Google’s VP8 video compression format, which the company acquired from On2 Technologies, is an open standard and covered by a free patent license. That, however, didn’t stop MPEG LA, the guardians of the H.264 patent and license, from looking into creating a patent pool in 2011 and potentially suing Google for patent infringement upon its competing codec. Today, however, MPEG LA and Google announced that they have come to an agreement. MPEG LA will grant Google a license “to techniques that may be essential to VP8 and earlier-generation VPx video compression technologies under patents owned by 11 patent holders.”
The agreement allows Google to sub-license the techniques covered by the agreement to any VP8 user and also covers the next generation of the VPx codec. As part of this deal, MPEG LA is discontinuing its efforts to form a VP8 patent pool. Chances are Google had to pay for this license, but the financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.
“We are pleased for the opportunity to facilitate agreements with Google to make VP8 widely available to users.”
MPEG LA President and CEO Larry Horn.
The relative uncertainty around VP8 definitely hindered its adoption outside of Google. Microsoft, for example, decided to keep the Google-backed WebM media file format that was built around VP8 out of its browser because of this uncertainty. The WebRTC standard, however, which most browser vendors have now adopted, is built around the VP8 codec.
“This is a significant milestone in Google’s efforts to establish VP8 as a widely deployed web video format,” said Allen Lo, Google’s deputy general counsel for patents, in a statement today.
Despite Google’s efforts, H.264 remains the de facto standard for video codecs. The fact that it is build into WebRTC (and that the standard doesn’t allow for alternative codecs) is a boon for proponents of open standards. Now that the uncertainty around VP8 is out of the way, Microsoft may even decide to adopt WebRTC for Internet Explorer instead of its own version of the standard.
For the time being, however, this virtually no support for hardware-based VP8 encoders and decoders, while virtually every video-enabled device can handle H.264 without taxing the CPU.
With both the next-gen H.265 standards and Google’s VP9 codecs already in the works, today’s agreement could mean we’ll see more competition in the video codec space in the coming months. Mostly, though, this agreement takes away the uncertainty around VP8 and will surely lead to its wider adoption.