MPEG-LA targets Google's VP8 Video Codec

MPEG-LA targets Google's VP8 Video Codec

Summary: The Web standard video patent wars heats up as MPEG-LA starts to load its patent gun to shoot at Google's VP8 codec.

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TOPICS: Google, Legal
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First, Google opened up its VP8 video codec. Then, Google removed built-in support for the MPEG-LA patent encumbered H.264 video codec from its Chrome Web-browser in favor of VP8. After that it was only a matter of time before the MPEG-LA patent consortium came gunning for Google VP8.

As a MPEG-LA representative told ZDNet's Ed Bott, "Yes, as we have said in the past, we believe VP8 uses many patents owned by different parties. To the extent VP8 includes technology owned by others, then a pool license which removes uncertainties regarding patent rights and royalties by making that technology widely available on the same terms to everyone would be beneficial to the market."

In a statement, Google said that "MPEG-LA has alluded to a VP8 pool since WebM launched--this is nothing new. The Web succeeds with open, community-developed innovation, and the WebM Project brings the same principles to web video."

So what's really going on here? I asked Andrew "Andy" Updegrove a founding partner of Gesmer Updegrove, a top technology law firm, and a leading expert on patent law for his take on the situation and this is what he told me.

Updegrove would like to know "How did this effort start? At the one end of the spectrum, this could be an initiative purely of MPEG-LA smelling business. At the other end, they're just a service provider that has been approached by a group of companies that helped set this standard and want it to manage the pool."

In this case, it's pretty clear that it's MPEG-LA looking for patent law-suit ammo, but it would be nice to know more about who the movers and shakers are behind the efforts to create a VP8 patent pool and what their motivations are.

Updegrove continued, "Why are they polling the marketplace? On the one hand, it doesn't make sense, because the pool can only charge so much, and the more patent claims get thrown into the pot, the less each claim owner gets for that claim. The reason is that pools usually only work well when everyone, or just about everyone, who has a necessary claim joins in. Otherwise, there's not enough benefit (or resignation) on the part of implementers to do business with the pool. They might instead just take a 'so sue me' attitude, and pay up only to those patent owners that hunt them down after negotiating with them."

Sure, he continued, "If the pool really does gather in all of the patents, then it's easy to take a single license from a single source, and also less problematic, because you'll know that your competitors are doing the same (i.e., they have the same incremental added cost to their products), so it all zeroes out, from a competitive point of view."

Since Google, the owner of VP8, isn't a party to MPEG-LA's efforts to create a patent pool, it seems likely that MPEG-LA is acting as a patent troll. As I see it, what MPEG-LA's wants to do is to stop VP8 from becoming an accepted Web video standard or, if does become accepted over its own MPEG-based standards such as H.264, to profit from it with patent fees.

Welcome to the real role of software patents: not pushing technology forward, but maximizing the money for people and businesses that have nothing to do with actually creating anything new. The upcoming MPEG-LA vs. VP8 patent battles will not serve the good of any Web user or developer, it will only reward, if anyone, MPEG-LA and its litigators.

Topics: Google, Legal

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38 comments
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  • Well said Steve. This is a shoutout for

    other entities to join in on the complaint with their patent infringed technology and fight Google collectively.

    Translation: Patent trolling.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: MPEG-LA targets Google's VP8 Video Codec

      @Dietrich so, do we entrust these patent trolls with a web standard... I don't want to think so.
      tatiGmail
      • RE: MPEG-LA targets Google's VP8 Video Codec

        @tatiGmail
        Google must call out these trolls and expose those who fight progress and innovation with baseless lawsuits.
        Soon MPEG-LA and oracle will join M$ on the list of shame and will go belly up!
        Linux Geek
      • RE: MPEG-LA targets Google's VP8 Video Codec

        @Linux Geek

        Get informed, Linux Geek..... it appears that these companies have a very good case that their patents (not saying that I agree with the patents existing but.....) have been infringed on by VP8.
        Lerianis10
    • Unfortunately, DTS

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate

      Patents are legal at this point, and Google has to follow the law like everybody else.
      Michael Alan Goff
      • Right, legal extortion. But, not to worry, Google can also afford to spend

        a billion or two on this. They will pay the lawyers, and license any of the garbage that the court tells them they have to license. All part of the game.
        DonnieBoy
      • You're right

        With any luck, they'll be able to legally use the license terms to help out their VP8 codec to make it much more competitive with h.264.

