Google's VP8 Getting Help From An Unlikely Source

While MGEG LA creates a patent pool against it, Google gets a hand from Skype/Microsoft

Google received support this week for its embattled WebM video format from an unlikely source. Skype announced that it has adopted VP8 the codec in WebM as its default solution for video conferencing for both one on one and group video calls.  Of course with Skype now serving their corporate overlords in Redmond, this means that Microsoft is at least tacitly endorsing and supporting the format. I guess video codecs make for strange bedfellows.

Google can certainly use the support and any friends it can find on this one.  Back in Feburary the MPEG LA group called for the creation of a patent pool for those who might hold patents and be entitled to royalties  by anyone using the Google open source format. Now it appears that they have at least 12 unnamed parties who claim royalties by Google's use of patented technology in VP8. Of course MPEG LA is the same consortium that controls the H.264 video format which is the main non-open competitor to Google's VP8.  

The MPEG LA group actually creates patent pools as its sole purpose for being.  From their about us section:

We are the world’s leading packager of patent pools for standards and other technology platforms used in consumer electronics, as well as chemical, eCommerce, education, energy, environment, healthcare and biotechnology, manufacturing and materials, transportation and wireless technology. We developed the pool market space. Our business model supports a large number of patent users – creating reasonable access and profitable opportunities for all parties. 

I am no big fan of software patents and I am even less of a fan of companies who leech money by creating pools of patents in spite of the "newspeak" that they shroud thier mission in. I think this type of business model thwarts innovation and progress. In the end we all wind up paying the price for it as well. The FSF called for a boycott of MPEG LA if they did indeed create a patent pool on VP8.

In the meantime Google has been pushing the new standard and codec hard. Many of their own properties including YouTube, Google Talk, Google+ Hangouts, etc. are supporting this standard. Beyond Google, an open source video standard could be just the thing to really push video over the edge into critical mass adoption.  A quality open source format could also sound the death knell for closed standards like H.264.

On the other hand the spectre of a patent claim could put a severe crimp on developers working in video using the open source Google solution.  Google could offer to handle any potential claims and royalty payments, but that could become very, very expensive as well. 

The MPEG LA group by not releasing names of the companies that have supposedly signed up for their patent pool is playing their cards close to their vest.  They have created just enough FUD to stop the momentum Google's standards is gaining.

Now coming to the rescue is Skype/Microsoft.  The thinking is if they are not afraid to tread into this potential patent mess, why should anyone else be.  Also Skype's video calling along with Google's own properties create a critical mass of web based video to give WebM and VP8 some weight behind it.

So we will have to see how this plays out.  Will Microsoft rescue Google before the patent lords at MPEG LA have us all paying royalties for some patents that before now, no one knew about? Will Google's WebM vision fall under the weight of potential and costly patent litigation?  I guess we will have to wait and see.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)