New HEVC Patent Pool Brings Flood of Confusion

A new patent pool for a bandwidth-saving codec is creating some confusion in the video-technology marketplace, threatening to curb the development of products that deliver and present video in the pixel-packed 4K format.

Last week, HEVC Advance, an independent license-administration company, announced the formation of a new pool for intellectual property tied to High Efficiency Video Coding/H.265, a next-generation codec that is about 50% more bandwidth-efficient than MPEG-4/H.264. HEVC and its bandwidth-saving approach are poised to play a big role in 4K and mobile video.

HEVC Advance represents a second patent pool for HEVC, adding to the pool run by MPEG LA.

The concern is that HEVC Advance is shedding little light on what will go into its patent pool and how it will price licenses. It said it expects to attract a “critical mass of intellectual property (IP) holders, with more than 500 essential patents expected to be available for license at launch,” expected to occur in the third quarter.

The initial list of HEVC Advance licensors is expected to include General Electric, Technicolor, Dolby, Philips and Mitsubishi Electric.

By comparison, MPEG LA’s HEVC patent pool already includes contributions from more than two dozen companies, including Apple, Humax, Fujitsu Ltd., NEC and Samsung Electronics. MPEG LA doesn’t charge license fees for companies that produce less than 100,000 units, but does charge 20 cents per unit per year after than amount, with a maximum annual royalty payment of $25 million.

While it’s not uncommon for there to be multiple patent pools for a technology, the lack of concrete information about HEVC Advance is what’s troubling, Dan Rayburn, executive vice president of Streaming-Media. com and principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said.

“Why make it sound like this is good for content owners, and then provide no details and create a lot of uncertainty?” Rayburn said. The group did tell him that the patents they have will be “core” to HEVC and how it’s applied, he said, adding that they expect to file more pertinent information within the next 30 to 60 days.

Elemental Technologies, a maker of HEVC-capable video-processing systems, said it believes it will be largely insulated from the patent uncertainty, compared to companies that make consumer products in large volumes, but it’s keeping a close eye on these developments nonetheless.

“For us … we’ll do what it takes to stay compliant with the patent world in general,” Mike Callahan, Elemental’s senior director of product marketing, said.

This temporary cloud of uncertainty hanging over HEVC could cause some to give a closer look at VP9, Google’s royalty-free codec that claims to provide a similar level of bandwidth savings.

Some companies are taking both routes. Chipmaker Broadcom announced in March that its next-gen Ultra HD/4K silicon for set-tops, gateways and video clients will support both HEVC and VP9.