        And then everybody wins.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • If you groked IBM vs SCO vs Novell

        @goff256

        The litigation took years and SCO was proven wrong, all while technology moved forward 'at the speed of light'.

        Google can keep MPEG-LA busy for five years and in the meantime the world will keep turning.

        MPEG-LA will be irrelevant by then.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
      • If that happens, then it happens

        I just want the best codec out there to be used...
        Michael Alan Goff
      • or vp8 will be irrelevant by then dietrich

        @goff256 <br>but thats the part you are too scared to admit!

        oh no!! people are using a superior codec that you cant make a buck off of!!!
        Ron Bergundy
        • I was going to take you seriously but, no, you are funny

          @Ron Bergundy
          without trying.
          Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
      • but DTS, he makes a good point

        VP8 may be irrelevant by then, true?
        John Zern
    • So &quot;open source&quot; should have the right to infringe...

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate

      As they see fit. That VP8 (AKA: WebM) is substandard as well does not help it.
      Bruizer
      • RE: MPEG-LA targets Google's VP8 Video Codec

        @Bruizer
        THEY'RE NOT INFRINGING. Google bought On2 who own all of the known patents on VP8. By your logic, Apple is infringing on h.264 patents. There could be patent trolls out there waiting to sue users of h.264. MPEG-LA's patent pool doesn't prevent that.

        This is about a standard for web video. A standard must be implementable by everyone and that's NOT possible for h.264, but it is for webm. Having a standard won't stop a browser from supporting other video formats, but we need a format that can be built into every browser and one ladened by patents and royalties won't work.
        random_name
      • Apple IS being sued by MpegLa CEO

        @Bruizer, <br>"By your logic, Apple is infringing on h.264 patents."<br><br>On a side note, Apple *IS* being sued for use of H264 in mobile devices. They *HAVE* a license to the patent pool, and *contributed* to the MPEG4 patent pool.<br><br>The company that's suing them, it's the same CEO as MpegLA:<br><br><a href="http://thepriorart.typepad.com/the_prior_art/2010/04/mobilemedia-ideas-v-apple.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://thepriorart.typepad.com/the_prior_art/2010/04/mobilemedia-ideas-v-apple.html</a><br><br>So having a license for H264 doesn't mean you have a license to use it, you may be infringing any number of other claims, and indeed there is an active litigant there, MPEGLAs very own CEO, via MobileMedia Ideas LLC, with a set of vague troll patents.
        guihombre
      • @guihombre

        H.264 is not why Apple is being sued. It is for different tech held by MobileMedia.

        The probability that On2 is free of patents is highly questionable. Add to that, a poorly writen standard and a low performane codec... Why?
        Bruizer
    • RE: MPEG-LA targets Google's VP8 Video Codec

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate

      It's also obvious as to Steve's bias - "patent encumbered" indeed.

      As usual, we get told that we have to use an inferior product because it's "free" (although that's yet to be seen) and trust the word of an advertising company.

      What's most amusing is seeing all these American conservatives supporting socialism. What's even funnier is that they'd see it as an insult ;-)
      tonymcs@...
      • I guess all we need to do...

        @tonymcs@...
        ...is to outlaw efforts to avoid the use of patented technology. Call it "patent evasion". After all, the fewer people license your patent, the less money you can make from it and the less it's worth. And arguably, deliberately devaluing other people's property (and boycotts certainly do that) is a form of vandalism.
        John L. Ries
    • The easiest thing for Google to do ...

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate

      Would actually be to buy one of these companies, then use the supposed patent to attack all of the MPEG-LA licensees. Turnabout is fair play.
      terry flores
  • Well, the heat is on, and MPEG-LA is desperate. They could lose a fortune

    in royalties if nobody has to use their inferior codec.
    DonnieBoy