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Microsoft Strikes Out at Google’s WebM

Google’s move undermines HTML 5, which Microsoft has gotten behind as the vehicle for H.264 distribution

So Google means to drop support for the widely supported MPEG-LA H.264 video codec from its Chrome browser because it's based on patented proprietary technology and is potentially royalty-bearing. Instead it will substitute its own thinly supported not-yet-a-standard open source WebM codec because it's free.

To which Microsoft replied Wednesday that it had released an add-on that puts H.264, arguably the web's video standard, back on Chrome.

See, Google's move undermines HTML 5, which Microsoft has gotten behind as the vehicle for H.264 distribution lest everybody be stuck with Flash.

Anyway, like it did for Firefox, Microsoft will support IE9 users who install WebM on Windows so they can play WebM video. Otherwise IE9 will play HTML 5 video in the H.264 format and any browser running on Windows will play H.264 video.

Microsoft said, "We have worked closely with Google to help them deliver a WebM implementation on Windows and Google engineers are on the Microsoft campus this week."

Then it went and hung warning flags all over the fact that WebM, which Google acquired from On2 Technologies, may have patent issues.

It said, "Asserting openness is not a legal defense. The only true arbiter of infringement, once it's asserted, is a court of law. Whether one supports open technology or not, there are practical liability issues today that need to be examined."

It asked if Google will "indemnify Mozilla, a PC OEM, a school, a web site, a chip manufacturer, a device company, or an individual for using WebM? Will they indemnify Apple? Microsoft? Will they indemnify any or all of these parties worldwide? If Google were truly confident that the technology does not infringe and is not encumbered by patents whatsoever, wouldn't this indemnification be easy?"

"Or, does Google instead plan to protect WebM participants from risk by creating a patent pool containing the third-party intellectual property in WebM and making a license available? That is another way in which risks like this have been addressed in the past. What would the terms of that license be?"

"Or, does Google plan to work with an existing patent pool to help provide web developers get certainty quickly, as is already the case with H.264?"

Microsoft thinks "the community is looking for meaningful answers to this risk question. The risk question is a legitimate business concern. There are hundreds if not thousands of patents worldwide that read on video formats and codec technologies. Our experience with trying to release WMV for free and open use, and the subsequent claims against Microsoft, support this history as do the cases against JPEG, GIF, and other formats."

Then it proposed a deal:

"To make it clear that we are fully willing to participate in a resolution of these issues, Microsoft is willing to commit that we will never assert any patents on VP8 if Google will make a commitment to indemnify us and all other developers and customers who use VP8 [WebM] in the future. We would only ask that we be able to use those patent rights if we are sued first by somebody else. If Google would prefer a patent pool approach, then we would also agree to join a patent pool for VP8 on reasonable licensing terms so long as Google joins the pool and is able to include all other major providers of playback software and devices. The entire industry benefits from a significant investment in an ecosystem around a format well insulated from legal issues. As JPEG taught the industry profitable companies merely wishing IP issues away does not make those issues go away."

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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