Google is hitching its wagon to an open source and royalty free video format known as “WebM” which utilizes the Google owned VP8 codec which they acquired when they purchased On2 Technologies back in February. Google is hoping that this 1-2 punch will rival the Apple backed H.264 standard. And despite reports that Google’s move might put Apple on the ropes, Apple CEO Steve Jobs doesn’t seem to be the least bit concerned.
Yesterday, a Register reader sent Jobs an email asking for his thoughts on Google’s announcement. Jobs didn’t even bother with an actual answer, and instead responded with a link to a particularly technical blogpost where developer Jason Garret-Glaser called the WebM/VP8 combo a “mess”, “not ready for primetime,” and likely to run into serious patent issues down the road.
Regarding patents and royalty payments, Garret-Glaser writes:
Finally, the problem of patents appears to be rearing its ugly head again. VP8 is simply way too similar to H.264: a pithy, if slightly inaccurate, description of VP8 would be “H.264 Baseline Profile with a better entropy coder”. Though I am not a lawyer, I simply cannot believe that they will be able to get away with this, especially in today’s overly litigious day and age. Even VC-1 differed more from H.264 than VP8 does, and even VC-1 didn’t manage to escape the clutches of software patents. Until we get some hard evidence that VP8 is safe, I would be extremely cautious. Since Google is not indemnifying users of VP8 from patent lawsuits, this is even more of a potential problem.
Moreover, John Paczkowski of All Things D went a step further and interviewed Larry Horn, the CEO of MPEG LA, “the consortium that controls the AVC/H.264 video standard.”
In an email exchange with Horn, Paczkowski asked if MPEG LA is creating a patent pool license for VP8 or if they’ve been approached about creating a such a patent pool.
Yes, in view of the marketplace uncertainties regarding patent licensing needs for such technologies, there have been expressions of interest from the market urging us to facilitate formation of licenses that would address the market’s need for a convenient one-stop marketplace alternative to negotiating separate licenses with individual patent holders in accessing essential patent rights for VP8 as well as other codecs, and we are looking into the prospects of doing so.
While Apple has a minority stake in the H.264 patent pool, they certainly aren’t driving the boat. MPEG LA’s patent portfolio as it relates to H.264 contains over 1,000 patents attributable to 26 companies, including Microsoft, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Panasonic. A number of other entities, such as Universities and research institutes, also have patents protected under MPEG LA’s license.
In short, it seems that Google’s grandiose statements regarding and open and royalty free video codec might simply be a lot of hot air.