Is Google Trying To Kill Web Video?

Imagine if web video suddenly disappeared from smartphones one day. Well, Microsoft says that if Google isn't stopped that calamitous day might not be far off . That's a lofty charge, but is it truth or hyperbole?

Microsoft just filed an anti-trust complaint in the EU alleging that Google-owned Motorola Mobility is unfairly using its web video and wireless patents to keep Microsoft products off the shelves — and that it could ruin the web for everyone. Apple filed a similar complaint last week. According to a blog post by a Microsoft lawyer:

You probably take for granted that you can view videos on your smartphone, tablet, PC, or DVD/Blu-ray player and connect to the Internet without being tied to a cable. That works because the industry came together years ago to define common technical standards that every firm can use to build compatible products for video and Wi-Fi. Motorola and all the other firms that contributed to these standards also made a promise to one another: that if they had any patents essential to the standards, they would make their patents available on fair and reasonable terms, and would not use them to block competitors from shipping their products.

Basically, Motorola owns the patents to several "essential" web video standards, but agreed to friendly and non-discriminatory licensing (FRAND) of these patents. All companies do this with their patents to a certain extent because without FRANDs, it would be almost impossible for new technologies to catch on. Microsoft and scores of other companies adopted Motorola's standards for wireless and web video ages ago. The patents are so fundamental that you really can't find a way around them with an alternate technology.

Now Microsoft says that Motorola and Google are reneging on the FRANDs by taking legal action against companies that use those standards and demanding exorbetant payment for their use. The mighty voice of Foss Patents agrees:

I can see what Apple and Microsoft are complaining about. If every owner of standard-essential patents behaved like Motorola, this industry would be in chaos, and grind to a halt.

In other words, if a few of Motorola's lawsuits go the wrong way, everyone will have to either pay up or stop using the patents. According to Microsoft:

For a $1,000 laptop, Motorola is demanding that Microsoft pay a royalty of $22.50 for its 50 patents on the video standard, called H.264. As it turns out, there are at least 2,300 other patents needed to implement this standard. They are available from a group of 29 companies that came together to offer their H.264 patents to the industry on FRAND terms. Microsoft's patent royalty to this group on that $1,000 laptop?

Two cents.

Those numbers are pretty damning, and Microsoft's complaint says it constitues unfair competition. What's more, Microsoft claims it could have a damaging effect on technologies we all use everyday by cordoning off wireless and web video from much of the market. Listening to the experts, it appears that Microsoft has something of a case here, and its claim that web video is in jeopardy isn't far off either. Some companies would agree to pay big for the patents for some products, but the bottom line is that if Moto-Google gets its way, many products simply won't be made or they won't include the technologies that we've come to rely on. [Microsoft and Foss Patents]

Image: Rafa Irusta/Shutterstock.com


Comments

    Wait, so Apple is allowed to run around patent trolling everyone on stupid superficial things, but when someone with an Patent that actually counts (i.e. had R&D go into it, rather than "swipe finger accross phone to unlock") everyone gets up in arms. This whole situation is rediculas.

      I don’t know about “allowed”. No one was happy with Apple taking Samsung to court in Australia late last year. And that’s the tip of their iceberg:

      http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/01/its-time-for-apple-to-stop-patent-trolling/

      I believe the main issue here is the "reneging'. Something that was once open and free will now be incurring a cost. This is not the same as Apple and Microsoft in that they charge from day 1 or don't allow anyone else to use them from the get go, so at least they are consistent and predictable unlike those who change their minds.

    Does anyone ever make any money out of suing? One company sues another, then they, in turn, get sued by someone else. It's a vicious circle of greedy idiots.

      The Lawyers I would image make a fair bit of money off of it

    What happened to not being evil?

      The same exact thing is being done to makers of phones with Android, so Google are probable just using what leverage they have to try and level the playing field.

    This is why everyone should be using Ogg Vorbis or even Google's own WebM.
    None of these pesky H.264 patent issues there.

      We still trust Google as if they are our best buddy... Please...

        The difference is that WebM has been open sourced by Google aand is therefore free to create, use and distribute, H.264 is not open sourced.

