Patent licensing group MPEG-LA made it clear back in February it wants to go after VP8, Google’s open-source online video format. Several months later, there aren’t any lawsuits flying-but MPEG-LA executives have said that they’re in discussions with no fewer than 12 different patent-holders who say they’ve got patents that Google (NSDQ: GOOG) may need to pay up for.
The wheels are certainly moving slowly, but if MPEG-LA were to be successful in this quest, it could make Google’s new video format a “pay-to-play” video format rather than a free one.
Google spent $105 million to purchase the VP8 technology a few years back, with the goal of making freely licensed alternative to H.264, the dominant web video format. MPEG-LA collects patent royalties from many commercial users of the H.264 format, and apparently the group doesn’t like the idea that there might be a competing video format that it doesn’t have control over. (MPEG-LA also collects payments for users of other video formats, including the formats that power DVDs.)
MPEG-LA revealed the number of patent holders that have come forward in an interview with StreamingMedia.com. In the same interview, an unidentified MPEG-LA executive said: “MPEG LA met with VP8 essential patent holders in late June to facilitate a discussion among them whether and on what terms they may want to create a VP8 patent pool license and is continuing to facilitate that discussion.”
The big question, of course, is who those 12 patent holders are. Are they random “individual inventors,” holding patents they believe were ahead of the curve when it comes to web video? Or are they major corporations, perhaps including Google’s chief rivals? Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is already trying its best to spread the idea that VP8 may have patent vulnerabilities.
We do have a sense of who is on Google’s side. That’s because in April, Google announced its own coalition of companies who would participate in a “community cross-license” of patents related to WebM and VP8. (WebM is simply the VP8 video format along with open-source audio formats.) The list includes hardware makers like Cisco (NSDQ: CSCO), LG Electronics (SEO: 066570), and Logitech, as well as software companies that have been longtime backers of open-source on the web, such as Mozilla and Opera.
So essentially, one can consider the WebM-CCL list a group of companies pledged to not take aggressive legal action against this video format; while MPEG-LA is putting together a (still unrevealed) list of entities that are very interested in taking such action.
Google responded to the MPEG-LA statement much as it had several months ago, saying that this is nothing new. “The web succeeds with open, community-developed innovation, and the WebM Project brings the same principles to web video,” said a Google spokesperson. “The vast majority of the industry supports free and open development.”