DoJ investigating MPEG-LA attack on VP8/WebM open codecs #free culture #patents

On Mar 4 2011 Thomas Catan of the Wall Street Journal reported – Web Video Rivalry Sparks U.S. Probe – that the US Department of Justice is investigating the MPEG-LA patent pool over its efforts to hobble WebM, which competes with its h264 video format.

From the story

At present, no patent royalties are charged for using Google’s VP8 format. But MPEG LA has questioned that status, and last month issued a call for companies to submit patents they believe may be infringed by VP8. “I can tell you: VP8 is not patent-free,” Mr. Horn said. “It’s simply nonsense.”

For some people in the tech industry, the issue is less about cost and more about competition and control over technologies at the heart of the Internet. “How could it come to pass that it’s illegal to compete?” asked Monty Montgomery, who runs a free software foundation,, and supports VP8. “That’s when everybody’s antitrust bells should be going off.”

The threat of future lawsuits has helped persuade some companies to forsake VP8. Apple’s chief executive, Steve Jobs, explained in an email to the Free Software Foundation Europe last year that a patent pool was assembled to “go after” a previous open-source format.

“All video codecs are covered by patents,” Mr. Jobs wrote. “Unfortunately, just because something is open-source, it doesn’t mean or guarantee that it doesn’t infringe on others patents.”