Google licenses video codec from MPEG LA to bolster VP8
By John Ribeiro
Patents management company MPEG LA announced agreements with Google, granting the Internet giant a license to techniques that may be essential to the VP8 video codec that the Internet giant backs.
VP8 is a video compression technology that was developed by On2 Technologies, a company Google acquired in February 2010 for about US$125 million. WebM, an open-source project sponsored by Google for an open media file format, uses the open Vorbis audio codec and VP8, which Google released under a royalty-free license.
Licensing spat slows progress
In January 2011, Google said it would remove support in its Chrome browser for the H.264 codec and instead support open codecs like WebM (VP8) and Theora video codecs.
MPEG LA, however, countered in February that year with a call to owners of patents essential to the VP8 video codec specification, to facilitate development of a VP8 joint patent license.
“In order to participate in the creation of, and determine licensing terms for, a joint VP8 patent license, any party that believes it has patents that are essential to the VP8 video codec specification is invited to submit them for a determination of their essentiality by MPEG LA’s patent evaluators,” it said.
Under the agreements announced Thursday, MPEG LA said it will discontinue its efforts to form a VP8 patent pool. The agreements grant Google a license to techniques that may be essential to VP8 and earlier-generation VPx video compression technologies under patents owned by 11 patent holders, MPEG LA said.
The agreements also allow Google the right to sub-license those techniques to any user of VP8, whether the VP8 implementation is by Google or another entity. It also provides for sub-licensing the VP8 techniques in one next-generation VPx video codec.
“This agreement is not an acknowledgment that the licensed techniques read on VP8. The purpose of this agreement is meant to provide further and stronger reassurance to implementors of VP8,” said Google executive Serge Lachapelle in a post on a forum.
The financial terms of the agreements were not disclosed. A Google spokesperson said via email it “can’t discuss on the commercial terms of the agreement.”
“We launched the WebM Project in May 2010 with the goal of providing the web with a high-quality, open, royalty-free video codec that anyone can use, and that can inspire future innovators. Today’s announcement is an important step toward that goal,” wrote Matt Frost, senior business product manager for the WebM project in a blog post. The project expects to have the terms of its sublicense ready in the next few weeks.
“This is a significant milestone in Google’s efforts to establish VP8 as a widely-deployed web video format,” Allen Lo, Google’s deputy general counsel for patents, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, H.264 makes headway
Google’s latest bid to help it promote VP8 as an alternative to H.264 may be a little late, analysts said.
Mozilla Foundation said in March last year it was considering adding support for the H.264 video codec in mobile versions of the Firefox browser, as support for the codec is important in mobile browsers. The foundation had been counting on Google to push WebM, based on the VP8 video compression format, to the exclusion of H.264 on Chrome for Android, as part of its focus on open codec technologies. But that is unlikely to happen as Apple ships hardware with support for H.264, the foundation added.
Mozilla avoided H.264 previously because it was encumbered by patents, it said. The Google spokesperson said it is not commenting on H.264 support in Chrome.