Trump era leads Broadcom to trumped up video decoding patents

Broadcom appears to have filed a suit with the US International Trade Commission against MediaTek, Sigma Designs and LG, claiming that they are breaching its patents in video decoding.

While we have had no joy in pinning down whether this suit has actually been filed for sure, the new Broadcom has apparently forgotten lessons from its run-ins with Qualcomm of old, when Qualcomm filed basic H.264 patents against it and was ridiculed out of court for its trouble. Broadcom now appears to be doing the same.

Back in July it filled what can only be described as a nuisance suit against Sony, for the way in which the PS4 handled video and sound. Most of the ten patents it cited related to products which encode and decode video data, in particular how MPEG was supported on-chip.

We read through those patents at the time concluding that once you had MPEG defined, just how you made it happen in a chip was fairly obvious, and that given that Sony was a contributor to the technology in MPEG 2 standard and Broadcom was not, it seems tough to take subsequently obvious steps in supplying chip support and patenting them. These then were patents that were held by LSI Logic for the most part and Agere, which it acquired, and should never have been issued. LSI was acquired by Broadcom subsequently.

It seems that Broadcom is now using the same patents to try to block the import of chips linked to video streaming. Patents for streaming video are almost considered worthless, in that Move Networks invented the idea first and was never paid a single cent for the hundreds of copies of the technology we see today. So how come those same patents, dropped into silicon can belong to only one company that never had anything to do with inventing them?

If this suit materializes as real, then it marks a new phase for Avago, now renamed Broadcom. It will be trying to win the video market for chips by legal action – something it has never done before. It wants to get all chips with streaming video blocked from coming into the US, including those designed in the US, by companies such as Sigma Designs, and wants to use the new Presidential tone set by Donald Trump of protectionism and see how it flies.

We have reached out to MediaTek and Sigma to ask if they have yet received notification of the suit and will keep you informed.

Broadcom has also named LG and Vizio saying they infringe on decoding and video processing, which when you add that to Mediatek, would mean that most of the Smart TV sets imported into the US would have to stop. Broadcom dropped out of smart TV chips, almost before it entered them a few years back and we can see no basis for the suit being upheld by the ITC, unless it relates to vastly differing patents to the Sony action.

Interestingly Broadcom also sued Sony over one patent which simply keeps tabs of which game controller is controlling which character in a video game. Sony virtually single handed invented the game controller and has been selling them in volume for about 25 years. Now that’s a tough suit to win. Another of the patents it cited in the Sony case related to how it handled Eigen Functions, which again has been established for more than 25 years. Yet another was how the CABAC functions of codecs – highly mathematical pixel prediction formulas – were enacted in silicon – again totally obvious.

All this makes us conclude that if this suit really materializes, this is the new Broadcom, cynically taking advantage of the new administration to see what it can make out of it.