back to article Patent attack launched on Google's open video codec

MPEG LA – the patent pool organization that handles licensing for the H.264 video codec – is collecting patents for what can only be described as an attack on the competing VP8 codec. Last year, Google open sourced VP8 under a royalty-free license, hoping to create a completely free and open standard for HTML5 web video. Just …


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  1. M Gale
    Thumb Down

    Oh what a surprise.

    Patent troll in patent trolling SHOCKER. Looks like they really have spat their dummy out this time.

    Wonder how much influence Jobs and Ballmer have had in this decision? I'd bet a pristine condition toffee wrapper that it's greater than zero.

    Software patents, method patents, come in now. Your time is well and truly up.

  2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    I demand that names and addresses be posted!

    I'm gonna fetch grandma's old blunderbuss in the meantime.

    Revolution in the southern lands? Time to clean up in the "West", too.

  3. ratfox

    We cannot accept that people will have stuff for free

    Damned leeches

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You're really so dedicated to free stuff?

      If you believe everything should be free, come and work for me then - for free of course...

      Or does this only apply to other people?

      1. Chris 244

        Sure, Ralph, I'll work for you "for free"...

        ...but you have to give away at no charge any and all products I have even a peripheral involvement in, as well as any derivative products, in perpetuity. Oh, and also at no charge give a complete description of how to create the product from scratch to anyone that asks. Deal?

      2. lotus49


        @Ralph 5

        What a preposterously obtuse response.

        He wasn't suggesting giving something away should be compulsory, merely permitted, at the discretion of the giver.

      3. Anonymous Coward

        Don't try to pretend you don't understand the difference

        between free as in beer and free as in freedom. If this is really the case then your post has nothing to do with the subject of this article.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        @ Ralph 5

        "If you believe everything should be free, come and work for me then - for free of course...

        Or does this only apply to other people?"

        WOW, what a dunce? Can't even grasp the concept of freeware and how it can be used to increase profits.

        How is your clamping business going BTW?

      5. Ray Simard

        It does apply...

        Everything that is necessary to use an Internet standard like HTML5 damn well should--MUST--be free. That is central to the design philosophy at the core of the Internet itself, and is an essential part of the reason the Internet is the powerful phenomenon it is. Big money cannot stake a claim to the Internet's power and crowd out the little guys.

        If you want to charge for something, keep it out of the Internet specs. Period.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Would be embarrassing...

    Would be embarrassing if they didn't get much response.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why should they?

      They failed in their primary mission for what they were created.

      A number of patents that should have been in the MPEG pool got successfully hidden, moved to "investment vehicles" prior to mergers and there are now multiple lawsuits in flight.

      MPEG LA has failed. Period.

  5. Ken Hagan Gold badge
    Dead Vulture

    "Patent attack launched" ...

    ...or perhaps not, since it turns out that the trolls don't actually *know* of any patents that might apply. In fact, they are so far from actually having one that they are reduced to begging on the internet for help.

    1. Charles 9

      There's also another possibility.

      Since Google bought On2, they also bought their patent pool. The worst kind of fight you can have in this kind of landscape is patent-holder vs. patent-holder. But because H.264's advantages are starting to slip (the quality hit is not that great, Android will support WebM soon, and AMD and nVidia don't need to do much to support WebM in hardware), the only route they have left is their trump card: their patent pool. It's just bad for them that Google has its own trump card. Odds are this is going to become a patent war and will head for the courts. Odds are, no one's going to emerge from this unscathed, but since Google isn't charging money for the use of the codec, they have less to lose if a few of their patents get shot down, so long as they're not beholden to MPEG-LA (OTOH, MPEG-LA could lost monetary control of H.264 if key patents of THEIRS get invalidated. In a worst case, if Google emerges with a patent that predates one of MPEG-LA's and still holds, MPEG-LA could find itself infringing on Google).

      Better get out the flak vests and riot helmets, folks, 'cause this one's looking to get ugly.

      1. Paul Shirley

        ugly? define ugly

        Not sure ugly really describes a highly asymmetric fight.

