Apple Tried to Catch Red on Vague Patents—and Lost

Photo: Sam Rutherford

Red Digital Cinema appears to be the winner in a months-long patent spat with Apple over its RAW video codec. Apple claimed in its challenge that Red shouldn’t have been able to patent its RedCode Raw codec in the first place. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ultimately didn’t agree.

To rewind a bit, the Apple–Red dispute dealt with capturing RAW video. Specifically, Apple contended that Red’s patent was overly vague when it should have been super detailed because it was cribbed from two other existing patents. One dealt with how to capture lossless RAW video at 2K and 4K resolutions; the other had to do with video compression. Following that logic, Apple argued that anyone with a basic understanding of this tech would be able to figure out how it all works, thereby making Red’s tech “unpatentable.”

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If that seems petty, there were also some other dynamics at play. Red had previously taken Sony and Blackmagic to court over patents and royalties, and the company itself has a reputation for being litigious. It’s not clear what made Apple file its claim, but it’s possible Red got in the way of Apple’s plans for its own Pro Res Raw format. Not that it ultimately mattered.

In its final ruling, the USPTO noted Apple had “not shown a reasonable likelihood that it would prevail in showing that any challenged claim is unpatentable.” Overall, it seems the agency took issue with how Apple presented its case. In the conclusion, the USPTO says Apple played fast and loose with its definitions and references, leading to “multiple contradictory interpretations” of its assertion that Red’s tech was obvious and, therefore, unpatentable. It also noted Apple’s challenge failed to account for “all limitations or lacks adequate reasoning.”

Red President Jarred Land downplayed any animosity between thew two companies in a comment posted to a Red forum about the decision. “We are pleased to see our Redcode patents withstand another challenge,” he wrote.To be clear, as I mentioned before, this never really was Apple vs. Red. It has always been Apple + Red, and this was all part of the process defining how we work together in the future.”

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Land went on to note that Red and Apple’s respective teams are playing nice with regard to getting Redcode onto Apple’s Metal framework: “We are very excited for the new Mac Pro and the new XDR pro display and the power they bring to the entire Red workflow.”

Sure. It’s easy to be magnanimous when you’ve already won. In any case, the decision will likely strengthen Red’s grip over RAW video codecs. It’s also likely to have some impact on Apple’s future Pro Res Raw plans. In the meantime, it means companies that want to futz around with RAW video will either have to hammer out a licensing agreement, or figure out a way to do it on their own.

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About the author

Victoria Song

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.