“The Justice Department is investigating whether a group representing some top technology firms is unfairly trying to smother a free rival technology for delivering online video that is backed by Google Inc., according to people familiar with the matter,” Thomas Catan reports for The Wall Street Journal. “Currently, video-streaming services like Netflix Inc. and Google’s YouTube pay patent royalties, as do makers of Blu-ray disc players and other hardware.”
“These firms pay royalties to an organization called MPEG LA, which is the target of the formal antitrust probe, the people familiar with the matter said,” Catan reports. “MPEG has amassed pools of patents covering widely used video formats and collects royalties for its members, which include Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp.”
“Antitrust enforcers are investigating whether MPEG LA, or its members, are trying to cripple an alternative format called VP8 that Google released last year—by creating legal uncertainty over whether users might violate patents by employing that technology, these people added,” Catan reports. “The probe, which pits Google and open-source software advocates against some technology giants like Apple, could help determine whether anyone will own rights over the creation and broadcast of online video in the next major Web programming language, called HTML 5.”
Catan writes, “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.’ 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 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.'”
Read more in the full article here.
[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]