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07 March 2011, 10:36

Report: US DoJ investigating MPEG LA

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The ongoing battle for web video has taken a new turn with a Wall Street Journal report saying that US Department of Justice is investigating the MPEG LA patent licensing company. The report's sources also say the California State Attorney General's office is investigating the company. The DoJ is said to be investigating MPEG LA for "unfairly trying to smother a free rival technology for delivering online video", specifically the Google-backed WebM/VP8 codec.

MPEG LA runs patent pools for a number of technologies, the most prominent recently being the H.264 video codec used in consumer electronics devices, broadcast TV systems and for streaming and downloaded web video. MPEG LA sets royalty rates; it then collects those royalties and distributes them to the various patent holders.

Google announced VP8 in May 2010, after acquiring its developer, On2 in 2009. VP8 is positioned as a royalty free alternative to H.264 for video on the web which is unencumbered by patents. Since then, it has gained support from the FSF, Mozilla's Firefox, Google's own Chrome browser and others. MPEG LA launched a search in February for patents which might be applicable to VP8 as a first step in creating a patent pool for VP8 and charging royalties.

The MPEG LA has neither confirmed nor denied it is being investigated, but claims it is agnostic over formats, saying it acts only as a "convenience store" for patent holders. The company's CEO, Larry Horn, does defend the patent search saying, "I can tell you: VP8 is not patent-free".


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