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25 March 2013, 11:38

Nokia lines up patents against VP8 video codec

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Patents icon Google's VP8 video codec, which the company has offered as royalty-free and unencumbered, could be heading for rougher terrain: Nokia has informed the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) that 64 of its existing patents and 22 patent applications could potentially be infringed by VP8. Nokia says it is not prepared to offer licences to the patents on a royalty-free basis or under FRAND (Fair Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory) terms as used by some standards bodies.

The IETF defines three licensing models for its RFC (Request For Comment)-based standards:

  • royalty-free, reasonable and non-discriminatory,
  • reasonable and non-discriminatory, but not royalty-free, and
  • without any explicit licence from the patent holder.

Nokia has said "no" to all three options. A Nokia spokesperson told patent observer Florian Müller that the company's decision to intervene was made because: "Nokia believes that open and collaborative efforts for standardisation are in the best interests of consumers, innovators and the industry as a whole. We are now witnessing one company attempting to force the adoption of its proprietary technology, which offers no advantages over existing, widely deployed standards such as H.264 and infringes Nokia's intellectual property."

At the beginning of March 2013, Google announced it had reached a licence agreement with MPEG LA. The agreement entitles Google to use techniques that may have infringed patents that are owned by 11 companies. Google is also allowed to sub-license to other companies and developers. The agreement fuelled the assumption that this would put an end to the patent dispute around VP8. Google has already submitted VP8 to the ISO MPEG group for consideration as a new standard for free internet video.

Although Nokia has worked with MPEG LA in the past, it appears to license its codec patents outside the organisation's patent pools. Whether it was one of the companies that submitted its patents when MPEG LA was forming a patent pool is not known, though 12 companies saw their submitted patents evaluated as suitable for a patent pool, but only 11 were involved in the settlement with Google.

It is not just Google's wish that VP8 should supersede the older H.264 as a browser codec for videos. The codec is currently supported by Opera, Firefox and Chrome, though Google's Chrome has continued to support H.264 and Mozilla recently enabled the use of external H.264 codecs to play back H.264 media. Apple's Safari and Microsoft Internet Explorer continue to support only H.264, which will be available for streaming free video content free of charge in perpetuity. Although the Mozilla Foundation could have paid an anticipated annual $5 million in licence fees for implementing an H.264 player, the Firefox developers chose to switch to VP8/WebM because it wouldn't have been possible to pass on the purchased licence to third parties such as Linux distributors.

Groklaw has started a call for prior art and has broken down the Nokia patent list by country.


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