        On one side we have Google, who protect all their valuable (ie income generating) IP by secrecy and give away almost everything else.

        On the other a bunch of corporate interests intent of protecting their cosy club with patents, primarily to avoid real competition.

        One side can afford the patent system to be dismantled since they don't rely on it, the other has a parasitic business model doing real ongoing damage to all of us that will collapse without software patents.

        It's just been a matter of time till someone with a mountain of cash and nothing to lose from doing it skips invalidating individual patent claims and instead dismantles the entire broken system. Looks like its Google, if the patent holders are idiotic enough to push hard enough.

        My prediction: they'll work out the risk their taking and this attack will quietly vanish and MPEG LA will get to carry on running their MPEG and H264 racket for a while longer.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Not really an attack, is it?

    People act like MPEG-LA are some kind of evil Bond villain plotting in their lair. In reality they're just a self-perpetuating bureaucracy of lawyers. Not that such things can't be evil under certain circumstances, but they're a bit out of their comfort zone here, rather than suing Lidl for selling cheap DVD players where by definition of being a DVD player compatible with standard DVDs they're trampling over every single relevant patent.

    It'll be an attack if they can drum up anyone who has a patent *and* wants to see VP8 fail *and* doesn't mind losing the right to use VP8 as a result of suing *and*, and doesn't want to keep quiet about the patent and troll later. Until then it's just the standard, slightly theatrical FUD you'd expect from lawyers. Reporting it as an attack before they've even checked if they have any usable weapons or willing soldiers just does their sleazy work for them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Lidl selling DVD players would make no difference at all because as far as I know there are no Lidls in the US so do not come under their patents. In Europe the patents don't apply anyway!

  7. Rob Glidden

    See MPEG (not MPEG LA) press release

    MPEG issues press release: "MPEG envisages royalty-free MPEG video coding standard"

  8. Cameron Colley

    What about the civilised world?

    Is this just the US or will places with patent laws, rather than corporate-owed courts, have to waste their time with this bullshit?

    Seriously, please, would the civilised world please stop giving a fuck about US patent law and just get on with things and laugh at the US.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Unfortunately US started

      creepily to push this kind of patent madness onto the civilized world. And foreign governments advised by (surprise, surprise!) multinational software and pharmaceutical companies are increasingly seeing it as a good thing.

  9. OSC

    Just wondering, no lawyers consulted

    In the USA a group of otherwise competing entities were told that collaborating to do down another competitor was anti-competitive

    "Do patent pool attacks have a future?"

    And in the EU the advocate-general has advised the ECJ that competition law trumps IP

    "Another interoperability barrier down?"

    1. Tom 13

      It's the "collaborating to do down another competitor" that becomes the sticking point.

      If you are getting together to protect something jointly developed (in this case allegedly patent-protected processes for handling compressed video) then you aren't engaging in an activity that violates anti-trust laws. This is useful for setting industry standards for manufacturing. What isn't allowed is getting together and saying "We'll if none of us price our goods at more than Y, we can drive company ZZ out of business. After they are gone, we take the price limit off."

  10. The BigYin

    Let me tanslate

    "We have seen thing called a 'competitor product' and we fear it greatly. Rather than compete on merit and let the free market decide, we prefer to compete in closed more communists system. For although we may base ourselves in the land of the free, the on thing that terrifies us is a competior on an equal footing."

    1. Arctic fox

      @The Big Yin Whilst I entirely agree with your assertion that such.........

      ......companies are seeking to de-rail competition I fear that you misunderstand political history if you believe that such behaviour can be labelled/dismissed as "communistic". It is also as natural to capitalism as breathing to seek to achieve monopoly. Big fishes eat smaller fishes and if and when a Big Fish wins (by fair means or foul) you will have a monopoly. This is of more than theoretical interest because it illustrates the crucial importance of competition authorities in ensuring that we have a genuinely free market. Given the chance Big Fish form cartels, engage in predatory pricing and so on and so forth. Ie The phenomenon known as "corporatism" and if we are to look at political history for a creed that based its economic politics on corporatism I suggest that you read up on Mussolini's Italy or Franco's Spain and fascism.

