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05.26.10

Microsoft and MPEG-LA Called “Patent Trolls”, Antitrust Complaint Filed

Posted in Antitrust, Google, Microsoft, Patents at 3:24 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

MPEG LA logo

Summary: The MPEG Cartel and Microsoft Corporation both engage in abusive activities whereby patents are used anti-competitively and discriminatingly

IF THERE IS something that Microsoft and MPEG-LA have in common, it is that both are using patent bullies ‘on the side’.

In our previous posts about the subject we showed that MPEG-LA was headed by a patent troll (Larry Horn), who is already taking shots at VP8.

A few days ago we showed that the CEO of Salesforce called Microsoft “alley thugs” and according to IDG he also indirectly called them patent trolls (by analogy):

Salesforce.com CEO Says Microsoft Is a ‘patent Troll’

[...]

Speaking with reporters on the sidelines of a company conference in Singapore, Benioff declined to comment on specifics of the suit, but reiterated his description of Microsoft as a patent troll.

“Patent trolls are part of the industry today, that’s just the way it is. We’ve dealt with them before and we’ll deal with this situation in the same exact way,” Benioff said, noting that the Microsoft lawsuit would have no material impact on the company.

This post, however, is hardly about Microsoft, which pays trolls like Acacia and promotes cartels like MPEG-LA. It would be more useful to concentrate on the latter entity because it is being sued for antitrust violations, just like Microsoft.

It’s no secret (though certain copyright and patent system defenders insist otherwise) that copyrights and patents are monopoly privileges, granted by the government. In fact, some of our elected officials have made the argument that antitrust law should be used against the worst abuses of intellectual property law. While it’s unclear how successfully that will play in courts, we may soon have a bit of a test case. Slashdot points us to the news that German company Nero AG is suing MPEG-LA, claiming abuse of monopoly power with its patent pools for licensing digital video codecs.

Nero added GNU/Linux support a few years ago. Here are some more details and the text of the lawsuit [PDF].

Nero AG, a company with one of the most fitting names ever (can you imagine a company called Hitler or Stalin 2000 years from now?), has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the MPEG-LA. The German technology company claims the licensing body has abused its monopoly power, and that is has not honoured agreements made with the US Department of Justice. There’s some juicy stuff in here.

Our reader Ryan asks: “Nero is suing the MPEG Cartel while promoting the Nero AAC encoder?

“The funniest part is where it says that all of the MPEG-2 “essential” patents have expired, so MPEG Cartel trumped up some more.”

MPEG-LA is headed by Larry Horn (the ‘horny’ patent troll, the troll with the horns), so it deserves no sympathy. Horn is truly a patent troll (by definition) and by extension, Posgon calls MPEG-LA a “Patent Troll”.

They make no bones about it. These trolls are “going after” users of technology. They are pirates. Let us hope SCOTUS pops their balloon today.

Here is what Slashdot had to say about the subject and here is the extortion tariff:

MPEG LA: Yes, since the Web site is receiving remuneration for the AVC video content it makes available on a subscription basis, it would benefit from the coverage our AVC License provides. The amount of royalties owed, if any, would depend on the number of Subscribers to that website during a calendar year:

100,000 or fewer subscribers/year = no royalty;
100,001 – 250,000 subscribers/year = $25,000;
250,001 – 500,000 subscribers/year = $50,000;
500,001 – 1,000,000 subscribers/year = $75,000;
and more than 1,000,000 subscribers/year = $100,000.

“Holy cow,” wrote Pamela Jones in Groklaw, “$100,000 for one video based on all subscribers for the year, instead of how many actually viewed it, at least, and do you really believe that such a single typical video brings in that much value to WSJ? Are patent dudes off their rockers? Just how many such videos would you want to offer at those rates? *Now* do you see the magnitude of what Google has just done? Thank you, Google.”

Florian wrote about this subject as well.

For the time being, I believe it’s best to wait until there are news, either positive ones from Google (concerning its patent clearance and/or its indemnification policy) or negative ones from other patent holders. One way or the other, this situation should be clarified before anyone takes a risk.

Here is an analysis that Florian is citing.

An analysis of WebM and its patent risk

[...]

So, calling Google out for releasing the study on possible patent infringement is something that has no sense at all: they will never release it to the public.

There is additional analysis from Ryan Paul and in the next post we will discuss the fact that WebM is not really Open Source, according to the OSI.

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