Google aimed to create a completely free and open standard for HTML5 video last year when it open sourced VP8 under a royalty-free licence, but patent-licensing organization MPEG LA may have officially burst that bubble with the announcement of an official call for patents that cover V8.
The Skinny on MPEG LA
MPEG LA is a company that describes itself as "the standards for standards," as it regulates the division of royalty payments. Here's how it works: each patent pool has a list of licensor companies. When those companies make something such as a DVD player, they have to make royalty payments to MPEG-LA, which then divides them up among the list of companies.
One of the patent pools already administered by MPEG-LA is for H.264 video-- currently the most popular codec for reading and encoding video online. But last month, Google announced that it was no longer supporting H.264 because of its patent. Instead, the Internet giant focused on its WebM project, which promotes patent-free, open formats like V8.
Mozilla and Opera have since jumped on board, hoping to create a web video standard unencumbered by licensing fees. The stable versions of Google Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, and Opera now include the codec for use with the HTML5 video tag.
It's worth it to mention that Google is, in a sense, still playing both sides. The Internet giant continues to use Adobe Flash (which handles video with H.264) on YouTube, but the site also offers HTML5 support, and, for the past several months has been encoding new videos with WebM. In the long run, it certainly looks like Google's aim is to handle all video with HTML5 and WebM.
Most see MPEG LA's recent call for patents as a direct attack on Google, but a recent statement from a Google spokesperson claims the Internet giant refuses to be fazed:
MPEG LA has alluded to a VP8 pool since WebM launched… The web succeeds with open, community-developed innovation, and the WebM Project brings the same principles to web video. 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.
Even so, the company will likely face litigation if legitimate patent-holders decide to come forward. Further, Google's biggest competitors don't seem to be on the same page. Microsoft and Apple are both part of MPEG LA's H.264 patent pool, and both include H.264 in their respective browsers. With that in mind, how valid is Google's "vast majority" claim, really?
Holders of “essential patents” for the V8 patent pool have until March 18 of this year to submit them for consideration to MPEG-LA. Where do you stand?