Google and MPEG LA settle long-running VP8/H.264 patent dispute

Google and MPEG LA settle long-running VP8/H.264 patent dispute

Summary: In 2011, Google announced its intention to abandon the popular H.264 video standard in favor of its own open-source codec, VP8. That inspired legal threats from H.264 patent holders. Today the two groups announced a settlement.

TOPICS: Patents, Google

Sometimes patent wars end, not with a bang but a whimper.

That’s the case with the long-running dispute over Google’s VP8 codec, which was settled today after two years of legal machinations.

Back in 2010 and early 2011, there was a brief flurry of claims and counterclaims by the players in the dispute. In January 2011, Google Product Manager Mike Jazayeri announced that support for the widely used H.264 codec would be dropped from Google Chrome. Instead, the company promoted the open-source VP8 and Theora (VP3) codecs, which it had acquired with the purchase of On2 Technologies in 2010, as an open, patent-free alternative to the widely used AVC/H.264 high-definition video playback standard.

That inspired some not-so-veiled threats from MPEG LA, the group that manages the licensing of H.264-related patents.One month later, MPEG LA announced that it was forming a patent pool and gathering claims from companies that believe they have patents essential to the VP8 codec.

MPEG LA’s position was articulated by its CEO, Larry Horn, who was looking directly at Google when he said:

[N]o one in the market should be under the misimpression that other codecs such as Theora are patent-free. Virtually all codecs are based on patented technology, and many of the essential patents may be the same as those that are essential to AVC/H.264.

Today both parties announced that the dispute has been settled. A press release on MPEG LA’s website has the sketchy details:

Google Inc. and MPEG LA, LLC announced today that they have entered into agreements granting Google a license to techniques that may be essential to VP8 and earlier-generation VPx video compression technologies under patents owned by 11 patent holders. The agreements also grant Google the right to sublicense those techniques to any user of VP8, whether the VP8 implementation is by Google or another entity. It further provides for sublicensing those VP8 techniques in one next-generation VPx video codec. As a result of the agreements, MPEG LA will discontinue its effort to form a VP8 patent pool.

“This is a significant milestone in Google’s efforts to establish VP8 as a widely-deployed web video format,” said Allen Lo, Google’s deputy general counsel for patents. “We appreciate MPEG LA’s cooperation in making this happen.”

“We are pleased for the opportunity to facilitate agreements with Google to make VP8 widely available to users,” said MPEG LA President and CEO Larry Horn.

Although neither party is commenting, it’s logical to assume that Google is making some sort of payment in exchange for the license it’s receiving from the patent holders. When it said no to H.264, Google cited money as a key reason:

Our choice was to make a decision today and invest in open technology to move the platform forward, or to accept the status quo of a fragmented platform where the pace of innovation may be clouded by the interests of those collecting royalties.

The real question now is how Google will make use of VP8, now that the legal cloud has been lifted. A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the company's immediate plans, but independent patent attorney Rob Glidden, who specializes in this technology, notes that Google has proposed VP8 to the IETF as a standard for real-time communication in Web browsers.

In a post to the RTC Web working group, Google's Serge Lachapelle notes that today's agreement is "not an acknowledgment" that VP8 infringes on any of the patents claimed by MPEG LA. Rather, he says, this deal removes the legal cloud that was holding some third parties back: "The purpose of this agreement is meant to provide further and stronger reassurance to implementors of VP8."

Lachapelle notes that Google submitted VP8 for consideration as an MPEG standard in January of this year and has "[i]nvested a significant amount of time and resources into reaching an agreement with the MPEG LA, to provide further reassurances."

See also:

Topics: Patents, Google

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • To Scroggle you

    "The real question now is how Google will make use of VP8, now that the legal cloud has been lifted. "

    Yes, I know the answer - To Scroggle you.

    Stealing open source and making money - Google's profit must be donated to charity. Open source is supposed to be non-profitable.
    • Now you mentioned scroogle

      It seems MS was talking that much about scroogle and wasted a lot of money by paying trolls like you they have actually got scroogled!!!! how ironic is that lol
    • wa wa wa

      another senseless comment from the everything must be free club. Here's an idea, INVENT SOMETHING AND THEN GIVE IT AWAY!
      • did Google invent something?

        Ram U
      • Aw, lookit the jealous windoze fanbui proprietary tools

        Bought and paid for by the Hollywood DRM crowd.

        Keep your tongues hanging open. They're ready to spoon feed you.
    • Open source is not, never has been and never will be non-profit

      Open source as the name state means that the source code must be available. you can take said source code and compile it yourself for free or if someone wishes they can sell you the binary as long as they make the source code available. Most successful open source project not only allow selling of there product, but encourage it. Linux and Blender both come to mind. Both open source, and both can and are sold for profit (blender 3D modeling software can be purchased on eBay legally if you really want to pay for it.)
      • Towllnet calls that "stealing"

        Not that he knows anything.
    • Inaccurate as usual

      Do any of your posts EVER reflect reality? Florian Mueller is a better spin doctor than you are. At least he writes elegantly giving the illusion of accuracy...
    • Much older verb in use

      Alan Smithie
    • You are wrong

      ... not something new :-P but this time it was a clear victory for the consumer so I felt the need to clarify it.
      The people from mpeg-la are just patent trolls, ones that are extremely annoying and keep on trying to make money in doubtful ways.
      Google intentions are in the direction of a truly free video format. People are not aware but many times the videos made with their smartphones per ex. can't be used in profit ways, things like posting on YouTube and making money from ads can be illegal!!!
      This was nicely done by Google and I'm sure many consumers will be happy.
  • I could be wrong...

    but I think you posted the same article twice in this Ed.
    Richard A Simpson
    • Oops. Fixed, thanks

      Operator error. :)
      Ed Bott
  • Google has proposed VP8 to ISO/MPEG for standardization

    "The real question now is how Google will make use of VP8, now that the legal cloud has been lifted. "

    In an obviously connected move, Google has proposed that ISO/MPEG standardize VP8 as part of the Internet Video Coding activity.
  • Closing the barn door after the horse has run off.

    WebM had failed to gain any significant traction when it was perceived to be patent free. How will it now that there are most likely some sort of royalties involved?
  • Showing again...

    ...that in the eyes of patent holders, the only crime greater than patent infringement is patent avoidance.
    John L. Ries