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03.08.13

Google/Android Extorted Through MPEG-LA

Posted in Google, Patents at 11:53 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

MPEG LA logo

Summary: The latest attack by proxy on free platforms comes from the patents proxy of several proprietary software vendors and software patents proponents

The attack on Android is not always visible; some patent trolls are equipped with ammunition whose purpose it to tax everything. This helps raise the price of products, harming in particular everything which was free and thus permissive in the distribution sense. Microsoft, more than any other company, has been fighting hard against Linux and GNU.

Eric Brown, writing about storage systems the other weeks, pointed out that:

NAS vendors are drawn to Linux for its stability, security, and low cost. Linux rarely requires patching, is relatively immune to virus attacks, and can usually run in flash memory for even greater security. Lack of licensing fees is also a draw of course, although at least one NAS vendor — Buffalo — pays Microsoft via a patent covenant for the privilege of using Linux.

Pamela Jones responded with: “Microsoft is doing with patents what SCO tried but failed to do with copyrights, to Microsoft’s shame. So if you buy from them, this is the behavior you are enabling. And when you read about Microsoft “donating” to Open Source blah blah, remember what they are doing with patents, please.”

Over at a lawyers’ blog that Jones likes to cite [1, 2], some FRAND battles over Android and codec patents are described. Here is what Jones learned about the MPEG-LA assault:

In the Seattle litigation between Microsoft and Motorola over how much Microsoft should pay for Motorola’s FRAND patents, the presiding judge, Hon. James L. Robart, asked the parties to file short letter briefs by March 1st on how to interpret one section of the Google-MPEG LA license agreement, and they have now done so. As you will see, things have changed since Motorola revealed the terms of the Google-MPEG LA license. The judge now has questions about the language, after the January 28th hearing.

Does it cover Motorola as an affiliate of Google? Are all affiliates covered? Or only those specified by a licensee? And is the royalty cap provision in one section a stand-alone provision? Is there, in other words, a cap on how much Microsoft has to pay?

His request is related to his decision to reopen the trial that ended in November, now that Motorola has presented new evidence that didn’t present at that trial. It didn’t have to, by the way. The trial was to be held in parts, and November was part one. Now that the new arguments are on the table in connection with the next phase about exactly what the rate should be, however, the judge sees a need to go back and take another look, and I think you’ll agree with him that what Motorola has presented changes the picture, and not in a way that favors Microsoft as much as before, which was trying for a low-ball figure. And that is now in question.

MPEG-LA is a patent troll spearheaded by Larry Horn and backed by the likes of Microsoft, Nokia, and of course Apple. It seems like this troll took a bite just now. It’s a somewhat Google-hostile article:

Google enters into licensing agreement with MPEG LA to protect the WebM video format

When the WebM project was announced back in 2010, one its selling points was that it was open and free of the licensing needs imposed by competitors like H.264. That may have been slightly overstated, however, as Google and MPEG LA have just entered into a licensing agreement covering the video codec at the heart of the format. The codec is known as VP8, and while no financial figures are disclosed the agreement covers various patents from 11 different parties. Google also gains the ability to sublicense those technologies out to VP8 users, clearing the way for the company to push adoption of VP8 — and by extension, WebM — with impunity. “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.

Here is another take on it. It is a Google-friendly article, unlike the previous one:

Google has agreed to pay a licence fee to MPEG LA, LLC for techniques which they say may be essential to VP8 and earlier-generation VPx video compression technologies under patents owned by 11 patent holders.

This is a shame, but we don’t know what happened behind the scenes, possibly threats of massive litigation. The solution is to abolish software patents.

Watch who else is hounding Google over patents:

There are more comments filed with the FTC in response to its request for input on the proposed agreement in In the Matter of Motorola Mobility LLC, a limited liability company, and Google Inc., a corporation; FTC File No. 121 0120. As I mentioned earlier, not everyone is jumping on the currently fashionable bandwagon holding that if you donate a patent to a standards body, you give up all rights to injunctions. In fact, it’s easier to find opposition than support.

Notice Sony in there. Recently enough (for many of us to remember it) Sony attacked other Android players using patents, so here again we see Sony as a malicious antagonist of those whose work it relies on.

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