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The MPEG exception

In the past 18 months, I have provided ample information on how MPEG was established, how it works, what it has done and is doing, and why it is different than other committees. In the last article Why is there a battle around MPEG?, I have identified another point of divergence. Patent declarations that relate to MPEG standards are 57.5% of all patent declarations submitted to ISO. MPEG is special because the next ISO committee in terms of number of patent declarations submitted to ISO has 13% share. JTC 1 itself has 81% of all patent declarations submitted to ISO.

In this article I would like to explore another difference, the nature of MPEG standards vs other JTC 1 standards.

Let’s start from an extended version of the table where the % refers to patent declarations submitted to ISO for all JTC 1 standards.

CommitteeTitle# Pat. Decl.%
MPEGCoding of Moving Pictures and Audio185769.76
SC 31Automatic identification and data capture techniques39914.99
SC 27Information security, cybersecurity and privacy protection1254.70
SC 25Interconnection of information technology equipment923.46
JPEGCoding of digital representations of images803.01
SC 17Cards and security devices for personal identification562.10
SC 23Digitally Recorded Media for Information Interchange and Storage220.83
SC 6Telecommunications and information exchange between systems220.83
SC 34Document description and processing languages30.11
SC 35User interfaces20.08
SC 37Biometrics20.08
SC 28Office equipment10.04
SC 36Information technology for learning, education and training10.04

We see that Data (MPEG, SC 31 and JPEG), Security (SC 27), Communication (SC 25 abd SC 6) and Physical Media (SC 17 and SC 23) have a number of patent declarations expressed with more than 1 decimal digit.

This should be no surprise. At the risk of being criticised, I would state that the first 8 committees are not typical Information Technology (IT) committees, but Information and Communication Technology (ICT) committees because they handle information that does not only reside in a device, and hence is not typically the object of a standards, but is expected to move between devices. For instance there is no single patent declaration for SC 24 Computer graphics, image processing and environmental data representation.

Indeed, save for the first 8 committees in the table, the main target for standardisation in the other committees is architectures, frameworks, principles, guidelines etc.

Some JTC 1 standards are indeed developed outside of JTC 1. There are many organisations who request, e.g., JTC 1 to become Suppliers of Publicly Available Specifications (PAS). Those organisations who are granted that status have a preferential channel to make their specifications International Standards.

The Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) was a PAS. JTC 1/SC 24 took VRML97 and made it ISO/IEC 14772-1:1997 Information Technology — Computer Graphics and Image Processing — The Virtual Reality Modeling Language — Part 1: Functional Specification and UTF-8 Encoding.

The justification for a making an ISO standard from a PAS is that the PAS can be developed with greater freedom and at a higher speed. The ISO process puts an ISO stamp on the PAS without changing the specification. Again at the risk of being criticised, I think that standards are too important to make them international standards by letting them cut corners.

MPEG has received a limited number of PAS with a request to convert them to ISO standards, but done so for none. MPEG has issued calls to which  some organisations that had produced PAS’s have responded. MPEG has developed standards based on those responses. An example is MPEG-M to which the Digital Media Project has been a major contributor. This is fine. The way technology is developed should be unconstrained, but there should be a single route through which technologies become international standards.

The Alliance for Open Media (AOM) specification known as AV1 is a PAS. One day, but not today, AV1 may became an MPEG standard.

MPEG is an exception, the question is whether it will continue to be so.

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