The computer giant has filed a patent on a technique of compression of images and videos. The problem is that it was created by a Polish academic who had published everything openly.
Did Google take on the work of a researcher? This is what Dr. Jaroslaw Duda suggests. This Polish scientist, a doctor of theoretical physics and computer science, is the author of a revolutionary coding technique, the Asymmetric Numeral System (ANS), particularly useful for video and image compression.
Established between 2006 and 2013, ANS is part of the family of entropy coding techniques. Before it, there were essentially only two methods: the Huffman coding, which was fast but not very efficient, and the arithmetic coding, effective but not very fast. ANS offers the best of both worlds, namely speed and efficiency. The giants of high-tech will soon adopt it. The technique is currently used in more than a dozen compression engines, including Facebook Zstandard, Apple LZFSE or Google Draco 3D.
The researcher files a complaint
As an advocate of open technologies, Dr. Jaroslaw Duda has published all his research in the public domain. One can imagine his anger when he realized that Google had sworn a patent for the ANS in the United States and in more than a hundred other countries. Especially since he had collaborated for several years informally with Google on the integration of ANS in their own compression engines! In an official letter sent to the US patent office, the doctor believes that Google's patent brings nothing new in this field and that the alleged innovations actually come from him.
Moreover, this patent would be dangerous. It would represent, because of its general wording, "a legal risk for existing image compression engines based on ANS and for other players wishing to use ANS in future image and video compression engines." He also states that Google "did not consult me for this patent, did not inform me of its filing and did not mention me as co-author, which raises serious ethical problems with regard to this unjustified attempt of monopolization ".
This "madness of ridiculous patents"
Before sending his letter, the researcher tried to find an amicable solution. He disagreed with the Google newsgroup to which he had previously participated by giving advice on implementing ANS. He urged Google to stop this "ridiculous patents madness" to keep thinking about issues that could lead to a real patent. But his messages remained unanswered. Google has been dead since February. "There was a moment when they gave me a formal collaboration with my university, which would have allowed me to set up a team, but after that radio silence ... probably because of this patent filing. Currently, Google does not respond. No doubt they are rewriting the patent, to show their determination to obtain this monopoly, "says the researcher, interviewed by Bleeping Computer.
Google is not the first to try to get hold of the ANS technology. StoreLeap has also filed a patent for ANS. The researcher succeeded in blocking it in the UK. This time, the demand is about to succeed in the United States.