V-Nova’s 1000 patents: not size that matters, but how you use it

Original article can be found on the Faultline website – Free to read

 

When V-Nova, inventor of the low complexity video enhancement coding (LCEVC) MPEG compression standard, issued an announcement celebrating the landmark of reaching 1000 patents, our initial thought was surely this is just a drop in the ocean?

But it isn’t until we compare this millennium IP portfolio with those of other vendors specializing in video compression techniques that V-Nova’s R&D flex really comes into focus.

Ateme lists just 72 patents. Harmonic has approximately 160 patents (although these are a mix of video and broadband patented technologies), according to a third-party patent website. This same site assigns some 100 patents to Synamedia, including several encoding and ABR techniques, while Brightcove has a similar number of patents assigned, of which we understand 17 are related to encoding optimization technologies or similar.

The only name that comes close is Netflix, with some 1000 patents to its name, but only a fraction of these are tied to the streamer’s R&D in video encoding.

A number for AWS Elemental is more difficult to locate, but we do know at the time of Amazon’s acquisition of Elemental back in 2015, the cloud-based encoding specialist only had a modest patent portfolio, which has since been swallowed up inside the Amazon juggernaut of some 30,000 patents.

We admit these are apples and oranges comparisons, given that none of the examples here have developed the underlying technology for an MPEG video compression standard, but we are simply highlighting that the gulf in patent portfolio size between V-Nova and much larger software companies is significant.

Of course, there is the argument that it is not size that matters, but how you use it.

One perceived weakness is that, of V-Nova’s 1000 patents, just 10% are approved in the US Patent and Trademark Office. As expected, the V-Nova IP portfolio is Europe-heavy, accounting for 40% of all patents, while the Americas and Asia account for 20% apiece. That would appear to leave 10%—100 patents—unaccounted for, but this is most probably a rounding error in the press release.

While V-Nova was founded in 2011, the last 12 months have been among the most prolific in bulking up the patent portfolio, adding 200 patents to its name in this time. However, it is not clear if V-Nova is counting patents inherited from the PresenZ volumetric video format—via its acquisition of Parallaxter in Q4 2023—or whether these 200 additional patents are all direct products of V-Nova R&D.

PresenZ is a volumetric movie format claiming to be the first accessible technology catering for prerendering of six degrees of freedom (6DoF) images from a standard animation pipeline – promising to render the most complex scenes and highest quality assets in VR.

As well as investing in cinematic 6DoF, V-Nova has recently filed patents related to technologies for use cases in AI media indexing, multimodal generative AI, and intelligent edge applications. Not to mention the numerous patents in the pipeline pending approval.

Notably, the flexibility of V-Nova’s technology to span industries, moving from video streaming and broadcasting, into applications such as automotive, security and defense, puts the company in a strong position for future growth. Of course, if we’re talking about patents, we are also talking about bulking up against future patent litigation, suggesting V-Nova could eventually become a litigious IP powerhouse like Adeia (the Xperi/TiVo patent spin-out) or InterDigital.

In terms of the technological spread of V-Nova’s 1000 patents, Google Patents brings up 56 results of patents related to LCEVC assigned to V-Nova, but then Google Patents only lists 400 total patents assigned to V-Nova, so we can scrub Google Patents as a reliable source.

It does note that 3.3% of the V-Nova patent portfolio is assigned to Faroudja Enterprises, from which V-Nova acquired video processing patents in February 2017. This deal improved the performance of V-Nova’s Perseus encoding (which was reincarnated as SMPTE VC-6 in 2019) at low bit rates after the associated techniques had been incorporated. These took account of video specifics such as noise that are best removed prior to compression and do not show up clearly in raw data.

We are waiting on a response from the London-based venture to confirm some of the niggly patent details, and to save us from darting down yet another deep patent rabbit hole.

Coincidentally, this announcement comes just over five years since Faultline figured out that V-Nova’s Perseus compression technology had been embraced as an extension within the MPEG-5 working draft.

It had become clear at the time that V-Nova’s involvement in MPEG-5 was recommended by Thierry Fautier, then Harmonic’s VP of Video Strategy, which was notable because of Harmonic’s former resistance to V-Nova’s technology – putting it in the bucket of commoditization encoders. Faultline quizzed Fautier on this historic rivalry at the landmark NAB 2019 press conference, and we were greeted by a familiar French shrugging of the shoulders, as if the two companies had always been best friends.

V-Nova CEO Guido Meardi described this milestone as a “systemic achievement” for the company – which is highlighted best by the fact that almost 40% of V-Nova employees are named inventors on V-Nova patents.