Google's WebM to Face Patent Challenge?

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MPEG LA, the organization holding the MPEG-2 and H.264 patent pools, has issued a request for patents surrounding Google's WebM VP8 codec.

MPEG LA announced a call for "patents essential to the VP8 video codec specification used to deliver video images" that constitutes the video portion of the WebM open-source video specification found at

"In order to participate in the creation of, and determine licensing terms for, a joint VP8 patent license," MPEG LA noted in a press release, "any party that believes it has patents that are essential to the VP8 video codec specification is invited to submit them for a determination of their essentiality by MPEG LA's patent evaluators.

MPEG LA has set an initial submission date of March 18, 2011. The short deadline, about one month from now, only addresses issued patents and at least one "essential patent" is necessary to participate.

Essential patents are those that a patent owner feels are essential to the specification, as listed at

Back in June 2010, we addressed the issue of Google's BSD-like license, in which developers that use the open-sourced version of VP8 agree to indemnify Google from any infringement claim.  The company has since then modified its license to match more closely to the BSD format, but the new version still retains the requirement to indemnify Google.

At the same time, MPEG LA signaled an interest in a patent pool for VP8, but didn't move on patent pool formation for almost nine months.

In a June 2010 Digital Daily article by John Paczkowski, titled "Google's 'Royalty-Free' WebM Video May Not Be Royalty-Free for Long," MPEG LA CEO Larry Horn stated that "uncertainties in Google's licensing" may be of concern to developers.

"In view of the marketplace uncertainties regarding patent licensing needs for such technologies," said Horn, CEO of MPEG LA, "there have been expressions of interest from the market urging us to facilitate formation of licenses that would address the market's need for a convenient one-stop marketplace alternative to negotiating separate licenses with individual patent holders in accessing essential patent rights for VP8 as well as other codecs, and we are looking into the prospects of doing so."

Timing on the most recent news around MPEG LA's new patent pool organization comes hot on the heels of Google's announcement to drop H.264 native support from its Chrome browser. It also follows Microsoft's recent emphasis on supporting H.264 in Chrome via a plug-in, a topic covered in another recent StreamingMedia article.

Back in June, we mentioned that Google's failure to address patent indemnification-or to at least release information about its findings on the patents efficacy-could play into the hands of a patent pool.

In 2011, however, the company's still holding the stance that open-sourcing VP8 is all it needs to do, calling MPEG LA's patent pool formation announcement old news.

"MPEG LA has alluded to a VP8 pool since WebM launched-this is nothing new," Google wrote in an emailed statement to The Register late last week. "The vast majority of the industry supports free and open development, and we're in the process of forming a broad coalition of hardware and software companies who commit to not assert any IP claims against WebM. We are firmly committed to the project and establishing an open codec for HTML5 video."

By HTML5 video, Google means the HTML video tag, as the term HTML5 is no longer valid according to its own employee, Ian Hickson, who recently stated "HTML is the new HTML5" on his blog post. Hickson is editor of the new HTML specification that contains the HTML video tag meant to eliminate reliance on plug-ins for video playback in a number of browsers.

MPEG LA, whether disingenuously or seriously, told The Register that it hopes to lessen the litigation likelihood of VP8.

"Patent owners are the ones who decide whether to enforce patents," the organization stated. "MPEG LA facilitates creation of a pool license that would reduce that likelihood. If beneficial, the availability of such license would help avoid the infringement actions by giving users the opportunity to be licensed under essential patents."

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