It was big news last week when Microsoft got slapped with a massive $1.52 billion judgement
for infringing on Lucent's patents related to MP3, but while Lucent may not be busting out the Cristal in celebration (the case is still in question), the issue of who owns the patent rights to MP3 isn't exactly cut-and-dried. Microsoft thought it was in the clear since the company had licensed the MP3 codec from Germany's Fraunhofer Institute (members of which are pictured above), which bills itself as "the birthplace of MP3", but as the New York Times writes today there are a bunch of companies which claim to have had at least something to do with creating the codec. And while the Fraunhofer Institute seems to get most of the credit, Thomson, Philips, and Bell Labs (which was part of AT&T, but is now part of Alcatel-Lucent) all played a part. Not to mention Texas MP3 Technologies, which came out of nowhere to sue Apple, Samsung, and SanDisk recently
. The fundamental problem is that MP3 wasn't just dreamed up by a dude in a lab somewhere, it's a standard which builds on the work of earlier codecs and formats, so it's easy for a variety of different entities to legitimately lay claim to having some patents related to its creation. It's a messy situation that isn't going to get solved any time soon, especially given how much money's at stake, so maybe we should all just switch to Ogg Vorbis and save ourselves a lot of trouble?