Tag Archives: patents

MP3 is dead. Long live … what?

Update: My statement that Fraunhofer declared MP3 dead was completely wrong. Please read this retraction.

Girl Genius: The old Storm King is killed, and a new one promptly crowns himselfThere’s the blatantly obvious. Then there’s the blatantly cynical, who-cares-if-you-see-right-through me obvious. I’m not talking about Donald Trump but Fraunhofer. The patents which gave them revenue have barely expired on the format, and they’ve suddenly decided that MP3 is dead. They’ve even crowned its successor: not any open format, of course, but AAC, which can provide patent revenues for years.
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The curtain falls on MP3 licensing

The site mp3licensing.com now redirects to the Fraunhofer website. MP3 licensing is a thing of the past.

MP3 patent holders haven’t conceded

Update: Technicolor is conceding as of April 23.

Although it appears that all patents on the MP3 encoding have expired, the people collecting the licensing fees haven’t conceded. The FAQ on MP3Licensing.com still says:

Do I need a license to stream mp3 encoded content over the Internet? Yes.
Do I need a license to distribute mp3 encoded content? Yes.

For developers and manufacturers:

I want to support mp3 in my products. Do I need a license? Yes.
I have my own/third party mp3 software. Do I need a license? Yes.

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Why MP3 freedom matters

Yesterday I mentioned MP3 Freedom Day to a friend, and he asked why it mattered. That’s something I should have explained. The MP3 patent holders, principally Fraunhofer and Technicolor, demand payment for any use of MP3 technology.

They even go after distributors of open source code. The Register reports:
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MP3 Freedom Day, April 16, 2017

Get ready to celebrate! The last MP3 patent is about to expire! I think.

The Wikipedia article on MP3, as I’m writing this, claims that “MP3 technology will be patent-free in the United States on 16 April 2017 when U.S. Patent 6,009,399, held by the Technicolor[73] and administered by Technicolor, expires.” OSNews doesn’t list any patents beyond April 16. If they’re correct, then Easter will be MP3 Freedom Day!

Or maybe not. The “Big List of MP3 Patents (and Supposed Expiration Dates)” lists a patent which won’t expire until August 29. The Library of Congress cites this list in its discussion of the MP3 encoding format, though it doesn’t have any special authority. That patent looks dubious.
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When do the MP3 patents expire?

MP3 logoWhy exactly is MP3 still popular? It’s not as efficient as more recent compression methods, and it’s encumbered by patents. People keep using what’s familiar. In a few years, it may become patent-free.

A Tunequest piece from 2007 lists several expiration dates that are still in the future:
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Patent application strikes at digital archiving

Someone called Henry Gladney has filed a US patent application which could be used to troll digital archiving operations in an attempt to force them to pay money for what they’ve been doing all along. The patent is more readable than many I’ve seen, and it’s simply a composite of existing standard practices such as schema-based XML, digital authentication, public key authentication, and globally unique identifiers. The application openly states that its PIP (Preservation Information Package) “is also an Archival Information Package as described within the forthcoming ISO OAIS standard.”

I won’t say this is unpatentable; all kinds of absurd software patents have been granted. As far as I’m concerned, software patents are inherently absurd; every piece of software is a new invention, each one builds on techniques used in previously written software, and the pace at which this happens makes a patent’s lifetime of fourteen to twenty years an eternity. If the first person to use any software technique were consistently deemed to own it and others were required to get permission to reuse it, we’d never have ventured outside the caves of assembly language. That’s not the view Congress takes, though.

Patent law does say, though, that you can’t patent something that’s already been done; the term is “prior art.” I can’t see anything in the application that’s new beyond the specific implementation. If it’s only that implementation which is patented, then archivists can and will simply use a different structure and not have to pay patent fees. If the application is granted and is used to get money out of anyone who creates archiving packages, there will be some nasty legal battles ahead, further demonstrating how counterproductive the software patent system is.

Update: There’s discussion on LinkedIn. Registration is required to comment, but not to just read.