  11. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Hold on a mo.

    Just nipping out to get the popcorn

  12. Mage

    H.264 quality not that great?

    Really? That's why almost every broadcaster uses H.264 L4 for HD and all newer Digital TV systems use H.264 L3 for SD?

    1. Chris 244

      It's relative

      "Quality hit" not "quality". As in the quality hit by moving to (royalty-free) VP8 from (not-royalty-free) H.264.

    2. Miek

      Quite right, H264 is not that great

      ... bloated files that are not as good as they could be. Roll on WebM.

  13. Jim Benn

    Fan Mail

    Can't someone get Ted Kaczynski to send these MPEG-LA folks some fan mail ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fan Mail

      I sent them an email asking why they were on their knees begging for help rather than standing up and fighting legitimate competition like the businessmen they claim to be.

      I'm not holding my breath for an answer.

  14. JaitcH

    Here we Google again: Apple and MS signal their greed

    Apple and MS are simply software pigs who have no one but their own selfish interests at heart. It might, possibly, make commercial sense but from a more public perspective Google has demonstrated, yet again, that not only is it a commercial success but it also is a generous benefactor to many InterNet users, including competitors.

    Good luck to Google and may all attempts to eliminate WebM fail.

    1. aThingOrTwo
      Thumb Down

      How naïve

      Crikey, you really only understand one side of the story.

    2. Mark Olleson


      I think you might just have stumbled on the difference between a 'business' and a 'charity'.

    3. Walt French

      This isn't about who's willing to give away their work…

      … it's about who has the right to prevent others from giving their work away for these others' benefit.

      I don't see that Apple has claimed a lot of rights that VP8 tramples, so I don't see what this has to do with Apple and MS other than some other hatred of them. NOT relevant to this issue, eh?

      In any case, they're a small minority of the MPEG-LA, which is concerned about a stable environment for doing business by the people who ship $billions$ of TVs, DVDs, satellite boxes, over-the-air digital broadcast equipment, all of which use h.264. That's why the h.264 codec, around which MPEG-LA has created a predictable patent/rights environment, is backed by so many TV manufacturers, broadcasters, video equipment producers, etc.

      We're fans of internet video, which is the future, but the present is with the above, who have chosen to have a clear path even if it requires paying 10¢ per end-user (or less).

      I personally am not opposed to paying a dime to a group of engineers and suits who have designed and negotiated a fine way of transmitting & storing video. I recognize that others may have different opinions, but don't see why they want to prevent me from my choice.

      1. Ray Simard

        It's not the amount that's the problem.

        If it were to come to pass that HTML5 video could not be implemented without the blessing of a patent-holder:

        1. To whom do we pay the dime, and how?

        2. What guarantee do we have that they won't jack the dime up to something much more painful?

        3. What other restrictions on the use of the patented technology must we face? For example, what if nobody can get the license to create the codec for an operating system the patent-holder doesn't like?

        One of the many essential features of the Internet is that it doesn't care what kind of hardware or operating system you are running on your side of the interface. If I wanted to spend a lot of time to prove a point, I could implement something simple like a Telnet client on my old Altair 8800 under CP/M-80, and the Internet would not know the difference. It might not be very practical, but it would work.

        A patent-encumbered element of the Internet (effectively) would destroy that. It would impose an requirement (and not a free one) on on the user side of the protocol stack. That would be intolerable.

        Sorry, but patents and the Internet do not mix, no matter how tiny the tribute.

  15. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Who wins the ashes?

    So what's the outcome of this battle? Can open source developers compete with the R&D from a group of multi-billion dollar companies? Much like the last Terminator movie, this epic battle will continue long after the prize is gone.

  16. Oninoshiko

    This could, of course, backfire.

    In buying On2, Google bought any and all patents On2 held. It would be rather amusing if Google had an essental patent to implementing h.264. (remeber kiddies, MPEG-LA does not imdemnify against patents that are not a part of their patent pool!) It is possible, as On2 was around (for quite a bit) before h.264 was released.

