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WebM's royalty-free HTML5 video raises patent issues

updated 03:00 pm EDT, Wed May 19, 2010

Google, Mozilla, Opera may be in trouble with WebM

The new WebM codec shown at the Google I/O day 1 keynote may run afoul of patents, according to an early analysis. Although pitched as a royalty-free HTML5 video standard using a combination of VP8 video and Ogg Vorbis, x264 developer Jason Garrett-Glaser notes that some of the implementations in the now Google-supported format are copied not just from On2's original creation but appear to be directly patterned after H.264, making it entirely possible that WebM violates patents. It resembles an only slightly improved version of the H.264 Baseline Profile and so could invite lawsuits from the MPEG-LA standards group for anyone that uses it.

"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," Garret-Glaser said. "Even VC-1 [used in HD DVD] 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."

The programmer's remarks support statements by Apple CEO Steve Jobs that his company was embracing H.264 over Ogg Theora (which users Ogg Vorbis) because of possible patent issues. Although he publicly supports the concept of open web platforms, Jobs warned that open-sourcing formats didn't guarantee they would be patent-free. H.264 often involves royalties for the companies that implement it but is currently free for users and, as a result, lets Apple and others implement it for HTML5 video knowing neither they nor customers will be sued.

Garrett-Glaser added that the format may be technically inferior to higher-quality versions of H.264. It's technically superior to Ogg Theora and other open-source standards but is slow to encode and lacks many of the compression techniques used to boost quality and efficiency in H.264's Main and High Profiles. The efficiency and image quality are "not even close to competitive" with higher-bitrate H.264, the developer said.

At present, WebM also doesn't have hardware acceleration and could be much less efficient on mobile devices, although Google is talking with companies to get it built-in. Jobs cited the weak state of hardware acceleration as a key reason behind rejecting Flash for the iPhone.

Neither Google nor its WebM partners Mozilla and Opera have commented on the accusations; they may already encounter patent issues as the YouTube HTML5 beta and an Opera beta both implement the codec.

by MacNN Staff



  1. RonC

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Can someone re-write this so it's understandable?

  1. Jonathan-Tanya

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Or they may not be violating any patents

    They may be violating patents, or may be violating none.

    Microsoft just lost another major patent battle, and is paying out $200 million.

    Apple has lost its own patent battles in the past, and is currently defending against several charges of patent violations.

    But beyond these patent fights, we now have the ugly spectre of companies rumor mongering and speculating about patent fights that haven't even begun yet, and its reported as news.

    This story should be about how Microsoft is supporting the open source codec in IE9 after all, as was recently announced.

    So much for the 'patent posse'.

  1. Jonathan-Tanya

    Joined: Dec 1969


    statement by MPEG-LA

    "No assurance is or can be made that the License includes every essential patent"


    from the article above: "lets Apple and others implement it [H.264] for HTML5 video knowing neither they nor customers will be sued."

    That's what we call a contradiction. MPEG-LA is very clear that they don't guarantee you won't be sued.
    As a matter of fact, I heard on the grapevine, AT&T feels that H.264 violates their patents.


  1. RoosterJuice

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Web patent's are stupid

    They just hinder innovation.

  1. Mike Richardson

    Joined: Dec 1969


    s**** patents. Use MPEG-1.

    There are no known active patents on MPEG-1, as well as Layer I and II audio (Layer III, also known as MP3, does have some remaining patents).

    We should just use MPEG-1 with a de-blocking filter. It's very light on CPU usage (very old computers can play MPEG-1 entirely in software, I'm talking 200 MHz 604e chips or Pentium II's) - so it's no problem for the iPad's 1 GHz chip or even the oldest iPhone's 400 MHz chip.

    There would be increased bandwidth requirements - you have to encode at least twice the bitrate - but no patents right?

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969



    The other point on the whole Mp4 and H264 thing is how it currently is free, but there's no agreement that it will always be free.

    And is the person saying there are patent issues an independent developer, or someone whose close to the H264 team and, thus, has reasons to downplay or raise FUD on any competition.

  1. TheSnarkmeister

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Can someone write this so it is understandable...

    Patent holders are fearful of a royalty free open source codec, so they are doing everything possible to frighten people away from adopting it. Let's face, before long these supposedly "free-market capitalists" are going to go to Washington and get their cronies there to make it illegal to NOT charge a comparable price for anything that competes with their products. Mercantilism is alive and well in the "land of the free."

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