Alive and Kicking – mp3 Software, Patents and Licenses

Some weeks ago, we updated our website with information about the end of the mp3 licensing program by Technicolor and Fraunhofer. So, does this mean that mp3 is really dead now, as we have read often in the last few days? Of course not! mp3 is a phenomenon, which changed our way of consuming music forever, and is very much alive in 2017.

The licensing program coming to an end is due to the fact that the last patent included in the program expired. In no way does that mean that the usage permit ends. The only ones deciding on the “death” of mp3 will be the users, who might switch to more modern audio formats at some point, such as AAC, which is included in almost every smartphone today.

What changed since April 23?

That day, the last of the core mp3 patents which were part of the licensing program by Fraunhofer and Technicolor, expired. Starting in the 1990s, Technicolor (formerly Thomson) took care of the patent licensing program and also the licensing of Fraunhofer’s mp3 software. So, if for instance a manufacturer of consumer electronics wanted to bring an mp3 player into the market, they could become a licensee of the mp3 patent licensing program of Technicolor, and could also get a license for the usage of Fraunhofer’s mp3 software there. This licensing program has now ended. Manufacturers which have already been mp3 licensees can still use the licensed software without any problems moving forward. They were informed about this matter by Technicolor at the beginning of 2017. Should other vendors be interested in using Fraunhofer’s mp3 software, they can now get in touch with Fraunhofer directly with their query.

However, the end of the mp3 licensing program does not automatically mean that all mp3 technology is available license-free now. Apart from the core mp3 patents included in the licensing program, there might still be some implementation–specific patents (or patents for other functional enhancements) that have not expired. Thus, manufacturers will have to check the situation regarding their intended products first before including mp3.

What does the future hold?

mp3 is alive and kicking, and has children and grandkids now. The mp3 licensing royalties played a notable role in Fraunhofer IIS’ ability to drive research and the development of new audio technologies, which went on to become de facto standards in the areas of streaming, digital radio, TV and mobile communications. The codecs of the AAC family, for example, are included in billions of devices today and provide excellent sound quality at low bit rates. Also, the next generation of audio technologies is ready to conquer the world: MPEG-H for an interactive and immersive sound experience and EVS for crystal clear mobile telephony are being introduced in more and more countries.

Everyone who is interested in the history of mp3, we invite to visit

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  • I had a question: LAME is now completely legal and no longer a grey area? They use their own implementation of MP3 and the only patents they breached was the core MP3 patents, right?

  • Hi,

    Please understand that we cannot make any statement about the usage (or non-usage) of patents, for any mp3 software tool. Such questions have to be addressed by the tool developers themselves.

    Kind regards,
    Romana from the Fraunhofer IIS Audio Blog team

  • Hi,
    I was just wondering if the constant MP3 bitrate of 160 is considered CD quality? If it isn’t, is there a bitrate that you would recommend for the best trade off of high sound quality and small file size?

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