back to article Google and friends wrap open video codec in patent shield

Google has announced a patent-sharing program around WebM in an effort to guard the open source web video format from legal attack. On Monday, with a blog post, the company introduced the WebM Community Cross-License (CCL) initiative, which brings together companies willing to license each other's patents related to the format …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    I smell a rat

    Google claim they are concerned about open sourcing Web-M yet are delaying open sourcing their tablet OS. If Google are really flying the open source flag rather than just playing to the audience for cheers, then why are they they delaying Open Sourcing, Honeycomb? Smells to me more like an expedient corporate strategy seeking to marshal developer community goodwill to bolstering their centralized and closed closed money making search database machine than a real principled stance defending open source.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Chromeos would be the delay, and everything that ties to it. (all g services). *

      += honeycomb

      I am so antsy for pricing. ~o_o~ I hate monthly pricing but 10$ for upgrades&service :D**

      If one day they decided to replace everything with webm&webp (youtube.etc.); would be SO COOL.**


    2. The BigYin

      Correct me if I am wrong

      But I thought Google always opened the code after release?

      That may not be "open source" in the GNU/EFF sense of things, but it is far ahead of anything MS or Apple ever do (both staunch freedom opponents).

      And whilst it may be against the true spirit of "open", it does keep the forking down until after the code is stable and the hardware shipping. If the code was open, I would not put it past some corporations to begin forks just to try and poison the waters.

    3. Stuart 25

      You need to be able to prove you own something to "opensource" it.

      You can only "open source" something when you own ALL the rights to anything that isn't already opensource.

      Given the grief that Google are getting trying to "open source" something as relatively simple as video compression it's no surprise that they are not promising to do the same for a much more complex product.

      1. Ammaross Danan

        Why to not Open Source Honeycomb at the moment:

        "Given the grief that Google are getting trying to "open source" something as relatively simple as video compression it's no surprise that they are not promising to do the same for a much more complex product."

        Sorry, but Video Compression is not "relatively simple." There are not many ways to do it, true. Most rely on keyframes and differentials from such over time. Now, HOW to come up with WHEN to put in a keyframe, and how to get the best, most compressed differentials is where most of the patents sit. This is where On2 has stepped gingerly (and it seems somewhat non-gingerly), to come up with good quality and better compression.

        As for not Open Sourcing "a much more complex product" (Honeycomb), there's two good reasons: 1) They're requiring a non-fragmentation contract for their early adopters (Xoom, GalaxyTab [2.0]) and, 2) The code likely looks like crap. They would like to clean it up (remove copyright infringing/grey code???) before opening it up to public scrutiny. Their licensing model allows them to do this, and it is good for the market in the long run, even if it prevents us from getting Honeycomb tablets for under $300 that ship with resistive screens and build quality similar to a preschool glue project.

    4. SuccessCase


      Google's big ulterior motive for pushing Web-M is they know wide adoption would damage iOS, which loses the benefit of hardware acceleration for any Web-M video (drains the battery faster). The honeycomb late source release shows, of course, they aren't committed to Open Source as an all round policy or principle. They are committed when it suits them. It's a clever play gnawing at the edges of the iOS ecosystem whilst at the same time compatible with image of being an open source champion (albeit a selective one).

    5. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Of course..

      You should be under no illusion that it's all about market control and revenue. When Google feels Open Source is no longer fitting in the strategy it'll be dropped like a brick. Is that bad/evil? Nah - realistic. Practically any company follows this approach.

      As long as they put in what they take out that doesn't matter, just don't get all starry-eyed if a company appears to "support" Open Source or its principles because *that* is silly. Any company is about money, especially when they have reached a certain size. Evangelism should always be seen in that context - prevents disappointment and isolates your decision making from any marketing BS they may spout.

  2. Sean Baggaley 1

    I'd be more impressed...

    ... if Google had thrown some money into lobbying for major patent law reform.

    Software patents in particular have turned into an increasingly expensive whack-a-mole game, sowing FUD hither and yon. I can't blame the likes of Apple and Microsoft (both of which are no strangers to being thwacked repeatedly by patent trolls) for sticking with a codec that is unlikely to turn around and bite them on the arse at some random point in the future. Say what you like about H.264, but it does the job just fine, and it's already well-supported by hardware, not just software.

    (I'm also getting tired of the increasing number of spurious "standards" the IT community in general insists on vomiting onto its long-suffering users, but that's another matter.)

    What Google needs to do is lobby for the following:

    1. Patents must have different time limits according to context. E.g. software patents should timeout after, say, 2 years, not 17 or 20.

    2. Patents should have exactly the same requirement to enforce that trademarks do: i.e. you can't just sit on a patent for a few years and only *then* decide to start flailing it about to get some money. If you didn't think it worth protecting *before* someone started making serious money out of it, it's your own damned fault. This should kill 99.9% of all known patent trolls. Dead.

    3. As Patent Offices are clearly incapable of spotting Prior Art if it kicked them savagely in the nadgers, I propose that the process be reversed: Patent Offices put out a "Request for Prior Art" whenever a new patent is submitted. These requests appear on a small, approved, number of websites (or magazines, or whatever) and contain the details of the patent. Anyone can then submit a comment, with documentary evidence of both their claims and their qualifications, that the patent is invalid. They need not be a trained patent lawyer, so you get a 'crowd sourcing' element here. It only needs a few people who are interested in this stuff to make it work.

    4. A Patent holder MUST make a reasonable effort to get their patent implemented and / or licensed for implementation by a third party. You can't just draw up an idea on a piece of paper and be done with it: an implemented idea is worthless. For a software patent, that means you must have at least written a working proof of concept or prototype. For a physical product, you must have either produced it yourself, gotten a letter of intent from a manufacturer or investor, or made any other reasonable effort to ensure your invention is brought to life outside the USPTO's filing cabinets and database.

    The above are just wild, vague, hand-waving thoughts. (It's late and I'm high on sobriety. Logic is something that happens to other people when it's 03:43 hrs. and you have a translation job to stop procrastinating over.)

    1. Someone Else Silver badge
      Thumb Up


      ("...we don' need no steenkin''...)

      Am constantly amazed and amused by Brit slang. Perhaps El Reg can replace the Badgers icon with a Nadgers icon

      1. corrodedmonkee

        Nadgers != Badgers

        Nadgers = Man Sack

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Nadgers ! = Man Sack

          Nadgers = Contents of Man Sack

      2. TeeCee Gold badge

        @Someone Else

        Don't worry about it.

        If it helps any, go and have a fag.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Good luck. You'll need it.

      The current patent system benefits lawyers. And many of the legal eagles in Washington have strong ties to legal firms. It's much like the fundamental stalemate in Washington. It would take something very radical to push through patent reform. Not even public outcry seems to do much these days because district lines are pretty much drawn to secure their own seats no matter what they do.

  3. John Savard Silver badge


    If WebM genuinely infringes someone's patents, for whoever is suffering the infringement to take action is legitimate.

    However, I can understand the DoJ investigating, on antitrust grounds, an attempt by the backers of H.264 to search for someone else whose patents might be infringed by it, if one of their own patents isn't infringed, as a way to stop the competition. Still, it took me a few seconds to figure out just what was going on here.

    1. streaky Silver badge
      Black Helicopters


      "whoever is suffering the infringement to take action is legitimate"

      This is where the patent discussion breaks down, because it relies on the patent being a geniune invention. As anybody watching the US software patents anti-system will tell you 99.99999% of US software patents aren't based on invention and juries can't see prior art in reams of... prior art.

      Not for nothing but patent pools don't protect from without the pool which is where webm is going to be attacked from - these pools just increase the potential value of the inevitable suit and the potential to add words like "criminal conspiracy" to the list of indictments.

      And while we're on the subject does the US not have laws against cartels, are these guys not all supposed to be competing with each other?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Something's not quite right here....

    If we take Google's claim that VP8 is only encumbered by their own patents at face value, then "AMD, Cisco Systems, Logitech, MIPS Technologies, Matroska, Mozilla, Opera, Samsung, Texas Instruments, and the Foundation" must have patents that apply to WebM. That's a lot of patents for just a container. Which makes me think that either Google's not so good at finding relevant patents or they're just fishing for anyone that'll help protect them from the MPEG-LA. In the first case, they had to ask anyone to come forward and not take them to court. In the second, they're afraid that the MPEG-LA actually will find a submarine patent or ten.

    Though I suppose it is possible that all of those companies simply have too many lawyers with too much free time.

    <icon>Popcorn</icon> Me, I'm waiting for the plot twist to this story.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      tacit threat of reprisal

      These large companies are not just promising to not attack VP8 (whether or not they could). They are also tacitly threatening reprisal for any suit against VP8 coming from a large player such as MS or Apple. The counter-suit need not be related to VP8. Since each of these companies is aware that they are likely infringing patents held by each of the others, it's a game of veiled threats. Sure it's MAD, but I understand that is how things get done.

    2. Paul Shirley

      patent pools = big piles of crap

      The mechanism of patent pools is to wrap a huge mound of worthless or irrelevant shit in a thin wrapper of gold. Then you tell the world they can only have the gold if they also take the shit. It's always an all or nothing deal and who actually owns what in the pool doesn't matter. Its the size the counts, not the quality. Size pushes up the costs of infringing, quality doesn't come into it.

