In a recent email, Steve Jobs tried to clear up a misconception over open source software and technology governed by open standards. His reply stated:
All video codecs are covered by patents. A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other “open source” codecs now. Unfortunately, just because something is open source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents. An open standard is different from being royalty free or open source.
Theora is a video compression coded distributed under the Ogg container, and Gregory Maxwell, who heads up development for both technologies, took umbrage with Jobs’ claim of patent hounds assembling at the gates.
In a recent response posted on the Theora mailing list, Maxwell points out that if there were indeed a group of entities looking to form a patent pool to go after Theora, they would have first contacted the developers of the codec before rounding up the troops. In actuality, Maxwell points out, Thoera has received no contact from any alleged group of patent hounds.
Maxwell continues in another email:
The specific standards process used to develop the MPEG codecs creates patent minefields that royalty-free codecs don’t generally face. Because many knowledgeable people have heard of the problems faced by these patent-soup standards, they may extrapolate these risk to codecs developed under a different process where these problems are less considerable. This is a mistake, and I’ll explain why here.
Recently there have been a number of prominent statements along the lines of “all video codecs are covered by patents” and “virtually all codecs are based on patented technology”.
These statements are carefully engineered FUD spread by the license holders of competing formats in order to discourage the use of unencumbered alternatives. They are careful to avoid naming WHO owns these supposed patents or WHAT is actually patented, because such specific statements would allow the victims of this FUD to petition a court for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement.