Are MP3 patents really in upheaval after Alcatel-Lucent’s verdict over Microsoft?

“Microsoft was ordered by a federal jury yesterday to pay $1.52 billion in a patent dispute over the MP3 format, the technology at the heart of the digital music boom. If upheld on appeal, it would be the largest patent judgment on record,” Saul Hansell reports for The New York Times.

“The ruling, in Federal District Court in San Diego, was a victory for Alcatel-Lucent, the big networking equipment company. Its forebears include Bell Laboratories, which was involved in the development of MP3 almost two decades ago,” Hansell reports.

Hansell reports, “At issue is the way the Windows Media Player software from Microsoft plays audio files using MP3, the most common method of distributing music on the Internet. If the ruling stands, Apple and hundreds of other companies that make products that play MP3 files, including portable players, computers and software, could also face demands to pay royalties to Alcatel.”

“Microsoft and others have licensed MP3 — not from Alcatel-Lucent, but from a consortium led by the Fraunhofer Institute, a large German research organization that was involved, along with the French electronics company Thomson and Bell Labs, in the format’s development,” Hansell reports. “The current case turns on two patents that Alcatel claims were developed by Bell Labs before it joined with Fraunhofer to develop MP3.”

“Thomas W. Burt, the deputy general counsel of Microsoft, said… the appeals process might take another year or two. He said he did not expect that the courts would force Microsoft to remove the MP3 functions from Windows,” Hansell reports. “Joan Campion, a spokeswoman for Alcatel-Lucent, …declined to comment on whether that company would pursue similar claims against makers of MP3 players, like Apple. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: This sounds worse than it will end up being for Microsoft. The same goes for other companies that — as pointed out by’s Marek Fuchs — were brought into this issue by “one of Microsoft counsels, who is obviously trying to rally other companies to his cause by scaring the bejesus out of them. However, that does not have to define the story, especially because it’s about an issue that can be turned on appeal (many patents cases are) or could end up with some relatively modest royalty payments all around.”

Full article here.

Related articles:
Alcatel-Lucent’s landmark MP3 victory over Microsoft paves way to demand royalties from Apple? – February 23, 2007
Microsoft ordered to pay Alcatel-Lucent $1.52 billion for Windows Media Player patent infringement – February 22, 2007


  1. With what I have read so far, I just don’t see how the jury could have made this decision. Maybe it’s another sign that juries in the U.S. have gotten out of control? For years now, I’ve called for the elimination of juries and the implementation of trial by a panel of judges. The average person is just too stupid and gullible for a jury system to work. My two cents.

    Oh, what does all this have to do with Apple and the Macintosh platform? Nothing.

    Have a good weekend!


  2. LAME may well be a “better” choice – both technically and legally – but it had no market presence at the time. Still doesn’t. It’s better to pay million$ and sell billion$ than to try to skimp and sell nothing.

    That said, including LAME in addition to MP3 would have given Apple more by way of “wiggle-room”.

    DLMeyer – the Voice of G.L.Horton’s Stage Page

  3. “For years now, I’ve called for the elimination of juries and the implementation of trial by a panel of judges. The average person is just too stupid and gullible for a jury system to work.”


    What idiots the founding fathers were to think that would work. Especially at a time when the average citizen was uneducated, illiterate, and superstitiously religious.

  4. Is much as I like to see MS slapped around, this lawsuit is garbage.

    That said, I’m glad they sued MS first rather than Apple first. If MS wins, Apple wins but MS pays the legal fees!

    Sometimes, you have to root for the enemy.

  5. This could be the reason for Jobs’ open letter about DRM-free music. Maybe it’s a way to show (or a deal) that Jobs is trying to support MP3 format, and therefore the licensing fees that would go to Alcatel-Lucent if MP3 became the standard. He is trying to keep Apple out of court by showing Alcatel-Lucent he backs their format. Being that Steve is so influential in the music industry, his words of support mean a lot to Alcatel-Lucent (more than Gates). If Alcatel-Lucent take Apple to court , I bet he will stop backing DRM free music.

  6. There should definately be some kind of time limit on these frivolous lawsuits. For one thing all the companies followed the law and licensed there MP3’s and payed there fees. The judge that ruled on this case should have taken that into consideration as well as the fact that if Actel was to stupid to see two other patents they had from 15 years ago they shouldn’t be able to get any compensation for them anymore.

  7. “I have not read anything less logical and more ill-advised this entire month than the call for eliminating trial-by-jury.”

    Agreed, but then a very large number of the people I interact with every day appear to lack any cognitive abilities. I work at a university. Go figure. You wouldn’t believe the deafening silence when a class was asked “do we (in the US) live in a democracy or a republic, and what’s the difference?” No worries, it was only a broadcast journalism class. If it had been the law school I would have been worried.

  8. I grin with scornful amusement whenever the iPod-iTunes universe mysteriously shifts from a proprietary, locked-in, monopolistic product offering to one that is suddenly liable for bogus patent royalties on a music file standard. And then I laugh and remember that human beings are idiots.

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