      In MPEG-LA's hands it's little more than extortion. Unfortunately it's a game Google now have to get into, the nature of pools means this says nothing about whether VP8 is encumbered or covered by their pool partners patents.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Nuke MPEG-LA

      <quote>"MPEG-LA actually will find a submarine patent or ten"</quote>

      I agree with you.

      All roads lead to MPEG-LA

      MPEG-LA is the #1 problem for everyone with every codec and camera

      it's the "media carbon tax tool" of the nwo and it's compulsion being mandatory is the arrogance of tyrannical rule over surfs. All it takes to go away is people everywhere to say, "no." The problem is people everywhere are looking for some leader to do it for them, when in reality they are the leaders and need look up to, or stoop to none. This don't mean mpeg-la should get nothing, but it also means they can't hold planet earth hostage like a prison, vampiricly sucking the soul out of artists brains.

      Streaming radio stations have the same problem.



      You would think we can all go back to code hacking and electronic gadget mods and find new ways to tweak an mix stuff and make cool noises, cool videos, and just hope it will all go away, but it looks <a href="">pretty bad currently</a>. Poor way to treat people in a world where we all might not of cared or payed attention before when times were good, but now that times are bad, we actually need to make this zombie bacterial extortion go away and replace it with open standards for betterment of all of mankind. We should be setting goals and working on them, not constantly nagged on everything from communications, studio work and wasting our creative time on backtracking into dinosaur mafia business school when we aren't commercial, or corporate.

      When they build the price into the media format which gets sold, and then refuse to control said format get's exploited and equalized to the ability of the monetary system in each country. What I guess I am suggesting is the removal of certain patent ownerships for the good of everyone, to perhaps salvage creative talent.

      They've enjoyed generous profits as times were good. Times are no longer good. Many are wondering if PM's or Paper Currency are going to be the monetary standard. Maybe equally if times were good again we could again look at such patents, or maybe they can still keep ownership, but only revoke the ability to leave budding business and artists like slag heaps in their wake. I got to be honest, it's a pain to think of, say making some successful movie and having them come out of the blue and say oh yeah mpeg-la we need $650k out of your 2 Million movie. It's like you can't even prepare for retirement on earth anymore, since you never know when someone is going to rain dark clouds down on you until your flooded out. From the viewfinder to the upc code, a thousand cuts along the way. The whole system needs to be behave and play nice or be ejected from doing business, it doesn't mean you work for free, and yet it doesn't mean you can slacker out living like a king at the destruction of your neighbors and competition.

  5. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Microsoft is not wary of patents

    Even if they deliberately infringe some patents, their lawyers can make the court case and appeals drag on for at least a decade. If they are feeling really mean, they can pay a settlement for some bogus patents, pass the cost on to their users and sit back while a new well-funded patent troll attacks their competitors.

  6. Muckminded
    Thumb Up

    The twist...

    is that the codec secretly logs all your keystrokes, lifts your wallet and maps your genome as you sit watching reruns on Hulu.

    The "thumbs-up" icon refers to the fact that you also receive a proctology exam while surfing.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      That software could come in handy ...

      ... but I could not find it in the source code. Could you point it out to me please:;a=tree

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: That software could come in handy ...

        Take the source, ROT13 it, re-compile. Clever eh?

  7. RichyS


    But Google told us WebM didn't infringe anyone else's patents, so why do they need what is in effect a patent pool?

    Why can't Google just indemnify devs the same way Microsoft does. If they're so confident about WebM's patent position, this shouldn't be a problem.

  8. Jaemon

    Hmm shoot in foot much ?

    Two names on that list is really weird, Samsung and Cisco cause as apparent from the AVC/H.264 licensors list below they are on both sides of that fight...

    But as everybody with a brain know the MPEG-LA AVC/H.264 is the pooled patents on video compression of a virtual whos whos in video from Apple to Sony to Panasonic. Whos on the WebM buddy list... mostly open source projects so deeply indentured to google they might as well buy them (AMD, Cisco Systems, Logitech, MIPS Technologies, Matroska, Mozilla, Opera, Samsung, Texas Instruments, and the Foundation).

    So lets look at the rest AMD, Cisco, Logitech, MIPS Tech, Samsung, Opera, Texas Industries....

    Obviously Cisco and Samsung have some legs to stand on in video patents wise (they are on the H.264 list), and AMD with their ATI branch could have some chops there too, but Logitech and Opera ? What on earth do they have in video compression patents ?

    And another thing, as the list below shows, would everybody please shut the funk up with naming Apple and Microsoft as the main patent contributors its just not true.

