1.6 MPEG-4 Industry Forum
Because MPEG itself is not allowed to deal with any issues besides the development of technical specifications (notably patent identification and licensing), the industry players interested in the deployment of products and applications based on the MPEG-4 standard decided in the spring of 2000 to create the MPEG-4 Industry Forum (M4IF) [M4IF]. The M4IF is a not-for-profit organization for industrial players who want to manufacture, deploy, or use MPEG-4 technology. The philosophy is that all involved parties, even though competitors in some respect, profit from the standard being accepted and taking off. The major goal of the forum is "to further the adoption of the MPEG-4 standard, by establishing MPEG-4 as an accepted standard among users, application developers, service providers, content creators and end users" [M4IF].
The forum is open to all parties agreeing with the forum's objectives and includes a broad, worldwide representation from consumer electronics, computers, and telecommunications companies as well as research institutions. Also, some of the members are business users of MPEG-4. Among the participants are many small companies that develop or deploy MPEG-4 technology. Membership goes beyond the MPEG constituency, partly because some of the smaller companies cannot comply with the requirements for participation in MPEG (which vary from country to country) and also because some companies do not need to be involved in the development phase.
The activities of M4IF generally start where MPEG stops. This includes issues that MPEG cannot deal with because of ISO rules, such as clearance of patents. According to the M4IF statutes, the M4IF purposes shall be pursued by the following means:
Promoting the standard and serving as a single point of information on MPEG-4 technology, products, and services.
Initiating discussions leading to the potential establishment of patent pools outside M4IF, which should grant a license to an unlimited number of applicants throughout the world under reasonable terms and conditions that are demonstrably free of any unfair competition; includes studying licensing models for downloadable software decoders, such as Internet players.
Organizing MPEG-4 exhibitions and tutorials.
Creating industrial focus around the standard, for example, by identifying which MPEG-4 profiles are needed for which market.
M4IF sees the creation of patent pools14 as one of the most important issues to enable the wide-scale adoption of the MPEG-4 standard. That is why the forum has facilitated a number of meetings of patent holders and intends to continue doing so until the pools are well under way toward being established. M4IF will not directly deal with patents, patent pools, and patent licensing. This is strictly a matter for patent owners to resolve and falls outside M4IF's scope. This means M4IF will not sell any MPEG-4 licenses or even determine the licensing policies. It merely acts as a catalyst in getting holders of essential patents to sit together and establish a portfolio of essential worldwide patents that are necessary for the implementation of the MPEG-4 standard in order to provide all MPEG-4 users with fair, reasonable, nondiscriminatory access to the technology under a single license. Also, M4IF discusses possible licensing principles, applicable to hardware and software products, to better understand the needs for licensing in emerging MPEG-4 application domains.
The goals are realized through the open international collaboration of all interested parties, on reasonable terms applied uniformly and openly. M4IF will contribute the results of its activities to appropriate formal standards bodies if applicable. The business of M4IF is not conducted for the financial profit of its members but for their mutual benefit. Any corporation and individual firm, partnership, governmental body, or international organization supporting the purpose of M4IF may apply for membership. Members are not bound to implement or use specific technology standards or recommendations by virtue of participation in M4IF.
M4IF anticipates holding three physical meetings per year, with a slightly higher frequency in the start-up phase. About 100 people have attended these meetings from all over the world. The instructions to join M4IF are available at the M4IF Web site at http://www.m4if.org/join.html.