Patent pools are a method of aggregating disparate claims to intellectual property rights used in a new device or technology so that manufacturers and content producers can pay one fee to satisfy all parties.

But for the new High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) compression system used for 4K Ultra HDTV and other video formats, the emergence of a second patent pool could complicate matters.

More on HEVC patent pools and what it could mean for the advancement of HEVC-enabled 4K Ultra HDTV products after the break:

HEVC, which is also known as H.265, is an advanced video compression scheme used to make more efficient use of bandwidth in order to send data-rich bitstreams (like 4K UHD and even 8K content) over narrow transmission conduits, like over-the-top (OTT) broadband services, as well as cable, telephone and satellite TV systems.

A company called HEVC Advance announced last week that it was forming a new patent pool for the more than 500 companies that might have some intellectual property claim to the HEVC standard. But there is already another administrator, called MPEG LA, which has packaged a patent pool for HEVC technologies.

HEVC Advance said it was formed “to help expedite the growth of HEVC enabled products, including HEVC enabled UHD TVs, in the consumer market.  We expect that HEVC Advance by presenting the market with a strong patent pool alternative will accelerate the growth of HEVC products in the marketplace for the benefit of consumers,” the company said in statement.

But MPEG LA said on its web site that its “objective is to provide worldwide access to as much HEVC essential intellectual property as possible for the benefit of licensees.”

On March 19th, the MPEG LA revealed that it was expanding the HEVC program to reflect recent updates to the HEVC specifications as outlined in recommendation ITU-T H.265 v2.

As we previously reported, version 2 of the HEVC specification expands the version 1 specification with the inclusion of additional bit depths for 4:0:0, 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 chroma subsampling formats, scalable coding extensions and multi-view extensions, among other things. These would support new levels of color and compression.

MPEG LA said “the current royalty rates that apply to products which use one or more HEVC profiles remain unchanged.”

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Enter the HEVC Advance, which said the benefit points stressed by its pool include: “delivering a balanced business model that supports HEVC commercialization.”

The group did not specify exactly what issue it has with the MPEG LA’s on-going program, but the existence of two patent pools for one technology instead of one, would on the surface suggest that the movement of HEVC enabled content and products to market will be slowed.

The HEVC Advance is saying very little about its plan, adding that more would be revealed in the second quarter.

“Patent pools have a history of providing efficient, cost effective and transparent access to essential patents,” Peter Moller, an HEVC Advance representative, told HD Guru. “We are confident that HEVC Advance will provide a less expensive alternative to other licensing options.”

In a statement announcing the MPEG Advance licensing program, Moller said: “The digital media market stands at a pivotal point as innovations like HEVC enable rich next-generation experiences while helping solve industry limitations with delivering that experience,” said Moller. “The market is requiring a different approach to aggregating and making HEVC essential patents available for license. We invite other HEVC patent holders to join the HEVC Advance pool.”

Moller added that “by providing a more efficient and transparent process to license HEVC patents we expect to speed the deployment of HEVC enabled devices into the market.”

The current patent holders to MPEG LA’s HEVC Patent Portfolio License include Apple Inc.; Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute; Fujitsu Limited; Hitachi Maxell, Ltd.; Humax Holdings Co., Ltd.; IBEX PT Holdings; Industry – Academy Cooperation Foundation of Sejong University; Intellectual Discovery Co., LTD.; JVC Kenwood; Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; Korean Broadcasting System; KT Corp.; Kwangwoon University Industry – Academic Collaboration Foundation; M&K Holdings Inc.; NEC Corporation; Newracom; Nippon Hoso Kyokai; Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation; NTT Docomo; Orange SA; Samsung Electronics; Siemens; SK Telecom; Tagivan II; The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York; University – Industry Cooperation Group of Kyung Hee University; and Vidyo.

For its part, the MPEG Advance said its initial list of HEVC licensors is expected to include: GE, Technicolor, Dolby, Philips and Mitsubishi Electric. Royalty rates and licensing terms will be made available in the second quarter, the group said. The HEVC Advance patent pool will formally launch in the third quarter of 2015.

The creation of multiple patent pools following the development of a new technology as important as HEVC is nothing new, but history has shown that the process does not always move as swiftly as some of the parties claim. What this means for the commercialization of next-generation 4K Ultra HDTVs, Ultra HD Blu-ray and other devices supporting new color standards will be seen in the weeks ahead.

By Greg Tarr

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