The world of digital media was stunned earlier this month by an announcement from Forgent Networks stating that they have "the sole and exclusive right to use and license all the claims under the i672 patent that implement JPEG in all ifields of usei except in the satellite broadcast business." The statement comes from a news release clarifying the licensing arrangement for the technology.
Their claim originates from a subsidiary company called Compression Labs Inc. that originally filed for the patent in October 1986, which was then awarded in 1987.
According to a NewsFactor article, the company waited to move on the patent because:
Forgent was not aware of the patentis licensing potential until April 2001, when it was identified during a corporate restructuring. At that time, the company began approaching hardware vendors and trying to negotiate licensing agreements.
Forgent proved its intent to vigorously defend their intellectual property by announcing a licensing deal with the Sony Corporation in June. They also claim Sony was the second licensing program with a major manufacturer of digital cameras and that they "are in discussions with many other manufacturers of digital cameras and other products that use our patented technology." From the Newsfactor article:
Sony settled with Forgent in May 2002 for a lump-sum payment that covers past and future use. The other company, which reached an agreement with Forgent in April 2002, paid US$15 million at that time and apparently will make ongoing payments to Forgent.
Despite the announced agreements the Joint Photographic Experts Group, a committee that formally organized the full JPEG standard, has briefly examined their claims and believes their claim may not be valid. In a release on the JPEG.org Web site, JPEG member Richard Clark stated that the committee,
...at present believes that prior art exists in areas in which the patent might claim application to ISO/IEC 10918-1 in its baseline form.
As a response to this, the JPEG committee will be collecting, through its new Web site (to be launched shortly) a substantial repository of prior art and it invites submissions, particularly where the content may be applied to claims of intellectual property.
If Forgentis claims are not disproven, more major companies may have no choice but to pay. The JPEG format is too deeply rooted into modern electronic devices for companies to eliminate it and at present there is no suitable replacement.