  17. Sean Baggaley 1


    Yeah, you go right on believing that.

    What MPEG LA is doing is posting a giant ad: "Does anyone have any patents pertaining to the On2 / VP8 codec?"

    Come March 18th, we'll know the answer one way or the other. If the answer was, "Yes! We have *loads*!" then Google may well be in trouble. WebM could well end up dead in the water. (Patents were invented for a reason. Many don't agree with them, which is fine. We're all entitled to an opinion. But you don't get to pick and choose which laws you obey. If you don't like the laws of your land, *change them*, instead of whining about it on forums.)

    If, on the other hand, MPEG LA's request goes unanswered, they've just *proved to the world at large* that there's no reason *not* to use WebM. And that's good new for everyone.

    Ultimately, there are two possible outcomes, both of which are good. Either someone's hard work *has* been ripped-off—in which case, I have no quarrel with Google being forced to pay them a crap-ton of money; it's not as if Google are lacking in the green stuff department just now—or they haven't.

    The present situation is *bad*. It leaves a huge question mark hanging over the question of whether WebM really is "open" and royalty-free. And that doesn't do WebM, or Google, any favours.

    MPEG LA are, perhaps unwittingly, doing the IT world a favour.

    1. Paul Shirley

      "Either someone's hard work *has* been ripped-off"

      You need to look at some of the crap covered by these pools, there's precious little hard work visible and considerably less real inventiveness. FFS splitting a macroblock and coding the parts individually is an obvious idea you simply test then accept or reject, not something deserving a patent.

      Even if you accept that software patents are a good idea the patent pool is a sleazy trick, bury a few worthy ones in a mountain of worthless shit. Inextricably linked so you cant challenge the shit or escape paying for it.

      MPEG LA is intentionally anti competitive, taking advantage of a patent system that's lost sight of what patents are meant to achieve - to make new ideas visible that would otherwise be lost, to secrecy or simply discarded unseen. Not to patent simple ideas that will be rediscovered as soon as someone tries to solve the same problem. 60 years on and we're still discovering the simple stuff and thieves are still patenting it.

    2. Gorbachov
      Thumb Down

      not true

      Lack of a response is unlikely and wouldn't prove anything anyway. It's impossible to prove a codec doesn't infringe so the burden of proof is on the MPEG LA side. And since software patents are so nebulous it's probably in their best interest to rattle their sabre now and again and go on collecting their tithe as usual.

      By the way, don't you understand that even if some predating patent is found that doesn't mean anybody was ripped off? It is more probable that certain things can be coded only in certain ways. Does that mean that whoever writes the code first is forever the sole owner of that method? What if we apply the same logic to medicine?

      I invented this procedure so if you save a person on the operating table your hospital owes me money!!

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      "someone's hard work *has* been ripped-off"

      Someone doesn't understand what a "patent" is all about.

      Go educate yourself, greenhorn.

      Remember when software patents where still a gleam in lawyers' and other boardroom sociopaths' eyes and bureaucrats from the USPTO as well as politicians hungry for free food and wine were picking up on the idea?

      Most sane people though the idea ridiculous.

      It's been downhill ever since.

      1. Walt French

        The basis for patents

        I don't know how the idea of patents spread, but I do know at least it was ensconced in the US Constitution, and so dates to "liberal" ideas of the 18th century. Or earlier.

        The purpose was pretty clearly to prevent the government or thieves from expropriating individuals' work, denying them their livelihood.

        People here seem to think they have better ideas, but this has been the law for centuries. I myself have advocated civil disobedience to improper laws, but claiming they are somehow irrelevant is just a silly fantasy. If there are patents covering VP8, this process should uncover them, and provide a way for the US society to agree as to whether they are relevant. As to whether they are fair, why, that has nothing to do with VP8, Apple or Google; I doubt the US Supreme Court would casually turn over something just because a couple of freetards think it's a bad way to go.

  18. gimbal


    As I read it:

    "The vast majority of the industry supports free and open development", Google says.

