a reminder of why patents and standards are a dangerous mix and also serves as a harbinger of things to come if we, the sheeple, continue to allow technology vendors to sneak their patented digital restrictions management (DRM) technologies into virtually every form of digital content we use (music, video, images, and even our text documents).

Topic: Patents

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

21 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • On Target

    Great points David.

    Personally I'll stick with PNG.
    As far as DRM goes, it's a deal breaker. I won't use anything which takes control away from me or restricts me. If that means I will have to do without some things then so be it.

    As far as Forgent's patent goes, is not some form of due diligence required on their part? Can they wait until the use of jpeg is virtually ubiquitous and then extort the whole industry? Something is definitely wrong with tis picture and the patent system.
    Tim Patterson
    • prosecution laches

      [i]As far as Forgent's patent goes, is not some form of due diligence required on their part? Can they wait until the use of jpeg is virtually ubiquitous and then extort the whole industry?[/i]

      The answer is a definite "maybe."

      http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1126528524211

      Basically, the Federal Circuit has upheld the doctrine of prosecution laches in patent cases, but since the Court didn't set specific time limits the only way to find out is to litigate. Right now we know that 40 or so years is too long.
      anonymous
  • If they try to enforce broadly ... JPG is DOA

    The big selling point on JPG is compression, lossy but efficient. PNG provides higher quality and the compression is still fairly good. The growth in broadband is the death knell for JPG. I use PNG exclusively on my ecommerce site (close to 1,000 images). I wouldn't touch JPG or LZW encumbered GIFs. For an improvement in compression, they're just not worth the liability risks. Those people who continue to use them are just asking for trouble.
    George Mitchell
    • re:

      "or LZW encumbered GIFs"

      The patent has expired, FYI.

      "For an improvement in compression, they're just not worth the liability risks."

      Actually, PNG has superior compression in comparison to GIF. Try it yourself - create a 256-color image (GIF cannot handle more than 256 colors) and try both GIF and PNG.

      JPG, or course, owes its high compression to being a lossy format.
      CobraA1
    • Think they would try to charge you?

      I think they'll go to wealthy companies which are able to check the patent and, if it appears valid, those companies will pay a comparatively small amount for a license.

      The decision is completely financial and based on analysis of law and expense. And a certain number of companies will decide it's best to pay for jpg. The public at large will not be inconvenienced.
      Anton Philidor
  • Cash cow

    JPGs will be around for some time yet, despite the better clarity of things like PNGs. So Forgent has decided that they're going to steal their money while they can. That's right: steal.

    They know they don't really have a leg to stand on and I can't imagine the courts telling them "Oh yes, since you came along after the JPG format was widely distributed and claimed that you thought it up you must be right." But then again...

    So my take is, until the Supreme Court says they have a claim, don't pay them a penny. If they need to steal, let them rob banks like honest people.
    Billosaur
  • PNG

    PNG is a great format to use. Unfortuantely broswers that do not support web standards (*cough*IE*cough*) don't render them correctly. Example: I had a PNG image used as a border with a background color to match the shade used in the PNG. It rendered fine in Firefox, but in IE it changed the shade.
    glocks out
    • IE wreaks!

      .
      An_Axe_to_Grind
  • About PNG

    "Meanwhile, the very much unencumbered Portable Network Graphics format which can be used in place of JPEG and GIF in many situations isn't getting the usage it should"

    Mostly because:
    -IE [b]still[/b] doesn't support tansparency correctly, and won't fix it until IE 7.

    -MNG (PNG's animation format) support is almost non-exitant in [i]any[/i] browser, making GIF and Flash the formats of choice for animation.
    CobraA1
  • Since bubreaucratic separatism and greed are more important then society,

    I say we should all stick to JPG and GIF and let Unisys, IBM, and everybody else who claims they got there first extort us blind, using a hamfisted administrative cock-up of a joke known as the "patent system" as means of getting there first. Even though they could all have patents in there at the same time, and it seems that they do!

    Heck. I may as well patent something obvious as well and rake it in once someone else actually does the bloody WORK to make it a reality.

    The system's a joke.
    HypnoToad
  • Heard of ODF

    Now its time for OPF
    LogicallyGenius
    • PNG?

      To my knowledge, such a format (or at least the concept of said format) exists. The PNG format, originally designed as a "free" alternative to GIFs, could conceivably be used to substitute for JPEG files as well, as they have the same color depth capabilities.
      Third of Five
  • Wait til somebody decides to emforce a patent on ASCII.

    Or even binary, for that matter.
    Immanuel Tranz-Mischen
  • Wait til somebody decides to enforce a patent on ASCII.

    Or even binary, for that matter.
    Immanuel Tranz-Mischen
    • Binary patent

      I think some satire site (most likely The Onion) did a story about Microsoft patenting ones and zeroes.

      That said, it seems kind of like it would be the whole "Windows/Lindows" brouhaha, in which MS decided to pay the Lindows guys $20 million to change their name, rather than see the case through. (My personal opinion on why they did this was because they thought that they would probably be ruled against, and they believed that even though they couldn't win, there are alternatives to fighting.)

      Personally, I'm waiting for the day when Apple finally gets around to trademarking the lowercase i. Any company whose name has a lowercase i in it, or that sells a product with a lowercase i in its name, would have to pay Apple $0.01/unit sold of the item in question (or a lump sum to be determined by a court of law if their very name has the dreaded "i").
      Third of Five
  • JPEG started in the 80's!

    Geez, how long did these guys wait until they started to enforce their patents?
    Roger Ramjet
    • That's a definite issue...

      I'm sure they're praying that this issue never comes up in court.

      Also, I think that in 2002, the body that developed the standard refuted the patent. So, I don't imagine that this case will go far.

      Personally, I think it's a last, desperate gasp for capital. They're also suing over some DVR-related patent, so maybe they're hoping that they can convince enough companies to settle for enough money.
      Third of Five
  • If it's true...let it be

    I know it will send shockwaves through all shareholders and through all corporations, but if they did invent it and now everyone else is getting rich off of it, shouldn't they be compensated. I know it's been a long time, but if I invented fire and now everyone's using it everywhere, I should be a millionaire.

    If you invented a new piece of software that had a special function and 20 years later it's being used in every single website, every single digital camera and every single everything...wouldn't you want to get paid.

    Put yourself in their shoes before you get on their case.

    If you like the other formats, then use the, if you like their format, pay them.
    314
  • History repeats itself

    When the GIF format was hijacked by Unisys, the ENTIRE WORLD changed their picture formats (to JPEG!). Today (with IE 7 comming out soon), the switch to PNG may become a stampede . . .
    Roger Ramjet
  • SCO 2.0

    nuff said
    An_Axe_to_Grind