Google Launches WebM Video Patent Cross-Licensing Initiative

by Ostatic Staff - Apr. 26, 2011

As this year began, Google was ensconced in a web video brouhaha, after Google officials wrote that they are putting more muscle behind the VP8 open source video codec, and that Google's WebM video standard would compete with more entrenched standards. The upshot was that Google is moving steadily away from supporting H.264 video, which could have a big impact on web publishers and device manufacturers. Many of the questions surrounding WebM had to do with how open a standard it will be, or whether Google might position it as a way to reap lucrative licensing revenues through its incorporation in the Google Chrome browser, and elsewhere. Now, WebM Community Cross-Licensing has been announced, possibly putting to rest some of the concerns.

According to the WebM Community Cross-Licensing blog:

"The WebM Project today announced an initiative to establish a Community Cross-License (the CCL) with 17 founding members. Google, Matroska and the Xiph.Org Foundation already make the components of WebM openly available on royalty-free terms. With the establishment of the CCL, CCL members will agree to license patents they may have that are essential to WebM technologies to other members of the CCL."

Of course, one might raise concerns about who the "other members" of the CCL currently are, but a look at the membership roster shows that many tech titans are backing WebM. AMD, Cisco, Mozilla, Opera, Samsung and Texas Instruments are just some of the members on the roster. Microsoft officials had raised many concerns about WebM, writing:

"For context, Google recently stated (and then clarified) that their Chrome Web browser would drop support for the H.264 video format in favor of exclusively supporting Google’s new WebM format...When and how does Google make room for the Open Web Standards community to engage genuinely?"

As WebM develops, there are more and more signs that it will pursue principles of openness and be overseen by a large and powerful group of backers, including players such as Mozilla and Opera who are likely to help keep it following open principles. Of course, the formation of a Community Cross-Licensing initiative can be interpreted as simply an effort to protect WebM-related patents, but that would be of more concern if a small group of players backed WebM. In fact, the standard is gaining support throughout the software and hardware industry, and the critical components of WebM are available on a royalty-free basis. Firefox, Chrome and Opera all support WebM.

It's still worth watching how WebM is positioned to compete against more entrenched video standards such as H.264, but it's good news that WebM appears to be much more open than observers initially thought it would be.