However, the IETF is currently trying working on the WebRTC effort for standardizing Skype-style audio and video conferencing via web-browsers. They have already standardised the Opus audio codec for audio-conferencing, and now they're trying to find a suitable video-codec. VP8 was the obvious choice, but now Nokia (who is not a member of the MPEG-LA, and so is not covered by MPEG-LA's agreement with Google) has come forward with a list of patents they hold, which they claim cover VP8.
I don't know much about these patents, I don't know whether they do or don't cover VP8, but it's big list with patent-numbers in it, which is far more concrete evidence than MPEG-LA was ever able to muster.
MPEG-LA did not claim to have all possible VP8 patents either.
Note that MPEG-LA is basically a group that sets up convenient one-stop licensing, there's no such thing as being a "member" per se. You can be part of any of their patent pools, or not, if you believe you have essential IP.
This is not the first time Nokia did this. IIRC, they also threatened Ogg when it was being proposed as the mandatory codec for the <video> element.
Certain companies that have large installed bases of H264 hardware certainly have a vested interested in seeing H264 as the mandatory WebRTC codec.
IETF's royalty-free commitment isn't as strong as W3C's so unlike the HTML5 codec were they were just filibustering alternatives, they are actually arguing for H.264 to be MTI. But the VP8 camp is strong enough to at least prevent that, even if not strong enough to prevail as MTI itself.
There's some overlap with the groups that didn't want Opus made MTI as well (one of them submitted a patent against it too).
Take US6735249 as an example. "Apparatus, and associated method, for forming a compressed motion vector field utilizing predictive motion coding".
I'm by no means an expert in video codecs, but to me it seems at least plausible that this patent would cover parts of VP8.
It includes a reference to an "apparatus" in the summary, and a ref to "storage means" [sic] (should be "storage medium") in one of the claims, but that claim (4) is the only one I noticed that makes any reference to any non-theoretical, non-mathematical, non-ephemeral (i.e. the vague notion of "transmitting" or "retrieving") element.
If patenting math weren't bad enough, completely absurd chained claims include:
3. A method according to claim 2 further comprising the steps of: transmitting said coded information to a decoder for decoding.
4. A method according to claim 2 further comprising the steps of: storing said coded information in a storage means.
42. A video encoder according to claim 41, further comprising: means for transmitting said encoded information for the segment to a decoder for decoding.
If claims 2 and 41 (base claims for 3, 4, and 42) are too weak to apply in a particular case, or are unpatentable (which should be the case since they are math claims), they cannot possibly be made stronger simply by handwaving in some mentions of storage and of transferring data. Yet that is how all of these algorithm/math patents hope to survive. Reference a computer, referencing storing something, reference transmitting something, and suddenly something that's not patentable becomes patentable.
This patent racket depends on the idea that it's so uncommon to think to use a computer to perform some calculation, or implement an algorithm in a chip, or use disks or memory to store data, or use a data bus or ethernet/infiniband/rapidio to transmit anything, that adding those things (usually not even mentioning a specific type of computer, or storage, or transmission mechanism) vaults the idea into uniqueness.
Supposing 3, 4, and 42 somehow survived, because they might in the strictest sense be considered to involved material things, they amount to retrieving data (from an unspecified data source), performing transformations (math) to them (using unspecified hardware), and possibly storing or transmitting the results (again, hardware unspecified).
Software patents are simply a scam. They take something that's unpatentable subject matter, add generic boilerplate to it, trying to connect it with real hardware, and hope the USPTO approves it.
Able isn't the right word here; willing, or perhaps needed is more apt. MPEG-LA had no incentive to make their claims more specific. We're not really sure what the consortium could/would've brought to bear in an infringement suit.
Note that there's absolutely no downside for Nokia to declare irrelevant patents against an IETF spec. Some of the other big companies do it just out of habit, on the basis that it's all upside for them.
See the recent Opus patent rebuttal:
Now I see why Nokia (with an ex-Microsoft CEO) doesn't want VP8 to succeed. Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 and is looking to protect that investment. Wouldn't be the first time that had happened at least.
Deja Vu: http://boingboing.net/2007/12/09/nokia-to-w3c-ogg-is.html
Things that make you go hmmm.
All that software patent bullshit needs to stop, already, it's sickening!! It's the <video> tag discussion all over again. Why can't we have royalty-free, free-for-all codecs in an OPEN worldwide standard?! Because stupid companies like Nokia, MS or Apple are NOT acting on behalf of the users but on behalf of their own income.
And don't start with "but h264 has so much better quality!" No normal person could tell the difference between a proper vp8 encoded FullHD youtube video and a h264 one, it's not like there are glaring differences!
The glaring difference is in the ubiquitous hardware encoder/decoder support, which in itself is more than enough reason to prefer H264 anywhere. I'd be really happy if everyone should finally stop beating the dead horse that is VP8, because as it stands it never served any other purpose than channeling unfounded bias against H264 because it is not 'free' enough for some people to comprehend, even though neither industry nor consumers have ever made a big problem out of this. A bit like no-one ever bothered to complain about the fact that there are millions of other technologies in widespread use that aren't royalty-free. The fear-mongering and FUD about MPEG-LA as if they are some kind of extortionist codec mafia really has been mind-boggling from day 1.
I tell you how i see it: In a world without MPEG-LA (even without h264) there would still be good video codecs. There are plenty out there (e.g. VP8, VP9, Dirac and what not). They were created like many other codecs and standards and still they can exist, there is no need for the MPEG-LA!
The only purpose the MPEG-LA has is to prevent competition (and thus prevent choice for the endconsumer, for me!) from entering the market.
And even without the MPEG-LA and the licensing model (and the obvious patent trolling behaviour in the past) there is enough money to make for codec implementations and content creators. Why can't it be that way, that we have a "free" codec (as i've said, there are alternatives) without the licensing and yet we can still have a whole industry around them. Hardware chips could support a free codec and h264. The W3C could recommend a free codec for HTML5 video and webrtc. Software companies that write encoding/decoding software could even earn more money (no fees) and would thrive on competition and not rely on suppression/patent trolling. I think that everyone (meaning the customer!) would win, if the MPEG-LA (and other patent trolls) would be shut down, you'll have a hard time to convince me otherwise.
I couldn't care less about the "hardware decoder/encoder support" argument, because it's a symptom of all that MPEG-LA crap, not a reason. Everything the MPEG-LA works for is to make sure there will only be that one video codec. They will also make sure that only H265 will get enough hardware support (see, 2 codecs in one chip, is this even possible you say!?)..
And on it goes, it's a kind of monopoly and one that knows how to play the game and keep earning money.
The point that there are "other technologies in widespread use that aren't royalty-free." is not an argument, it's just a sad fact. In general there are alternatives available and in general i don't see such a patent abusing behaviour in other areas.
MPEG-LA even arranges patent licensing for some codecs not developed by MPEG, such as SMPTE VC-1.
They may have a vested interest in the royalty-bearing license regime but not necessarily in supporting any given codec family.
Nor did the uproar of Chinese DVD manufacturers who saw the value of IP in a DVD player rise to nearly half the cost of production and put many out of business.
And no consumer has ever complained about DRM or region-coding on their video content that rely on their patents as Hook IP to be enforced in player devices.
Hence are very much key members of MPEG-LA.
And the reason H.264 is successful is not because of its superior quality. It's because MPEG-LA has companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Canon, Nikon which means H.264 is supported from capture to editing to publishing to viewing.
Though they have patents in the H.264 pool that MPEG LA licenses, Microsoft has said it pays MPEG LA twice as much in royalties to ship H.264-enabled products than it receives in royalty payments back. And Apple has only a single patent in the H.264 pool, so it appears its interests in H.264 and MPEG LA are not directly financial.
The reason Apple and MS are ok with H.264 is that they are large and can easily absorb the cost, but it is harder for new players in the marketplace to do that, and harder for people at the cheaper end of the market where margins are much thinner. (There are other reasons too of course, like engineering time already invested in H.264, hardware support on millions of devices already shipped etc etc).
If you want to get anywhere with your argument then you are going to have to convince people at Apple and Microsoft and others. Calling them liars and dreaming up conspiracy theories about how they are going to make billions from MPEG-LA revenues won't help you convince them. Trying to publicly shame them with bad publicity isn't working and never had much chance of working because very few regular people care that Mozilla or Ubuntu might have to pay royalties for video codecs.
Final word of advice: move development out of the US. There are plenty of countries that don't recognise software patents. Remember the crypto situation? The answer there was to move crypto development outside the US. Make software patents into an argument about "US Jobs", and you will have a much easier time convincing legislators. At the moment they are being told that software patents protect US jobs, and that argument is always going to trump more ethereal ones about fair competition and freedom.
You seem to be arguing that standards prevent competition. When in fact they cause it to flourish.
To put it into one sentence: A standard should NEVER ever be controlled/represented/defended by a group of companies with monetary interests.
If you have a monetary interest in upholding a standard it is clear that you will try to prevent competition.
You mean like VP8/WebM by Google?
You try and fork H.264 you get sued.
