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.
MPEG LA is calling off the patent pool
Google bought VP8 in 2010 before open-sourcing the technology, but MPEG LA had stated publicly that it felt the codec infringed upon some of its patented technologies. MPEG LA licenses the technologies at the heart of an assortment of different video codecs and formats, including H.264 and MPEG-2. MPEG LA had gone so far as to start the process of forming a patent pool to go after Google for said infringement; with today's agreement, it will cease those efforts.
The agreement covers both VP8 and previous generations of the codec, and also affords Google the opportunity to use those techniques in one additional generation of the VPx family — an important consideration given that Google has already built VP9 into its Chromium web browser. While the licensing agreement isn't a direct admission that VP8 wasn't as unencumbered as had once been advertised, at the very least it's a clear signal that Google is more interested in pushing forward with its own set of preferred standards — even if there's an associated cost — rather than getting embroiled in a string of patent lawsuits.