When a computer scientist named Jarek Duda contacted Ars Technica claiming that Google was attempting to patent a technique he put into the public domain, the publication investigated it and found the company’s move could either be intentional or a case of “bureaucratic absent-mindedness.”
When Duda, a computer scientist at Jagiellonian University in Poland, invented a breakthrough compression technique called asymmetric numeral systems (ANS), he placed it in the public domain for all to use — and how. Facebook, Apple, and Google created software based on Duda’s work. Google has taken it a step further by, as Duda has claimed, attempting to patent his ANS work for its use in video compression. The European patent authorities agreed with Duda in their preliminary finding.
While the case in Europe continues, Google is also attempting to acquire a patent in the United States, though not specifically for Duda’s work, it says.
“A Google spokesperson told Ars that Duda came up with a theoretical concept that isn’t directly patentable, while Google’s lawyers are seeking to patent a specific application of that theory that reflects additional work by Google’s engineers.”
Ars noted in its reporting the different tones Google’s on-the-record statements took on. The first statement was “very bland,” according to Ars, as the company acknowledged it had used Duda’s work in its application and was waiting for a decision from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The second statement asserted its long-term, continuing commitment to royalty-free, open source codecs, and that its patent would be licensed on similar permissive, royalty-free terms.
But the inventor has his doubts. In a statement to Ars:
“We can hope for their goodwill; however, there are no guarantees. Patents licensed in ‘permissive royalty-free terms’ usually have a catch.”
In order to convince Duda, he wants the company to do one of two things: either recognize him as the inventor and legally guarantee his work will remain in the public domain or stop pursuing the patent.
At the conclusion of Ars’ in-depth reporting, which included a very detailed examination of the ANS technology, the publication questions what exactly is going on here: Is Google attempting to create leverage against other companies with large patent portfolios or is it simply a case of bureaucratic absentmindedness?
It’s unclear to Ars, and Duda remains wary.