Have the patents for MPEG-4 Visual expired yet?

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This is about MPEG-4 Part 2, for example XviD. H.264 or AVC is different thing.

US patents only, look them up on https://portal.uspto.gov/pair/PublicPair. There are also patents registered elsewhere which are not listed here. Some of the patents are likely not relevant. I suspect some are for some specific MPEG hardware, which by now is probably resting in some landfill.

https://www.uspto.gov/patent/laws-and-regulations/patent-term-calculator contains instructions for calculating when patents expire. I'm all outta Advil so I'm gonna pass this one up.

Some info is missing because I'm lazy. This is not legal advice. Here's my legal advice: call your lawyer.

Patent no. Filing or 371 ©Date Earliest Publication Date Issue Date of Patent Expires Patent holder Title of Invention Note

Decoding only[edit]

Patent no. Filing or 371 ©Date Earliest Publication Date Issue Date of Patent Expires Patent holder Title of Invention Note
6,959,046 2001-02-28 2002-01-24 2005-10-25 2022-12-08? Koninklijke Philips N.V. RESYNCHRONIZATION METHOD FOR DECODING VIDEO

In detail[edit]

The abstracts below are very difficult to read. A general note: it's always possible to patent some new method. You could invent a superior MPEG-4 Visual decoder today, patent it and enjoy your patent for 20 years. But that doesn't invalidate existing decoders.

It would be nice if Legal could look at this. Here is an amateur attempt:

  • #7,068,721: appears to describe P-frames, not clear how optional this one.


This abstract is provided for your convenience (USPTO didn't have to incorporate a captcha..). I don't know if it was written by a US government employee. Consider it fair use.

Pixels in a digitized picture are grouped into picture blocks, which in turn are grouped at least in a first picture region and a second picture region. An overall motion vector is determined, through the use of which any shifting of the first picture region in comparison to the first picture region in a previous picture is described. The overall motion vector is allocated to all the picture blocks in the second picture region. A motion vector is determined for each of the picture blocks in the first picture region. The coding information of the picture blocks, the motion vectors and the overall motion vector are coded. A configuration for coding a digitized picture and a configuration for decoding a compressed picture are also provided.

This is still not legal advice. Here's my legal advice: call your lawyer.


Expiration dates were determined by User:Haji 3 who has been right about these so far, the last 2 patents expire in 2022.

Dealing with patents[edit]

There are a few ways to deal with patents.

License them[edit]

I haz horded all the monies
no patent monies 4 u

Exactly what sort of license (if any) would be required is unclear. But using an unfree format goes against some core principles, so we should forget about this.

Wait for them to expire[edit]

Reasonably realistic option for everything that expires this year.

Make sure they're not relevant for whatever you're doing[edit]

You need Legal and developers to work together to figure this out. You may also need external Legal/technical expertise. Complicated and expensive, but the result could be worthwhile. It could allow MPEG-4 Visual to become a free format over a year before the last patent expires by investigating two patents. Part of this could be to force-disable certain features in a modern encoder.

Revert to older methods/software/standards that were published before the patents[edit]

Perhaps an interesting option. By using software that was published before the "earliest publication date", it should be certain that the software can't be using any method as described by the patent. If it does, that would invalidate the patent.

The two patents that expire in 2022 are 7,068,721 from Siemens and 6,959,046 from Philips. The earliest publication date for the Siemens patent is 2002-10-17. For the Philips patent this is 2002-01-24.

This allows for the following strategy:

  • Wait for the patents that expire this year to expire
  • Confirm that the Philips patent really only concerns decoding (the title of invention says so..)
  • Find/license an MPEG-4 Visual encoder that was published before 2002-10-17, the earliest publication date of the Siemens patent.

Even better would be to figure out exactly what the Siemens patent entails to see if it's relevant or can be worked around while using a modern encoder.

Ancient video encoders[edit]

Closed source isn't technically off the table as long as it can be licensed. It's not ideal, but the format must be open. The software that produces it preferably as well.

  • Ffmpeg?
  • Mainconcept?
  • Elecard?
  • MoMuSys reference MPEG-4 encoder?
  • OpenDivX? (released on 15 January 2001, public source, but license details unknown - possibly no free license)
  • The obvious candidate is XviD which has a GPL license. XviD 0.9.0 was released on or before 2002-12-04. The files in the archive haven't been modified after 2002-11-24. This appears to be the packaging date though as all files in the archive have (nearly) the same timestamp. This would mean sifting through 5 weeks of diffs to see if there's anything that could be an implementation of the Siemens patent. (it's unlikely it would be in there)


Checkout revision 599 (modified 2002-10-16) of trunk and compare it to the 0.9.0 release. You could also just use revision 599, but they were still working out licensing back then and fixing bugs so 0.9.0 would be preferable.

Caveat: XviD prior to 1.0 was released with "location restrictions":


Under section 8 of the GNU General Public License, the copyright holders of XVID explicitly forbid distribution in the following countries:

- Japan

- United States of America

But worry not, here's section 8:

8. If the distribution and/or use of the Program is restricted in

certain countries either by patents or by copyrighted interfaces, the original copyright holder who places the Program under this License may add an explicit geographical distribution limitation excluding those countries, so that distribution is permitted only in or among countries not thus excluded. In such case, this License incorporates the limitation as if written in the body of this License.

If the distribution and/or use of the Program is restricted.. The clause invalidates itself when the patents expire. But even if I'm wrong, this clause is about distribution. It doesn't say the WMF isn't allowed to use it in the states, it just says you're not allowed to distribute it. This may raise an important question. The license may not forbid the WMF from using it, but if the license doesn't allow distributing this version in the US, how will the WMF ever be able obtain this version? It's not like you can just download it from the internet..



Also, the location restriction doesn't appear to be present in revision 599 yet, so kitty got all worked up over nothing.