        My belief is that Google is doing their best to kill H.264 so that everyone migrates to the free WebM format. Not saying that this is a good way of doing it, just mentioning a possible rational.

    So an increase of 1% in a $2k laptop is going to end web video?

    Isn't $22 what Microsoft extort from the sale of every HTC phone? I remember Appleinsider gleefully trumpeting about that, AND similar situations with many companies that put Android on phones..
    So it's a complete non-issue if all those companies are extorted but if any of them turn around and do the same thing to Microsoft or Apple it's suddenly "evil" and trying to kill video on the web etc...

    Things truly are broken.

      Because such blogs (macrumors, cultofmac, appleinsider, daringfireball, giz us) want to have their cake and eat it too. Call it tall poppy syndrome, but as long as the status quo is maintained, they're happy with Android OEMs being extorted by MS. If Google does the same game, it's suddenly a flimsy accusation of hypocrisy.

      Do these clowns even realise what 'Don't Be Evil' means? It does not mean Google must revert to a passive, uncompetitive state to uphold their mantra (which as some believe, is legal policy). Is everyone else on the field evil for doing the same thing? applying human concepts like good/evil to multinationals is juvenile, even in cases like 3rd world exploitation which are undoubtedly immoral.

    If Apple and Microsoft Aren't going to play fair why should Google

    I think its about time they are on the other side of the law suit

    Don't forget that MS "owns" Apple. A decade or so ago when Apple looked they were going under and so would give MS a monopoly in the PC world MS dropped $200 million on Apple to keep them going. (As a monopoly the US government would look real hard at MS's business practices.) So to me it looks like MS is calling in some favours not to save web video but to maintain its profit margins.

      This is a mixture of urban legend and outright bullshit. No company, even under investigation for antitrust is legally obligated to give money to a competitor.

        Read again,I never said MS was legally obliged to give money only that they did.

        Anyhow read about the money changing hands for yourself here
        http://news.cnet.com/2100-1001-202143.html
        And yeah it was the result of the settlement of a lawsuit, no truly.

    Google is just playing the game everyone else has been.
    http://arstechnica.com/media/news/2010/02/royalty-free-codec-still-needed-despite-no-cost-h264-license.ars

    Wow, people need to understand that Microsoft has already paid for the licenses from Mototola. That they are ESSENTIAL, and with promised FRAND.

    Whereas the money Microsoft gets from Android manufacturers is because of the blatant code stealing that Android uses. Which even then simply boils down to Google's insistence on using the Apache license for Android.

    Two completely different cases.

    When the USPTO went berzerk granting software patents these actions were the inevitable result.
    Google is fighting with low blows just like Apple and Microsoft because they can. FRAND does NOT stop Motorola asking whatever it thinks the patents are worth. Microsoft has NOT already paid for the patents. Microsoft is a member of MPEG-LA and contributes to the patent pool as a whole for h264 on an ongoing basis. Nothing stops Motorola asking for bigger cut to continue in the patent pool (like when your landlord puts your rent up). The argument is whether Motorola's demands are 'Fair and Reasonable'. Motorola would say they are, Microsoft says they're not.
    I suspect they're not because I don't think Motorola expects them to pay. h264 despite promises from MPEG-LA not to charge for video end-user licenses remains a royalty timebomb. MPEG-LA made those concessions purely to reduce resistance to h264 becoming the web standard. They can change their position and major web video users like Google aren't in the clear either.
    Google wants a completely free web video standard (at least as far as Googles use is concerned) and is poisoning the MPEG-LA well to get it.

    "Basically, Motorola owns the patents to several “essential” web video standards, but agreed to friendly and non-discriminatory licensing (FRAND) of these patents."

    Sorry, but this is about the H.264 video codec. H.264 is as far removed from a "web video standard" as it's possible to be. All web standards are required to be offered under royalty-free terms. H.264 is not royalty-free and is therefore not a web standard.

    Instead of whining about royalty-bearing formats required you to (shock! horror!) pay royalties, Microsoft should instead focus on bringing support for royalty-free formats to Internet Explorer. All other web formats are royalty-free. Audio and video can be royalty-free too. Save yourself time and money by adding built-in support for Vorbis and WebM and be happy, Microsoft.

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