Web Video Rivalry Sparks U.S. Probe

The Justice Department is investigating whether a group representing some top technology firms is unfairly trying to smother a free rival technology for delivering online video that is backed by Google Inc., according to people familiar with the matter.

Much the way firms battled in the 1980s over VHS and Betamax video formats, tech rivals are fighting over the technology used to deliver and display Web video. Currently, video-streaming services like Netflix Inc. and Google’s YouTube pay patent royalties, as do makers of Blu-ray disc players and other hardware.

These firms pay royalties to an organization called MPEG LA, which is the target of the formal antitrust probe, the people familiar with the matter said. MPEG has amassed pools of patents covering widely used video formats and collects royalties for its members, which include Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

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