Home Technology Regulation Google bid to patent tech in public domain: claim

Google bid to patent tech in public domain: claim

Entropy coding technology known as ANS devised by a Polish academic is now sought to be patented by Google – even though he released it into the public domain precisely so no company could swoop on it and lock it up.

The entropy coding method known as Asymmetric Numeral Systems was created by Jaroslaw Duda between 2006 and 2013.

Variations of ANS known as tANS and rANS, have been adopted by Apple in its LZFSE compressor, Facebook's Zstandard compressor and Google's Draco 3D compressor, according to a report at Bleeping Computer.

ANS is also in the running to be used in the coding phase of AV1, an open video coding format. Duda's technology is much faster than earlier Huffman and arithmetic coding techniques.

While British company StoreLeap tried to patent the technology it was blocked by Duda. But the company has made strides in getting a patent in the US.

Google has filed an application seeking to patent ANS in the US and more than 100 other countries.

Duda has filed a complaint with officials in the US and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, saying he discovered the Google application by accident.

This was "very surprising for me as I was helping the Google video compression group exactly on this topic since January 2014 through public discussion forum of this group and emails," Duda wrote in his complaint.

He outlined the reasons why Google's claims that ANS was its invention were false, saying "I have directly suggested it them in our 2014 communication. However, they did not consult this patent application with me, did not inform me about the application, and did not include me as a co-author, which raises serious ethical concerns regarding this unjustified attempt of monopolisation".

This is not the first time that Google has been accused of taking code from other parties; in a six-year case filed by Oracle, it was accused of stealing more than 11,000 lines of code from Java.

Duda cited numerous fragments from his conversation on mailing lists to demonstrate his ownership of the technology. "Despite dubious innovation claims, this application can be seen as a legal risk for both the existing ANS-based image compressors (like GST) and for other parties considering ANS for future image and video compressors," Duda said.

The International Search Authority, a department of the WIPO that searches for prior art when patent applications are made, had harsh words for Google when evaluating its claim to be the inventor of the technology. 

"...it is provisionally regarded that the proposed solution does not comprise an inventive contribution over the prior art, because it is no more than a straightforward application of known coding algorithms," it said.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.