It is reported that The US Department of Justice is investigating whether the patent pool organization’s (MPEG-LA) effort to create a patent pool for VP8 fall fool of antitrust regulation.
On the surface, I find MPEG-LA’s effort a bit weird. Patent pools are usually form by champions of a standard to make it easier for licensees to license the technology. Having a patent pool this way helps a standard’s progress through standardization body and make licensing the technology easier. However, the proposed VP8 patent pool by MPEG-LA is not initiated by the champion of VP8, i.e. Google. In fact, since Google wanted a royal-free standard for web multimedia, it is clear that Google is not interested in such a patent pool as the reason for creating such a pool is to collect royalty. Instead, it is formed by other parties not related to VP8. It is also unclear whether the patent pool is setup to oppose or to facilitate VP8’s standardization process. MPEG-LA’s stewardship of H264 (a rival to VP8), if any, points to it being potentially an opponent to VP8.
What MPEG-LA does is perfectly legal, but suspicious. I think exactly what MPEG-LA has in mind is what the Department of Justice wants to find out. I cannot see Google not having a hand in this. If I were Google, I would ask for an investigation. At a minimum, it send a notice to MPEG-LA that I am prepared to challenge you and investigate all your patent claims. It is also one of the few ways to force the organization, in legally binding terms, to show their hand in this patent poker game. It is also a preemptive strike at MPEG-LA.
To an outsider like me, it tells me two things: One, Google is serious about pushing VP8 (WebM) standard and to keep it royalty-free, and two, Google is possibly feeling some heat from the patent pool.
No doubt MPEG-LA will say it is just doing what its member ask it to do. As an membership-led organization it is extremely likely it has to do what its members asked it too. Part of the purpose of MPEG-LA is to help keep its members at a distance from any criticism of patent misbehaviour. Some will call this doing the dirty work for their members. I particularly like MPEG-LA’s comment when TheRegister ask it to comment on the supposed investigation (see end of article one the first link). It says it never confirm or denies any government proceedings. That is not doing it any favour. Reputable companies and organization are often prepared to admit that a government investigation of this magnitude.