File Under: HTML5, Multimedia, Web Basics

Google Pools WebM Video Supporters for Patent Protection

Google has announced the new WebM Community Cross License (CCL) initiative. The new group is designed to create a patent-safe haven around Google’s WebM video codec for HTML5 video. Members of the new CCL initiative agree to license any WebM-related patents to each other under royalty-free terms.

The WebM codec is one of several ways web developers can deliver native HTML5 video on the web, without requiring the Flash Player plugin or other proprietary, non-standard tools. The other major codec, H.264, is older and more widespread, but carries expensive licensing fees for broadcasting sites like YouTube.

So far Firefox 4, Opera, Chrome and Internet Explorer 9 (via a plugin) all support the WebM codec. Apple’s Safari and Mobile Safari are the lone holdouts for H.264 (IE9 also supports H.264).

Microsoft, which many suspected would ignore WebM, has thus far remained cautiously supportive of WebM. While the company doesn’t include support out of the box, it has pledged to support users who “install third-party WebM video support on Windows.” Many of Microsoft’s concerns about WebM revolve around unresolved patents and licensing.

Google’s CCL initiative seems geared at least in part to assuage Microsoft’s patent fears, laying out in clear terms how participating companies will handle patents. In short, organizations that join the CCL agree to license any essential patented WebM technologies to other members of the CCL under royalty-free terms, affording each member a measure of protection against potential patent lawsuits.

For the launch Google has put together 16 companies including AMD, Cisco, LG and Samsung, as well as browser makers Opera and Mozilla.

The elephant in the room is the MPEG-LA organization which governs the licensing of the H.264 codec. MPEG-LA recently closed out its call for the submission of patents essential to WebM, but has yet to announce any lawsuits against WebM. That does not of course mean that MPEG-LA has failed to come up with any potential WebM patent violations. In fact, not announcing anything helps build the sense of patent fear, uncertainty and doubt that surrounds WebM at the moment.

But MPEG-LA may have problems of its own. The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly investigating the group to see whether the organization is trying to stifle competition from Google. Our friends at Ars Technica report that DOJ investigators are “looking into whether MPEG-LA or its member companies (which include Apple and Microsoft) are making an active effort to cripple adoption of WebM.”

While WebM’s future may still be in doubt, Google is clearly pushing forward regardless. The company has already removed H.264 support from its Chrome web browser and recently began serving up WebM videos on YouTube. With the new CCL initiative Google has expanded its range of WebM allies beyond just browser makers and is well on its way to having a patent pool that can back up WebM against MPEG-LA.

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