MPEG-LA Gearing Up To Go Patent Nuclear On Google's Decision To Release Open Video Standard

from the get-the-lawyers-ready dept

It’s no secret that MPEG-LA, the private company that handles patent pools for a variety of digital video standards, including the widely used H.264 — and recently began dabbling in patent trolling, has suggested that there can be no digital video without licensing patents from its patent pools. And, of course, there were just rumors (kicked off by a Steve Jobs email), that MPEG-LA was gearing up to sue any “open” video standard out of existence. Well, that whole story got a bit more complex this week when Google announced its plans to open up its VP8 video codec, and make it royalty free, under the WebM name.

Of course, you didn’t think that MPEG-LA would take that calmly, did you? MPEG-LA’s boss claims he’s working to create a patent pool around VP8… meaning that what Google insists is now royalty free, might not end up being royalty free if MPEG-LA has its way. Of course, the good news here is that you now have Google’s cash around to back up any potential patent fight, but it may take years (and years and years) before any resolution comes of it. And, in the end, for MPEG-LA, that might be the real goal. If it can just create enough uncertainty around VP8 through patent threats and lawsuits (even if it loses), it might hope that it can retain its hold on the market with H.264.

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Companies: google, mpeg-la

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Comments on “MPEG-LA Gearing Up To Go Patent Nuclear On Google's Decision To Release Open Video Standard”

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Objector says:

Yay, Parents Helping the world yet again.

Oh by gosh I hate google.. Hate hate hate hate hate.
I know, I think I will attempt to ensure that I create a complete and utter monopoly on video codecs. Google just released one right, well then. That settles it, Im going to act like a giant knob, because no one can get by without MY codecs. I can drown google in lawyers fees *insert evil laugh*. Who cares that google gave away the thing for free, why should free things be allowed to exist when I can make people pay me monies.

Die google. You’ve done no good to anyone, and everyone is just silly enough to keep using my junk, even though they have free alternatives.. I HAVE THEM ALL NOW!!.

… I hate Software patents. Stupid idea..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yay, Parents Helping the world yet again.

I don’t hate Google, (I merely lack any trust in them.) I do have trouble coming up with a company in the tech field I do admire. I would gladly recommend Linux if it wasn’t simply a PITA for your average Joe to manage and operate, but, sadly, there’s no way I can realistically recommend Linux and not have it bite me in the ass.

But I do tell people to avoid Google/Apple/Microsoft as much as possible, and never to host any personal data online.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Yay, Parents Helping the world yet again.

i dunno… avoiding microsoft as much as possible is just good sense, avoiding apple unless you’re doing stuff in the fields where they’re actually the best option isn’t an inherently bad idea, and no matter how much good they do, anyone in as powerful a position as Google needs to have an eye kept on them to make sure they Keep doing good.

doesn’t really take tinfoil until you start thinking they’re Actively out to get you in an organised manner rather than just prone to failing to consider the effects on the user.

Anonymous Coward says:

If they do not have any real patent number to back this, they will have a harder time than before creating uncertainty because:

1. They already said that about Theora/VP3, for a long time, and so far presented no proof (i.e. patent numbers). Crying wolf and all that.
2. Google is using it in Youtube. It does not matter whether Google already has a license to any patents or not (and they probably already have if they licence H.264), the perception that “even Google who has a lot of money is using it” is what matters here.
3. Google is saying it is free of patent problems. If they are wrong, and the problem cannot be fixed by them (for instance, by simply buying the patent), they can lose a nontrivial amount of reputation. For Google, reputation is very important. So, they must be confident that what they are saying is true.

Remember, if it is about creating uncertainty, it is perception that matters.

Of course, there is the chance that this turns into yet another SCO. :popcorn:

Bruce Partington says:

Re: Google and FUD, with a slice of SCO

The fellow who analyzed the VP8 spec (here) says that parts of the codec are identical to H.264. He’s an x264 (the open source version) developer, so you might take it with a grain of salt, but his analysis is in-depth, coherent, and rooted in actual technical details. Details may not matter in the court of public opinion (or any court that can debate the meaning of “is”), though.

Google’s not immune to making mistakes (Orkut, Buzz, Street View wi-fi capture, etc), the question is whether they can respond quickly enough not to be tripped up (a la Apple’s cash-only iPad issue of recent days).

Bruce Partington says:

Re: Re: Re: Google and FUD, with a slice of SCO

Nope, though they are apparently rather strange, and used as a kind of programmer’s version control system. (I assume by “comments” you refer to the stuff in the actual code that’s used by programmers to document and organize the code.)

Anyhow, if the comments were the duplicated material it’d be copyright violation, not patent violation.

Pangolin (profile) says:

I don't see why the patent is a problem?

