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(For the general video codec problem see: Audio-video patents)

MPEG LA is an organisation (which could be called a patent cartel) which holds a collection of software patents which it claims are essential for the implementation of MPEG video formats including H.264. MPEG LA is in no way affiliated with the MPEG standards group.

MPEG LA lists over 1,000 patents (346 in the USA alone[1]), held by 29 companies[2] divided between 57 countries which they claim are necessary to implement MPEG video formats.[3]

MPEG LA's patents are the reason H.264 was excluded from the HTML5 specification.

Details of their patent thickets

MPEG LA is the licensing authority for a thicket of over 1000 patents, held by 29 companies. MPEG LA claims that 1000 of these patents must be licensed in order to use the common H.264 video format.[4] which it claims are requried for use of MPEG video formats. The holders of these patents include Columbia University, Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute of Korea (ETRI), France Télécom, Fujitsu, LG Electronics, Matsushita (Panasonic), Mitsubishi, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Philips, Robert Bosch GmbH, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba, and Victor Company of Japan (JVC).[5] The last patents that the MPEG LA does list that were registered within the United States Of America do not expire until 2027.[6][7]

As of February 2010, MPEG LA does list 639 companies that are paying this patent tax.[8]

Microsoft is both a large owner, with 75 patents in this pool, and Microsoft is also a great licensee, as Microsoft does pay approximately 2 times as much to MPEG LA as they do receive as royalties.[9]

MPEG LA's patent aggression

Threatening WebM, VP8, and Ogg Theora

(See: VP8 and WebM and Ogg Theora)

MPEG LA has said that it considers Ogg Theora to be infringing their patents, and that they are looking into building a list of patents for which they would demand royalties for WebM.[10]

Royalty-free "Internet Broadcast" licence

See also: MP4

In August 2010, MPEG LA announced that they would not use their patents against people distributing video non-commercially over the Internet via their "Internet Broadcast" licence.[11][12]

However, this does not permit the distribution of software to play or create videos,[13] and would not apply to a webpage with ads.[14]

The text of the 2010 licence is not publicly available, but an older version from 2002 has been published by the FSF:

When Wikipedia was debating whether to allow use of the MP4 format under this licence, their Deputy General Counsel said that the 2002 version was "quite similar" to the 2010, and he used the 2002 version in his explanations without ever noting that anything was different in the 2010 version, so it's likely they are very similar. A lot of useful information about this licence can be found in Wikipedia's MP4 RFC.

MPEG LA isn't the only group you have to pay

AT&T[15] and Philips[16], both claim to have further patents required for implementations of MPEG video.

LSI Corporation (formerly LSI Logic Corporation) withdrew from MPEG LA on 15 July 2007. The patent US7,020,200 had been part of the "AVC Patent Licensing Program".[17]

It is also possible that other patent holders are preparing a patent ambush.

Avoiding H.264

Campaigns to avoid H.264 generally focus on encouraging the use the Ogg Theora video format and, recently, on the WebM format.

Another possibility is to use software from 20 years ago, such as the ITU h.261 video format, some parts of which were defined in, or before, November 1988[1]. The 1988 spec had parts that were not defined. The 1990 H.261 spec filled in these parts[2].

Related pages on ESP Wiki

External links


  1. I counted on 23 May 2012
  9. Microsoft does receive from MPEG LA less than half of the amount for the patent rights than it does contribute
  10. "Google open video codec may face patent clash". "Yes. In view of the marketplace uncertainties regarding patent licensing needs for such technologies, [...] in accessing essential patent rights for VP8 as well as other codecs, and we are looking into the prospects of doing so."