    While i could understand how Samsung might consider their google buddies closer than their TV making competitors I have one question.... Even though it would be quite interesting to see Samsung make a TV with a digital TV tuner without a MPEG-LA license as almost all digital broadcast and cable signals use mpeg4 compression...

    Furthermore, why are LG, Sony AND Ericsson not on the google buddylist ? (mayhaps they like their spot on the MPEG-LA list better)...

    Sony makes the nerdalicious Google TV box Sony/Ericsson and LG makes android phones.

    And strangely missing from both lists.... Nvidia.

    Moan and bitch all you want about patents but they are not going away.


    PS! before anybody writes a single letter about patents consider this, patents DO NOT COVER IDEAS, they cover METHODS, think about that for a minute. If you can do something described in a patent in a way that is not the way the patents describes then you can implement that method to all you want...

    AVC/H.264 licensors:

    Apple Inc.

    Cisco Systems Canada IP Holdings Company

    DAEWOO Electronics Corporation

    Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corporation

    Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute

    France Télécom, société anonyme*

    Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Foerderung der angewandten Forschung e.V.

    Fujitsu Limited

    Hewlett-Packard Company

    Hitachi, Ltd.

    Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.

    LG Electronics Inc.

    Microsoft Corporation

    Mitsubishi Electric Corporation


    Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation

    Panasonic Corporation

    Polycom, Inc.

    Robert Bosch GmbH*

    Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.

    Sedna Patent Services, LLC

    Sharp Corporation

    Siemens AG

    Sony Corporation

    Tandberg Telecom AS

    Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson

    The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York

    Toshiba Corporation

    Victor Company of Japan, Limited

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Why the hell do we need yet another bloody codec... This looks more like a disruptive release ie. stop any company actually making any profit out of a video codec by releasing a free one and hence reduce competitor clout. Since Google are the only company that can seem to make money out of "vapour" they look increasingly like another Enron in the making.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        and no better

        I'd understand this if WebM was technically better in some way that H.264 but the quality is worse, there's no hardware decode support (battery life and performance implications) and there is (yet) no capacity for live playback (wonder what Google use for youTube Live?)

        both of the HTML5 <video> standards (H.264 and WebM, I'm ignoring Ogg like everyone else is) are flawed...

        - no live support

        - no DRM so forget widespread adoption/approval from Studios or TV

        - no adaptive support (a la Smooth Streaming, Flash Adaptive or HLS). At least MPEG are working on that with DASH but WebM seems to be making no effort in that area

        So... Google are busy disrupting simply to cause trouble and the users and content producers suffer (users have to choose and/or content producers have to double handle and double store everything)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Its Free

          So it must be good, right?

  9. Howard Cole

    Software Patent Fightback

    I am not a legal expert, but most of these patents seem to be fairly loose and based on known technologies. If the open source community, and even the closed source community pooled together to provide copies of their own source which showed prior art, then would most of these patent troll companies be shown to be the useless vultures that they are. (No insult to vulture central intended).

    If one or two of these legal actions can be thrown out of texan courts, then possibly these ridiculous patents would no longer be pursued in court - as the possibility they are a unique patentable idea gets proved incorrect.

    Just a thought? Or is this already happening somewhere?

  10. DZ-Jay

    Wait a minute...

    First, Google say that WebM does not infringe on anybody's patents, except their own, which are licensed without royalties; and then they put together a patent pool of third-parties to protect the WebM patents?

    So, which is it? Either WebM does not infringe on anybody's patents, or it does and *some* of the patent holders promise not to sue you. Pick one.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: So which is it?

      None of the above. Not only are the members of the pool saying that they won't pursue any real or imagined infringement by WebM of their intellectual property, they're also implying that anyone who does cause problems may find themselves liable to counter-claims using the rather large assortment of patents that the members hold. They're doing this because they think it's in their interests for the standard to succeed (or for rival standards to fail) not because they might have any claim to the technology.

      1. The First Dave

        @AC : re: So which is it?

        Actually, it would appear that it is neither - Google _hope_ that there are no valid patents that cover WebM, but only a judge can decide these things, and only when someone comes forward with a specific patent suit, and even then you get no guarantee that there aren't further patents. There are so many patents out there that it would be ridiculous to suggest that someone had read them all to check.

        No-one has brought a law suit yet, but it is early days, and would probably only come to light as a result of some other suit.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Google's homework?

          Surely Google, with patents on search methods and even their own Google Patent search service is able to have more than simple hope that WebM doesn't break any patents?

          If I was an investor I would hope they had people look into it, especially before shelling out $106.5 million to buy On2 for this codec.

  11. Mark Harburn
    Black Helicopters

    New version off the cold war....

    I for one welcome my corporate overlords of video... Oh wait we have that already...

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