The fundamental freedom in "open" is freedom to fork. Everyone forgets that.
Given that licensing isn't broken out or even mentioned in their market conference calls gives you a pretty good indication that it is a pretty insignificant amount.
a) ___ No License Required for Implementers
b) ___ Royalty-Free, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory License to All Implementers
c) ___ Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory License to All Implementers with Possible Royalty/Fee
Contrast to Microsoft who claims mysterious patents on Android and refuses to disclose what they are purposefully to create and aura of FUD and prevent any resolution. With these patents in the open, Google can work around them, license them or dispute their infringement directly.
That's the evil part. It means they are unwilling to license those patents. https://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-ietf-ipr-template-09
One would think that Google would on average be better at searching through a large database of patents than any other company, though.
That's why international patent lawyers earn so much money. They rewrite the patent to fit national law.
The patent system is broken and has to be removed.
It might be solid gold in every other respect, but it's not a very good example of open source innovation or of patents harming innovation.
If you or your agent or exclusive licensee institute or order or agree to the institution of patent litigation against any entity (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit) alleging that this implementation of VP8 or any code incorporated within this implementation of VP8 constitutes direct or contributory patent infringement, or inducement of patent infringement, then any patent rights granted to you under this License for this implementation of VP8 shall terminate as of the date such litigation is filed. 
Of course Google only gets leverage from their VP8 patents to the extent that VP8 is used...
The day that mainstream application processor vendors support hardware based VP8 decoding, this will change.
We should shun them absolutely in every way we can.
Anyone who supports WebDRM: Boycott.
Anyone who patent-trolls: Boycott.
Super bad management drove such a great company to its knees. It makes me sad. 7 years before Apple, Nokia shows off a color touch screen phone with one button, with more amazing features for its time--Management shuts the idea down. Here is a cool article worth a read of how things went sour at Nokia: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405270230438800457753...
You mean like Lumia Phones, Nokia Maps, Nokia Free Music...
I love their apps and hardware but I do however disagree with their stance on enforcing unnecessary patents!
Why wouldn't they try to do it again?
Indeed, but it still makes me wish I were born on Mars or something.
“Nokia believes that open and collaborative efforts for standardization 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. As a result, we have taken the unusual step of declaring to the Internet Engineering Task Force that we are not prepared to license any Nokia patents which may be needed to implement its RFC6386 specification for VP8, or for derivative codecs.”
So their position is that since VP8 does not offer any technical or licensing advantages over H.264 (Nokia being at least one company that owns or claims to own patents on it), they’re going to use their patents to prevent Google from promoting VP8. At this point, I don’t see why any reasonable person would still want to use H.264 over VP8.
List information: https://www.ietf.org/mailman/listinfo/rtcweb
As to why a reasonable person would want to not use H.264? It's simple. Organizations like Mozilla cannot ship software with IP encumbered codecs. WebRTC doesn't say that you cannot use H.264, it allows you to negotiate the codec, this debate over what is the minimum fallback codec that everyone has to support.
Given that Microsoft/Skype/Nokia have been against the IETF WebRTC proposal, you can gather for very good business reasons. A non-IP encumbered spec widely deployed would be a threat to Skype/Cisco/Nokia et al who have commercial video conferencing stuff, it would commoditize the market for video chat and make it a trivial matter.
The established players only have to gain by delaying an open spec. I think even if H264 were used over VP8, there Microsoft and others would find other reasons to stop it.
Clearly, Nokia, which used to be a leader in the mobile market, is on is on a downhill slide and like Kodak was with film, and is turning to their patent portfolio to slow down the slide into the abyss. This is typical in the industry, when companies start losing marketshare to competition, they start getting litigious.
For example, they are suing HTC over a 1995 patent on "tethering". Really? The entire internet going back to the 80s is about tethering. I used to tether my Amiga off of a PC via a null-modem cable to get internet access. This is a pretty offensive patent, in the "disgusting" sense. Apple similarly sued poor old HTC over a 90s patent on using regular expressions to detect phone numbers in a page and make them clickable.
Legal or not, the whole idea of "ownership" of this kind is deeply disturbing to me. The new generation of entrepreneurs have to contend with an environment that was far more litigious than it was in the dawn of personal computing, and often the very same players who benefited early on by lack of trolls, are now some of the biggest.
The only glimmer of light for me is that by the time my son is old enough to make his way in the world, most of this crap will have expired.
"How long before it will kills x?" is becoming the new "What ever happened to 'Don't Be Evil'?".
A lazy incantation trotted out by people who haven't really thought out whether it applies to the situation under discussion in any sensible way.