Richard Lloyd

A fight between Samsung Electronics and a fellow member of MPEG LA’s HEVC patent pool escalated late last month as the Korean tech giant launched four inter partes reviews (IPR) against patents owned by Ibex PT Holdings. All of the patents targeted by Samsung are a part of the HEVC pool, which relates to video compression technology used in 4K HDTV and other video formats.

Samsung brought two IPRs against Ibex late last year, both of which were denied institution, but significantly ramped up its fight in October filing two reviews at the start of the month followed by the more recent quartet of filings. The company has brought a total of eight IPRs against three patents owned by its fellow HEVC pool member.

It is very unusual for pool members to target each other’s IP in this way. The standard practice is for each licensor in a pool to receive licences to all of the patents owned by the other pool members so they don’t pose an assertion risk. Therefore moving to invalidate another pool member’s IP suggests that Samsung is frustrated that Ibex continues to receive a slice of revenues on patents that the Korean company clearly feels shouldn’t have been granted in the first place.

Pool operators such as MPEG LA typically employ an external law firm to vet each of the patents submitted to a pool to ensure that they meet with the specifications of the relevant technology. It is not uncommon, however, for pool critics to privately snipe that some members abuse the system, submitting large numbers of patents that have been granted by various national IP agencies to ensure that they maintain their share of pool revenues.

Attempts to develop a successful HEVC pool have met with some teething problems. MPEG-LA was the first out of the gate, but in 2015 a rival, HEVC Advance, launched amid claims that some patent owners were not happy with the original pool. Early last year, Technicolor announced that it was withdrawing from HEVC Advance, opting instead to license its relevant patents itself. The landscape has been further complicated by the launch last year of Velos Media, which includes Ericsson, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Sharp and Sony as its licensors.   

As well as the HEVC pool, Samsung is also a member of MPEG LA’s MPEG-4 Visual, MPEG-2, AVC, VC-1, 1394 and MPEG-4 Systems pools. Since the success of the MPEG-2 pool, which remains the benchmark of success, MPEG LA has established itself as arguably the leading pool operator and has started to branch out from its tech roots including with the proposed launch of a CRISPR pool.