Patent Problems May Already Threaten New Open Video Standard

I am still saving my full comments on the Google led project to bring a new standard for open video to the web. This story, though, seems to be bearing out some of my first impressions, that WebM could become a lightning rod for patent claims, perhaps even enough to help drive some meaningful reform.

John Paczkowski at AllThingsD has a snippet from an email conversation with the CEO of the MPEG-LA. I’ve read and re-read the bit that Paczkowski shares and don’t think it supports the widespread speculation that WebM will be burdened with license fees. Maybe elsewhere in the correspondence Larry Horn was more clear and explicitly declared that VP-8 is encumbered with patents Google does not own. If so, then Paczkowski has done worse than buried the lede, he killed it outright.

Based on what he did and did not reveal, I suspect Horn is trying to stir up FUD. The more I think about his remarks about providing a licensing option, the more it feels like the patent deals Microsoft has offered repeatedly. If Microsoft, or the MPEG-LA, felt they had a strong claim, I suspect they’d just go ahead and sue. Instead, both hint at encumbrances, without furnishing proof or even details. Then they offer a deal which preys on corporate customers’ fears of liability.

I suspect if there is going to be a straight up patent challenge to Google over VP-8, it will come from elsewhere. Google’s deep pockets may also be preventing the MPEG-LA from a direct challenge but I suspect that is a secondary concern if at all. Others have certainly pressed suit against the search giant.

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