Google had failed with a patent on ANS coding, Microsoft has now succeeded. The inventor actually wants to keep the process free.
After years of trying, the software company Microsoft received a patent for the rANS coding method from the US patent office. This is one of several variants of the Asymmetric Numeral Systems (ANS) coding method that is found in almost all modern codecs, such as AV1, the Z standard compression, or, in the case of rANS, the new JPEG XL.
However, the inventor of ANS is not Microsoft, but Jarosław (Jarek) Duda, who researches at the University of Kraków. Duda himself never wanted to patent or otherwise protect ANS and therefore published his work on the Arxiv document server for free.
A few years ago, the computer scientist criticized attempts by Google to apply for a patent on ANS. The Google login was also rejected.
With a first attempt to secure an ANS patent, Microsoft initially failed at the US patent office but lodged an objection. As early as about a year ago, Duda publicly warned against patenting the technology by Microsoft in the course of this process.
ANS inventor Duda criticizes Microsoft
Duda told The Register magazine at the time: "If it is granted, it will severely hamper the applicability and development of ANS." Regarding the patent that has now been granted, Duda told the magazine: "I don't know what to do with this - (Microsoft's patent) looks like the description of the standard algorithm."
Duda also points out that rANS is used in JPEG XL, which is said to provide significantly better compression and quality than the 30-year-old JPEG. The work on JPEG XL is almost finished and standardized.
As a license-free file format, the format should soon find its way into many modern applications such as browsers or operating systems. Duda fears that Microsoft's patent could make this much more difficult.
However, it is currently completely unclear whether this will ultimately happen. Companies would actually have to report their patents and possible claims to the ISO before standardization, which, according to The Register, has not happened here, although Microsoft is active in these committees. So there shouldn't be any impact on JPEG XL, the main maintainer of the JPEG XL specification, Jon Sneyers, suspects, according to The Register.
In fact, it is not yet clear what Microsoft intends to do with the patent and why the group has patented what is actually a free technology. The company has not yet responded to inquiries from The Register, for example.
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