Thursday, January 18, 2007

H.264 industry standard fight between Qualcomm, Broadcom

At a patent infringement trial brought by Qualcomm against Irvine-based Broadcom in San Diego, UC-Berkeley professor Kannan Ramchandran, who received about $300,000 in research funding from Qualcomm from 2002 to 2005 and has former students working at both Qualcomm and Broadcom, contradicted testimony by Qualcomm witness Iain Richardson, an associate professor at Robert Gordon University in Scotland as to whether two patents of Qualcomm have claims covering the H.264 standard. Having a former recipient of Qualcomm money testify against Qualcomm is just of the interesting twists in the case.

As an industry-standard case, there are broad implications. If there is a determination that the H.264 standard does use Qualcomm's patented technology, as Qualcomm contends, then that means that other manufacturers besides Broadcom might also be infringing on the claims of Qualcomm patents. The technology is employed in devices such as the Apple video iPod, high-definition DVD players and TV cable and satellite set-top boxes. One recalls the turmoil in the California gasoline business brought about by the Unocal case.

Richardson wrote a book about the H.264 standard, and said that the video decoding and encoding technology invented by Qualcomm employee Chong Lee in 1989 and later patented by Qualcomm is the same method of video compression used in the H.264 standard. Ramchandran, whose work is cited within Richardson's book, testified on Jan. 17 that there are “fundamental” and “substantial” differences between the video compression processes described in Qualcomm's patent and those that are in the H.264 standard used in Broadcom's chips. Thus, one has a "battle of the experts" wherein one expert has cited the work of another expert.

Qualcomm attorney James Batchelder asked Ramchandran a series of questions intended to show that Richardson was more knowledgeable about the issues at hand and had done a more thorough investigation for the case. Qualcomm has asked for $8.3 million in damages in the San Diego case.


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