And the fight continues. Only a few months after the desperate move by the MPEG-LA to get anyone – anyone – to submit patents to a possible WebM patent pool, Google and the WebM community have struck back. A whole slew of major companies have formed the WebM Community Cross-License initiative, basically a sort-of Open Invention Network for WebM.
The WebM Project announced the formation of this new initiative on its blog. Matt Frost, senior business product manager for the WebM Project, first details the wide industry support WebM currently enjoys. He also notes that the project is seeing more and more code contributions from individual contributors and independent implementations.
“We are pleased to now offer another way to contribute, through a licensing initiative that allows the community to help further support the WebM Project,” Frost details, “Google, Matroska and the Xiph.Org Foundation make the components of WebM openly available on royalty-free terms. Today we’re announcing the formation of the WebM Community Cross-License initiative with 17 founding members. Organizations that join the CCL agree to license patents they may have that are essential to WebM technologies to other members of the CCL.”
That’s an interesting idea, and clearly a thorough defensive move against any possible further actions by MPEG-LA. The MPEG-LA is led by a known patent troll, so it only makes for the WebM Project to set up a defensive perimeter. And it’s a damn fine perimeter too, looking at the list of companies that have already joined the initiative:
- Cisco Systems
- Google Inc.
- HiSilicon Technologies (for itself and its parent, Huawei)
- LG Electronics
- MIPS Technologies
- Mozilla Corporation
- Opera Software
- Quanta Computer
- STMicroelectronics (for itself and its 50/50 joint venture, ST-Ericsson)
- Texas Instruments
- Verisilicon Holdings
- Xiph.org Foundation
There’s some truly big names in there, like AMD, Logitech, LG, Samsung, and TI. If the MPEG-LA ever were to decide to make a move against WebM/VP8 (they say they’ve gotten patent submissions), they’d at least be facing a formidable foe. What’s most interesting about this – and which could take some of the sting out of MPEG-LA’s threats from the get-go – is that a few companies in the above list also happen to be licensors for H264, namely Cisco, LG and Samsung – not the smallest names either.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see other companies join this initiative as well, since a royalty-free video codec simply makes very good business sense – especially as YouTube inches closer to a WebM-only future.
Of course, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t need consortia like this, but as we know all too well, the world isn’t ideal, and as long as governments are more interested in lining their own pockets instead of actually doing what’s good for us, we’ll have to deal with things like this.
OK, supposedly MPEG LA are building up a patent pool of WebM patents which they intend to claim read on WebM, and then (presumably) demand royalty payments from people using WebM.
Google claim that all of the patents related to (and required for) WebM are offered to everybody royalty-free. Google also have stated that they undertook an extensive patent search and analysis in relation to VP8 before Google purchased On2, and as a result of this search Google were very confident about WebM.
“From the very beginning, Google has claimed that the format is on solid legal ground. “We have done a pretty thorough analysis of VP8 and On2 Technologies prior to the acquisition and since then, and we are very confident with the technology and that’s why we’re open sourcing,” Google product manager Mike Jazayeri told us.”
Now think about the situation of a normal patent lawsuit. Normally, some company will have a product, and some patent holder will approach that company with a claim that the product violates their patent, and demand royalties. If the company refuses, only then the dispute goes to court.
With the MPEG LA patent pool for WebM, this situation is not the case. The patent holders who hold patents in the MPEG LA pool will never have approached Google at any point and tried to negotiate a deal.
Isn’t this a clear-cut slam-dunk case of tortious interference?
“Tortious interference, also known as Intentional interference with contractual relations, in the common law of tort, occurs when a person intentionally damages the plaintiff’s contractual or other business relationships.”
Isn’t the patent holder deliberately trying to interfere with Google’s business relations with other companies in relation to WebM?
Aren’t patent holders who believe they have a patent which reads on WebM supposed to approach Google first?
No wonder that MPEG LA are apparently under investigation for anti-trust violations.