M+E Daily

Report: U.S. Launches Investigation of Video Patent Licensors

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an antitrust investigation into whether video patent licensors belonging to the MPEG LA are unfairly trying to block adoption of the Google-backed VP8 video codec, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The MPEG LA manages patent licensing for the market-leading H.264 video codec on behalf of 29 companies, including Apple and Microsoft. In February, the group issued a call to companies for patents essential to VP8, a video format that Google itself markets to publishers under open, royalty-free licenses in an effort to spur adoption. (Publishers of free Internet videos pay no royalties to the MPEG LA for use of H.264, under a permanent moratorium announced by the group last August.)

Neither the Justice Department, the MPEG LA, nor Google have confirmed or denied the investigation, which according to the Journal will examine whether companies are trying to create legal uncertainty over the use of VP8.

Yet even as Google’s marketing of VP8 may have given the technology open-source overtones, MPEG LA’s Larry Horn maintains in an interview with the Journal that the format “is not patent-free.”

Proponents of various video formats are jockeying for position as content producers develop apps and sites with the new HTML 5 programming language. In the competition to become the preferred video format among developers, an MPEG LA spokesperson reiterates to M&E Daily, “MPEG LA plays no part and takes no position. MPEG LA does not favor, disfavor or promote any technology. We simply facilitate patent licenses of convenience for the market that may be of assistance to users in making their own technology choices.”