Unisys was asking some web site owners $5,000-$7,500 to able to use GIFs on their sites. Note that these patents expired about five years ago, so this isn’t an issue today, but it’s still instructive. It’s scary to think of a world where you would have to fork up $5000 just to be able to use images on a web site. Think about all of the opportunity, the weblogs, the search engines (even Google!) and all the other the simple ideas that became major services that would never have been started because of a huge tax being put on being able to use a fundamental web technology. It makes the web as a democratic technology distinctly un-democratic.
We’re looking at the same situation with H.264, except at a far larger scale.