Let’s say the patent is valid and applies. Google said it was to be Open source and ROYALTY FREE. It didn’t say anything about patents. So if Google pays MPEG-LA a license fee for their patents why could it not still be Open Source and Royalty free.

The BIG deal if you ask me – is that H.264 is HARDWARE decoded in many video cards. Meaning it’s fast and not choppy. This new Google codec won’t be.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: I don't see why the patent is a problem?

The distinction between hardware and software implementations is rather moot

Consider the following sequence
Custom ASIC implementation
FPGA implementation using the same VHDL code
Software emulation of same on microcoded processor with code in true ROM.
Same – but with code in EEPROM
Same – but with code in RAM
Similar implementation (hardware wise) but compiled from C++ code
Same C++ code compiled on PC.

Now can anyone tell me exactly which of these counts as s/w and which as hardware.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I don't see why the patent is a problem?

These days, at least for desktop computers, the way cards are built with support for HPC/on-gpu-computing applications, it’s perfectly possible to add some level of hardware decode/render support for GPUs that supposedly didn’t ship with a dedicated decoder. Of course that still leaves mobile devices and such out in the cold.

I’m also curious about the ongoing evolution of Dirac codecs, which are open source and recently got standardized as SMPTE VC-2. I guess another situation where there’s a high-performing open source codec, but it requires a bit more development work, and would need a definite ability for hardware decoding on most devices? (Though if the BBC uses it internally it seems like it’s got to be pretty well along…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The whole point of these holdings firms is that they are untouchable. They have zero liability as they don’t produce anything other than litigation and technical obstinacy. You can bet the shadow corps behind these patents are ones that could not directly enforce them without getting slammed by counter suits

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: quick question ....

Yeah, I had this posed in research once. Extensive legal research yielded two cases where the owner/s of the algo that generated the code were found to have no rights over the code that their bots generated IF those bots recived any instruction on how to generate it. That is essentially a compiler or scripting engine. However, if it’s self writing with no user input then it’s as if it’s the natural execution and that belongs to the author of the bot. Though, I suspect these cases could be challenged as both of them were in the 80s

RobShaver (profile) says:

The first in-depth technical analysis of VP8

Bruce linked to the same article.

Here’s an excerpt from the summary:

VP8, as a spec, should be a bit better than H.264 Baseline Profile and VC-1. It’s not even close to competitive with H.264 Main or High Profile. If Google is willing to revise the spec, this can probably be improved.

With regard to patents, VP8 copies way too much from H.264 for anyone sane to be comfortable with it, no matter whose word is behind the claim of being patent-free. This doesn’t mean that it’s sure to be covered by patents, but until Google can give us evidence as to why it isn’t, I would be cautious.



Jeff (profile) says:

From Wikipedia – therefore it must be true because Wiki says so! 😉

The following organizations hold one or more patents in the H.264/AVC patent pool.

Apple Inc.
Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corporation
Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute
France Télécom, société anonyme
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der angewandten Forschung e.V.
Fujitsu Limited
Hitachi, Ltd.
Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.
LG Electronics Inc.
Microsoft Corporation
Mitsubishi Electric Corporation
NTT docomo
Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation
Panasonic Corporation
Robert Bosch GmbH GmbH
Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
Scientific-Atlanta Vancouver Company
Sedna Patent Services, LLC
Sharp Corporation
Siemens AG
Sony Corporation
The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York
Toshiba Corporation
Victor Company of Japan, Limited

So MPEG-LA sues on behalf of these patent holders…

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So MPEG-LA sues on behalf of these patent holders…

and that will disqualify all of them from using Google’s open source codec (see Google’s special License for VP8) – so (potentially) none of their products will be able to see YouTube.

I doubt if MPEG LA will be able to hold the group together on this so their threats cannot be carried through.

Vic Kley says:

Trolls vs shills for IP Bullies

Mike you seem to like using the term “troll” and in this article against MPEG-LA a firm doing a great service for those whose products partake of “standards” by providing quick and affordable licenses you want to use it again. You use it in a thoughtless and provocative manner to sully its target without any consideration for the real issues. Your words support the interests of large companies trying to crush those small who dare to assert their rights in court. I’d say you qualify as a shill for such companies- SHILL for the IP BULLIES – Mike the Shill, and a shrill shill he is!

Ian W (profile) says:

H264 and other DRM will win in the end anyway

The annoying thing is that video DRM (probably H264) will win in the end anyway.

I am sure Steve Jobs will suddenly click to the idea that all he needs to do is offer sales rights to each uploader of a video, and every budding youtube contributor will then receive x cents per view.

Just like the iTunes model of tiny pay per download.

Who would upolad to a free site (youtube) if they had a really good video and could upload to “iVids” and get paid 1.5 cents each time it was viewed?

Soon we may all have to have a Paypal account if we want to see any interesting video at all.

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