So, by now, large portions of the internet are abuzz with the Federal jury decision that Microsoft has been violating some of Alcatel-Lucent’s patents on the MP3 file format, which ahas been the backbone of the digital music revolutions and without which iTunes and the iPod would not have been possible.
I couldn’t help but note the timing of the ruling, since I had been been researching MP3 patents a couple weeks while working on a recent post. I came across the realization that the MP3 patents will soon start to expire, as early as this year in one case. So last week’s news got me wondering two things:
- whether there is an aspect of “cashing-in-while-possible” going on with the current suits
- just what the are all the MP3 patents, and when do they expire?
I can’t really speculate to that first point, but for the second, it’s fortunate that Thomson, the company that handles MP3 licensing has a neatly compiled list published at mp3licensing.com. Of the twenty patents listed there, eighteen are filed in the U.S., to which this list is limited. These are the patents that everyone who makes an MP3-related product has licensed. We’ll get to those.
First though, here are the Alcatel-Lucent patents that Microsoft was found guilty of violating. This information was taken from the US Patent and Trademark Office. Since I’m no patent attorney, all expiration dates are best guesses based on quick summary research. Changes to U.S. patent law and the GATT treaty in the mid-90s (while mp3 was being developed) complicates matters. Additionally, I have not a clue as to how to handle continuations of abandoned applications, so some of these could be way off.
If anyone more knowledgeable wishes to correct any of my guesses, I will happily revise this page. These are much too technical, both in legalese and technology for me, but still I find them fascinating from a layman’s point of view.