MPEG LA Calls for Patents to Organize Joint DASH License

MPEG LA announced a call for patents for MPEG-DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP), to the dismay of many industry watchers. When MPEG-DASH first debuted in 2011, the issue of royalties wasn’t raised and DASH was quickly and widely deployed, in everything from browsers to smart TVs. The problem is that DASH is an integral part of HTML5, which is beginning to displace Flash. With the specter of patents looming, some software vendors could find royalties to be an obstacle to staying in business.

According to Streaming Media, “for hardware vendors, royalties are a cost of doing business, another line on the bill of materials that gets totaled up when computing a retail price.” But software vendors could find the requirements to pay royalties impossible or, as Streaming Media puts it, “the kiss of death.”

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The potential of royalties for DASH reignites a consistent criticism of MPEG LA: royalty structures that don’t take marketplace realities into consideration.

“The reasonable and affordable $25 million cap on HEVC royalties for a phone manufacturer is the same insurmountable $25 million for a browser vendor not named Apple, Google, or Microsoft,” notes Streaming Media. The result of this particular royalty structure means that, 30 months after the codec was finalized, there is still no browser-based playback of HEVC.

Similar royalty structures for DASH could have a chilling effect on the adoption of HTML5. Although DASH contributors Microsoft, Cisco and Qualcomm have apparently indicated a desire for a royalty-free solution, a call for patents, says Streaming Media, is “almost always motivated by an IP owner that wants to monetize its R&D investment.”

Calling MPEG LA’s move for patents “totally unexpected,” Streaming Media notes that few companies moving from Flash to HTML5 put DASH-related content royalties into their budget. “At the least, it’s a minor speed bump in the Flash to HTML5 transition, but for some, it might also become a brick wall.”