MPEG-4 Systems license released

MPEG LA — one or two “one-stop shops” for MPEG-4 patent licensing (erm, isn’t that a “two-stop shop”, then?) — has released the MPEG-4 Systems license.

The Systems license the last piece of the long-in-coming patent portfolio puzzle. The Systems license covers the MPEG-4 file format, MPEG-4’s interactive features, the MPEG-4 scene description language (BIFS), and the MPEG-4 object descriptor framework.

The object descriptor framework is an extensible model for describing objects and inter-object synchronization. For example, a news broadcast stream may include a “virtual set” object, an “on-air personality” object and a “stock ticker” object.

BIFS (BInary Format for Scene) lets you specify the spatial and temporal composition of objects. It’s a binary standard based on VRML, which nobody wanted the first time around. SMIL enables the same thing, but it works with much more than just MPEG-4, and for this and other reasons I think that BIFS is doomed in the long run.

The file format is obviously the most important part of the Systems license in the short term. I think it was a mistake to group the file format in with a lot of cruft (some of which, granted, is nifty) that the majority of implementations aren’t going to implement within the next few years. My understanding is that MPEG is in the process of reorganizing the Systems specification into several parts, and hopefully this will allow super-inexpensive (free, ideally) licensing of the file format.

Finally, we don’t know what the terms of the System license are yet. Rob Koenen, President of the M4IF (MPEG-4 Industry Forum), had not seen the license as of MPEG LA’s announcement, but said that he expected it to be less controversial than the Visual license given the draft terms that were released last year.