Google might be trying to patent someone else’s work as its own

Google has been somewhat failing to live up to its former “don’t be evil” mantra for a little while now, so much so the company recently removed it from its mission statement. So it should come as no surprise the firm is currently embroiled in a patent dispute over a technology one Polish computer scientist created and distributed for free.

Asymmetric numeral systems (ANS) is a core compression technology created by Jarek Duda, a computer scientist at Jagiellonian University in Poland. Instead of patenting his breakthrough, he wanted as many people as possible to use the technology so he put it in the public domain. Facebook, Apple and Google are just some of the global tech companies making use of Duda’s algorithm since he put it public in 2014.

However, Google is now seeking to patent ANS for use in video compression.

Understandably, Google denies it’s trying to patent Duda’s work. Speaking to Ars Technica, Google claims Duda simply created a theoretical concept that isn’t patentable. Instead, its lawyers were working on a patent for a specific application of that theory that reflects the additional work of Google’s engineers.

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Things become even murkier when Duda claims the technique Google is looking to patent is one that he suggested to Google engineers in a 2014 email exchange. Currently, it looks as if this stance is working in his favour as, in a preliminary ruling in February by European patent authorities, the results landed in Duda’s favour.

If you’re wondering why ANS is so important to Google, its benefits as a compression system are up to 30 times faster than previously used compression methods. For something as file-size heavy as video, it can seriously reduce the amount of information being transmitted – making it perfect for the web with minimal loss.

Despite the preliminary ruling against Google, the tech giant is still pursuing the patent and has even begun the process in the US.

Interestingly, in a statement to Ars, Google claims it would be looking to patent Duda’s ANS work on “permissive royalty-free terms” in a similar manner to other open-source codecs the company uses. This isn’t quite good enough for Duda who believes that “patents licensed in ‘permissive royalty-free terms’ usually have a catch.”

All Duda wants Google to do is to simply recognise him as the original inventor and guarantee that the patent will be free for all to use.

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