MPEG at 20

Updating market information in this post on the release of the royalty-free OMS Video draft specification, here are data points about MPEG released at the MPEG 20th Year Anniversary Commemoration in Tokyo in November 2008.

Importantly, Lawrence A. Horn, CEO of the license administration company, affirmed the:

“Freedom of Licensors and Licensees to develop competing products and standards”

(Note: the US Department of Justice required as much in its 1997 antitrust review of proposed MPEG patent licensing:

”We understand this to mean that licensees are free also to develop technological alternatives to the MPEG-2 compression standard.’)

Specific market info:

  • “~ 3.5 Billion MPEG-2 Devices
  • More than 1 million people working 40 hrs/week, 52 wks/year for 15 yrs (1994-2008)
  • ~ 40 Billion MPEG-2 Video (DVD) Discs
  • $2.5 Trillion in MPEG-2 Product Sales
  • In 2008 each of the world’s ~ 6.7 billion people will spend an average of $66.46 on MPEG-2 product”

Some interesting observations were made by Leonardo Chiariglione, the convenor of the MPEG committee:

  • “the MPEG-4 Visual licensing killed half of the standard
  • The “use fee” licensing model facilitated the widespread use of proprietary codecs
  • In the second half of the 1990s MPEG repeatedly invited ITU-T to collaborate on MPEG-4 Visual. The lack of collaboration produced the alternative H.263 Recommendation, similar – but not quite – to MPEG-4
  • 20 years after MPEG was born There are just too many video codecs…
    Compression technology has advanced
    The entry level to make video codecs is getting lower
    Many devices have to support many different codecs”

All the presentations of the commemoration are located here.


4 responses to “MPEG at 20”

  1. 3.5 billion MPEG-2 devices is one reason I would love a royalty free subset of either MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 so that it would be possible to create video for these things with open source software. In the worst case I guess we just wait till about 2012 and then all the patents should be expired.

    1. Rob Glidden Avatar
      Rob Glidden

      Some standards organizations either do not have, or may be dominated by interests who do not want, a royalty-free subset or baseline of their specification. A royalty-free baseline for h.264 was proposed in 2003, see, and there are other parallels. One must also consider copyright ownership of the specification itself, which in a case of reluctance might limit other organizations from taking it on itself to define a specifically-named subset in an attempt to leverage a standard “brand”. There are cases of “orphaned” standards of disbanded groups, see

      Examining claim constructions, prior art (and subsequent) references in a patent itself, a patent’s prosecution history, deltas between multiple country filings, and continuations and divisions can provide important insight into what technology is actually covered by a particular patent or thicket, and time frames. In other words, a patent builds on something — that something is relevant, and one might find that the “last to expire” may be the “least useful detail” rather than the “final essential building block”.

  2. That is an interesting article on the attempt to get a royalty free subset of h.264. It is too bad that the effort failed.

    For MPEG-1 in particular, my current guess is that a royalty free (RF) profile might be as simple as stating that there can’t be any B or D frames and no layer 3 audio. (This would have the side effect of making MPEG-1 RF quite a bit easier to program a decoder for.)

    Rant mode on:
    It seems like there is something wrong with the patent system when you have to go to so much effort just to figure out what technology is actually covered by a patent.

    1. Rob Glidden Avatar
      Rob Glidden

      Many standards groups continue to be dominated by patent interests, which can make moot the alternative “ex ante” process of before-the-fact consideration of patents as authorized by anti-trust authorities (versus the myth of after-the-fact patent pool essentiality determination), because “foxes are guarding the hen house” in the first place.

      Problematic on many levels, just one is that government has actively mandated and “become increasingly dependent on private sector standards” without adequate safeguards, see see brief at:

      In any event, patents expire and put technology and its description into the public arena — this is at the heart of their reason for being — whatever the many opinions about the interplay between patents, patent pools, and policy.

      So this thinking parallels the OMS Video codec specification’s royalty-free methodology — start from a known royalty-free base and build up, adding only royalty-free methods.

      OMS Video specification starts from the very closely related h.261 specification on which MPEG-1 was closely based, and arrives at an interestingly similar place.

      To quote Wikipedia:

      “In fact, all subsequent international video coding standards (MPEG-1 Part 2, H.262/MPEG-2 Part 2, H.263, MPEG-4 Part 2, and H.264/MPEG-4 Part 10) have been based closely on the H.261 design.”

      … “[MPEG-1] is heavily based on H.261”.

      The OMS Video specification is described at