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Can we use GIFs yet?

Unisys's last LZW patents expired in Canada on Wednesday.  (And there was much rejoicing.  yeah.)

However, it seems IBM still has a LZW patent for two more years.

But again, I've heard that the patents only hold for creation of GIFs, and not for display.

We have two pieces of software, one that we want to display GIFs, and another that would create them.  Both softwares currently deal with JPG and BMP already, but we get calls from users that have GIFs and it's a pain to explain the patents.

Without starting a flame war about patents, does anyone know definitively what we can do with GIFs now?

Walt
Friday, July 09, 2004

You can do anything you want with GIFs, as long as you pay the fees. But for the most part, GIFs have been replaced by PNGs.

Derek
Friday, July 09, 2004

Since IBM isn't collecting fees, and there's no reason to pay them to UNISYS anymore, I doubt if there is any reason to pay anything to anyone...

Also, IBM's patent seems to cover the same ground that UNISYS's patent did - but 2 years later. This means that IBM's patent would get thrown out in court as invalid.

Me, I'd go ahead with using .gif's (if that's what your customer wants). I doubt if IBM want's the headaches that UNISYS got for so little revenue (especially on a probably invalid patent).

UNISYS had no choice but to try to profit off of their patent - the lack of any real revenue source or corporate strategy meant that it needed all the income it could get.

RocketJeff
Friday, July 09, 2004

GIFs were fine in 1987, but now? 

Seriously, why would you want to use GIF when there are other, better, file formats?

Fydollah Ho
Friday, July 09, 2004

Does IE play nice with PNGs these days then? Last I tried, it made a mess of the alpha channel...

Eric Debois
Friday, July 09, 2004

> Seriously, why would you want to use GIF when there are other, better, file formats?

It's not me you need to convince.  It's users who want to use them, and it's not cost effective to license it, and we're not going to ignore the law about it.

Walt
Friday, July 09, 2004

What law? It isn't against the law to use something that patented - it's against the law to not pay royalties (when required) to the person/company that holds the patent.

First, check to see if the algorithm you're using actually infringes. If not, then you don't have a problem (it's the compression, not the gif format itself, that's patented).

If you do use the patented algorithm, you can check with your lawyers to see if the patent is enforceable. If it isn't (and it looks like IBM's patent is invalid), you still don't have a problem. 

If it is a valid patent (or you're risk averse), contact IBM about their licensing fee.  It might be worthwhile to license the patent for your product - and you'll never know until you check. IBM _doesn't_ need the fees from this patent to survive and they're probably more worried about a UNISYS-style backlash if they try to come down heavy about it. Heck, offer them US$100 (or US$1000 if you're generous) for an unlimited license for your company to use it in their products.

RocketJeff
Friday, July 09, 2004

IE (and, in fact, most applications) don't properly support the PNG's alpha channel and probably most other advanced features sported by the format, like gamma correction and 16-bit channels (for a 48-bit RGB image).

The only thing I could ever think of using a GIF for right now is that they do animation while PNG does not.  The animated PNG format, "MNG", is not widely supported.  GIF supports a measly 256 color max and most PNG readers go up to 24-bit.

Reply to "Can we use GIFs yet?"
Friday, July 09, 2004

png is not universally supported and so I don't use it. jpg and gif are universally supported so I use them. Legally. How can that be? Dang, you guys *do* realize that you are allowed to make gifs as long as the program you use has licensed them for what is it 50 cents total? Not like that's going to send anyone to the poor house.

Me like gifs. Gifs good.

And now with all the patents expired what the heck is anyone complaining about?

Death to png! Long live the gif!

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, July 10, 2004

Aren't .gifs better than .jpgs for vector graphics and text documents?

Stephen Jones
Saturday, July 10, 2004

Why yes they are!

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, July 10, 2004

http://www.unisys.com/about__unisys/lzw

I recall last year when this was discussed on places like /. that applications of GIF in the US needed no licensing but applications destined for Europe still needed a license & possible payment. So it appears finally that all Unisys patents have expired.

GIF licensing was a pain in the ass. As a developer, I had to explain to several clients that I couldn't implement a universal graphics import for them directly because we needed a separate license from Unisys. The various graphics library vendors were in on this: they would only release GIF writer code modules for their libraries if you faxed them the agreement from Unisys.

Unisys apparently capitalized on the dot com boom by extracting revenue from a technology that had become ubiquitous.  Unisys blindsided the market. If GIF had stayed an obscure Compuserve specific standard, we never would have heard about this asinine license... A loser company's tactics, comparable to the SCO actions with respect to Linux.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, July 10, 2004

Unisys offered a free license for GIf import. It was only export that they charged a fee for and that fee was very low. If your program couldn't afford the fee it wasn't because the fees were too high.

And the licensing was not for gif applications, it was for applications that use gif.  Individuals who created gif files with legitimate software did not have to do anything to use gifs. Users who downloaded free software from Netscape and Microsoft did not have to pay anything to view gifs.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, July 10, 2004

Didn't commercial web sites that used GIF files (regardless of the GIF authoring software) have to do a license agreement?

My biggest objection was the licensing paperwork. It was a hassle to tell clients why I couldn't support writing GIF files without dealing with Unisys.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, July 10, 2004

No they did not as long as the software they used to create the gifs was licensed. Licensed software included Photoshop, for example, so the unlicensed issue only applied to about a dozen people who were using fairly unknown image editors and libraries. This was very inconvenient for sites creating dynamic gif content using open source libraries, but practically no one else was affected. The png thing mainly was a watershed event in the dynamic gif arena.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, July 10, 2004

In a way, stupid patents like this are a good thing, because people will develop a better system and drop the patented one.

Aaron F Stanton
Sunday, July 11, 2004

I agree that patents are a good thing because they breed innovation for the purpose of getting around patents. The alternative would be to stop and have everyone copy the first idea that was good enough and progress would happen a lot slower.

I do not agree that the LZW patents are stupid. The algorithm was a new one and deserved to be patented.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, July 12, 2004

Ok, my apologies...If it was indeed new and non-obvious work (and it may well have been, I don't know), it should be something patentable.

What is very irksome to me is that one of the differences between a trademark and a patent is that you can lose a trademark for not enforcing it.  A patent cannot be lost that way, so if a lot of people infringe on it and you do nothing about it, you can set up a false sense of security.  Then when an overwhelming majority are effectively locked into it, you begin demanding license fees.  There's not a lot they can do except pay or scramble to find a replacement.

Another highly annoying thing is when a patent is granted that should not be - such as for work that is old or obvious...or for a perpetual motion machine (and those still sometimes slip through from time to time.  I know a guy, vaguely related to by marriage, who is trying to convince the world that his perpetual motion machine will work...sigh.).

Aaron F Stanton
Monday, July 12, 2004

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