    "Yeah, except for us", says the people to whom the bulk of movie income is going to.

    If it goes to the courts - as it looks like it will - I have no doubt, though, that Google already has a lot of practice in finding good lawyers, and will bring that experience to bear, on the situation, along with all their plain technical strengths, no argument about it.

    Mine's the one with the Flux Capacitor in the pocket - going to go back to the past, to some time shortly before legislators were lobbied to enable the MPAA, RIAA, and friends to pull off the amazingly consumer-unfriendly feats they have, so far.

  19. mark l 2 Silver badge


    Even if the MPEG-LA's request for anyone with a patent that relates to WebM finds some companies willing to go to court to fight google over patent breach WebM will never been irradicated now as its been open sourced and im sure there are lot of developers from outside the US where the patents are not valid anyway who will continue to use it

  20. WonkoTheSane
    Black Helicopters


    "Mine's the one with the Flux Capacitor in the pocket - going to go back to the past, to some time shortly before legislators were lobbied to enable the MPAA, RIAA, and friends to pull off the amazingly consumer-unfriendly feats they have, so far."

    This has already been done _by_ the MAFIAA. JFK was about to rule against their formation.

  21. Ubuntu Is a Better Slide Rule

    Boycott Microsoft And Apple

    That's what we can do.

    Go to an Apple shop and tell the manager you would have bought a Mac or an iPhone if Mr Steve didn't act like a child.

    If the MS sales rep shows up in your company, tell him to convey the same message to Mr Monkey In Chief.

    1. Rolf Howarth

      Boycott Microsoft and Apple?

      Why, what's it to do with them? They're not the MPEG-LA. They're a very small part of the consortium. Most of the patents are held by research organisations such as Dolby Labs, Fraunhofer Institute, or Columbia University, for whom licensing is the only way of getting some return on their research investment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "return on their research investment"

        Are you suggesting that Columbia University is a company that has to make a profit for its shareholders? Try googling for "Columbia University benefactors".

        If you're considering donating money to a university you might want to think about the way some universities make a negative contribution to research through patenting.

    2. Argh


      Microsoft don't ship patents for many different video encodings, but allow users to install the codecs themselves.

      They're allowing this with WebM/IE9 as well. It's not really surprising that they're not shipping a new codec with the browser.

      It's Apple that implied they were going after WebM, not Microsoft, who publicly said they would support it if users installed the codec. Obviously they might be saying / doing different things behind closed doors, but I'm not aware of any evidence of this so far.

  22. Levente Szileszky
    Thumb Down

    One word...


  23. boosth

    what patents?

    How can you patent algorithms developed and paid for by the US Govt under classified military research?

    All the video/audio codecs come from that research. This patent thicket needs to be wiped out. It's a waste of everyones time.

    1. Britt Johnston

      US DoD is the root of all good?

      Weeell, that's part of the story - what about the European side, like the Fraünhofer insitutes?

      Also, universities who don't patent everything, who are presumably contributors to ogg standards.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How can you patent algorithms developed and paid for by the US Govt

      "How can you patent algorithms developed and paid for by the US Govt under classified military research?"

      I dunno, ask Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, General Dynamics, et al. They've managed to scratch out a living.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WebM protections

    Doesn't all the legal mumbo-jumbo around WebM create a situation where anyone who joins such a patent pool takes the risk of losing the right to use WevM?

    1. Charles 9

      They wouldn't care.

      If they signed onto MPEG-LA, chances are they don't have an interest in WebM so wouldn't care about being locked out of access. What this could do is polarize the market, make everyone take sides, with no fence-sitting allowed.

  25. Ray Simard

    Bad precedent

    As it stands, the Internet's technology is concerned only with getting data from one application layer to another. That blindness to the nature and purpose of the data is a major part of its strength. What anyone does with the data on the other side of the protocol stack is completely beyond the concern of the Internet's specifications.

    The need for a patented element to make something that is codified in the Internet's specifications work would effectively extend the reach of those specifications (indirectly) across the stack and into userspace.

    It's a very dangerous foot in the door.

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