Ittiam distinguished itself right from its inception by focusing on IP creation and patent filings. However, today, it is not only a powerhouse of patents and proprietary IP licensing, but also an active proponent and player in the Open Source movement. Working at the crossroads of both IP and open source technology, Ittiam continues to drive innovations that empower its customers to achieve faster time-to-market and solid competitive advantage.
In the latest series of ITTIAM UNBOXED, Srini Rajam, Chairman and CEO, Ittiam, elaborates on the company’s IP and Open Source saga. He says, “While IPs remain an essential and core part of what we enable, they will co-exist with our growing investments in open source.”
Q1. At the outset, Congratulations on another award bagged by Ittiam! What does the prestigious Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Award 2018 for Best Patents Portfolio signify?
The award is a powerful validation of Ittiam’s longstanding tradition of innovation and technical brilliance that has in turn empowered our customers to achieve excellence. It is a recognition of the significant value we bring to the table with our investments in Intellectual Property (IP) creation.
With over 45 granted patents and about 80 more filed for review, we are in a leading position in the medium engineering industry in India. Each patent granted to us tells a story about the collective journey that our people – the Ittians – have undertaken in the realm of advanced audio-video processing, computer vision and machine learning.
The sheer passion combined with the unmatched engineering expertise of our people has empowered us to continually deliver leading edge innovations for close to two decades.
So in fact, this and every other award we have won so far is a celebration of Ittians and their innovative spirit.
Q2. Tell us some more about Intellectual Property (IP) creation that stands out as Ittiam’s forte, and how it relates to our business.
To answer this question, allow me to step back and focus on ‘ITTIAM’. Our name is an acronym for I Think Therefore I Am: the French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes’ popular dictum (Cogito Ergo Sum, as originally coined in Latin) that signifies our unending quest for knowledge to achieve technology excellence. It exemplifies the INNOVATIVE spirit that is our very lifeline. This is what feeds into Ittiam’s diligent focus on creating valuable pieces of IP and technologies driving Intelligent Video.
Over the years, we have passionately engineered high-performance, highly differentiated solutions spanning audio-video codecs, media streaming systems, automotive infotainment and connectivity, and computer vision and machine learning.
Our impressive body of vastly deployed IPs is a reflection of our core belief that every day is another opportunity to generate breakthrough ideas never imagined before.
Our business model consists of two key components: license fee and royalty linked to customer production shipment. That our royalty revenue has accounted for about a third of our total revenue in a sustained manner over so many years, highlights the success of our business model for both Ittiam and our customers. However, I would like to add that there is more to Ittiam than our success in IP creation. Our innovation story is getting more exciting with a whole new chapter on Open Source.
Q3. Open source. This has become quite a rage today! How is it relevant to Ittiam?
IP creation and licensing have always been at the heart of our DNA. This has what has empowered us to build differentiated solutions over the years. However, we are now rigorously weaving open source into the fabric of our DNA to help our customers enjoy the time-to-market advantage it offers.
Video Compression is a great example of a deep technology field that has significantly benefited from open source.
Ittiam is actively working on open source projects as part of industry forums such as the Alliance for Open Media (AOM), whose founding members include technology leaders such as Google and Netflix.
Q4. Could you please share more thoughts on open source, as applied to multimedia industry?
Open source has lowered the entry barriers in the multimedia industry by providing easy access to essential technology components – co-created by several technology leaders. We can now make the best of proven development methodologies, resources and the collective expertise of the open source community to expand the horizons of innovation. I see this as a welcome shift steadily revolutionizing the way we conceive and build solutions to address complex challenges.
Moving well beyond the realm of enthusiastic geeks and amateurs, open source has grown in to an exciting paradigm with sustained investment and formal backing of established bodies like AOM and technology leaders. This has reduced the perceived risks with open source and instilled more confidence in its potential as an enabler of faster time-to-market and higher quality solutions.
Q5. What are the key areas where Ittiam is leveraging or contributing to open source?
Our tryst with open source actually began in our early years (2000s), when we built embedded system solutions using Linux. The earliest example is the portable media player-and-recorder we developed on the open Linux platform. We also regularly integrated our libraries with many open source media frameworks such as GStreamer and Android Stagefright to build high-performance products including automotive infotainment and connectivity solutions, as well as media system applications.
Ittiam’s Open Source Ecosystem
GStreamer, Android Stagefright
But more importantly, we are helping steer the future of open source. Currently, our team is working towards enabling large scale deployments. By contributing to Google’s libvpx and AOM’s libaom through optimized software implementations, we cater to a wide range of real-world applications.
We have also collaborated with Android Media to bring our optimized HEVC software decoder into the open source ecosystem.
Q6. VP9 and AV1 have been in the limelight for long. Please tell us more about Ittiam’s journey with these codecs.
We have improved the capabilities of open source libvpx with our quality and performance enhancements, professional support and effective customizations.
VP9 as a standard is Google’s initiative at offering the online video community a royalty-free, open source video codec that provides up to 50% compression gains in comparison with leading H.264 implementations. It not only enjoys broad support on web browsers and mobile devices, but has also been deployed in popular online video services such as YouTube and Netflix.
Ittiam worked in close collaboration with Google and Netflix to enhance the encoding speed of the open source VP9 encoder. We helped achieve significant speed improvements over the then baseline open source version, without any quality impact, before contributing it back to the community.
Likewise, AV1 is a next-generation interoperable and royalty-free video codec from AOM all set to revolutionize online video services. It combines the best features of existing open source codecs to deliver 30-50% compression gains in comparison with the current generation codecs represented by H.265 (HEVC) and VP9.
Our team is enabling productization of the standard with significant increase in performance and enhanced power efficiencies. We are looking to achieve superior performance with software deployments of AV1, while the hardware ecosystem ramps up.
With our in-depth expertise and experience in working with AOM members like Netflix and Google on previous generation video formats, we are in a vantage position to enable the success of AV1.
Q7. So how would you describe Ittiam’s underlying vision and approach to open source? What about the future of Ittiam’s IP licensing model?
Let me tell you at the risk of sounding clichéd, Open Source is the Future. And we are already in the future!
By foraying into open source, we are fundamentally looking to accelerate our process of futuristic innovations that enable truly intelligent video. As open source proponents, one of our main goals is to enable customers and the larger technology community to leverage efficient alternatives to proprietary codecs – and still deliver consistent QoE.
We understand that our industry is now driven by hybrid – not unidimensional needs – that call for a flexible approach to IPs and licensing. A shining example is Ittiam’s HEVC decoder governed by dual licensing. We provide a license version of our HEVC decoder with performance boost, enhanced power enhancements via GPU leverage, and full product lifecycle support. In contrast, we also offer it in open source, thus bringing the power of advanced video processing to billions of Android devices (version 5.0 and above) across the world.
In a nutshell, IP Creation is at the Heart of our DNA. Open Source Enriches it.
Our overarching vision is to create a media technology universe where our established IP culture flourishes alongside a vibrant open source philosophy.
Srini Rajam, Chairman & CEO, Ittiam
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