Imagine if web video suddenly disappeared from smartphones one day. Well, Microsoft says that if Google isn't stopped, that calamitous day might not be far off. That's a lofty charge, but is it truth or hyperbole?
Microsoft just filed an anti-trust complaint in the EU alleging that Google-owned Motorola Mobility is unfairly using its web video and wireless patents to keep Microsoft products off the shelves—and that it could ruin the web for everyone. Apple filed a similar complaint last week. According to a blog post by a Microsoft lawyer:
You probably take for granted that you can view videos on your smartphone, tablet, PC, or DVD/Blu-ray player and connect to the Internet without being tied to a cable. That works because the industry came together years ago to define common technical standards that every firm can use to build compatible products for video and Wi-Fi. Motorola and all the other firms that contributed to these standards also made a promise to one another: that if they had any patents essential to the standards, they would make their patents available on fair and reasonable terms, and would not use them to block competitors from shipping their products.
Basically, Motorola owns the patents to several "essential" web video standards, but agreed to friendly and non-discriminatory licensing (FRAND) of these patents. All companies do this with their patents to a certain extent because without FRANDs, it would be almost impossible for new technologies to catch on. Microsoft and scores of other companies adopted Motorola's standards for wireless and web video ages ago. The patents are so fundamental that you really can't find a way around them with an alternate technology.
Now Microsoft says that Motorola and Google are reneging on the FRANDs by taking legal action against companies that use those standards and demanding exorbetant payment for their use. The mighty voice of Foss Patents agrees:
I can see what Apple and Microsoft are complaining about. If every owner of standard-essential patents behaved like Motorola, this industry would be in chaos, and grind to a halt.
In other words, if a few of Motorola's lawsuits go the wrong way, everyone will have to either pay up or stop using the patents. According to Microsoft:
For a $1,000 laptop, Motorola is demanding that Microsoft pay a royalty of $22.50 for its 50 patents on the video standard, called H.264. As it turns out, there are at least 2,300 other patents needed to implement this standard. They are available from a group of 29 companies that came together to offer their H.264 patents to the industry on FRAND terms. Microsoft's patent royalty to this group on that $1,000 laptop?
Those numbers are pretty damning, and Microsoft's complaint says it constitues unfair competition. What's more, Microsoft claims it could have a damaging effect on technologies we all use everyday by cordoning off wireless and web video from much of the market.
From what we've seen, it appears that Microsoft has a very good case here, and its claim that web video is in jeopardy isn't far off either. Some companies would agree to pay big for the patents for some products, but the bottom line is that if Moto-Google gets its way, many products simply won't be made or they won't include the technologies that we've come to rely on. wireless connections and web video probably won't suddenly disappear, and we'll still be able to watch funny cat videos online. Unfortunately, it just won't be as easy to connect, and there won't be as many videos to watch. [Microsoft and Foss Patents]
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