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Dolby, Sony Create New Patent Pool for ‘Earth-Shattering’ Audio

Dolby Laboratories Inc., Sony Group Corp. and the research institute Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s U.S. arm have created a patent pool they say will promote the next generation of sound without the type of litigation that has plagued the technology industry for years.

The pool includes more than 90% of the patents needed to implement the new MPEG-H 3D Audio standard developed to create a three-dimensional sound experience on mobile devices, televisions and automobiles, said Joseph Siino, president of Dolby’s Via Licensing, which will run the patent pool.

“This is the first truly earth-shattering audio innovation in a while,” Siino said in an interview. “People want to avoid the nightmare scenario of having a bunch of intellectual property claims going back and forth and winding up in court.”

Musicians, video directors and other content creators get access to the technology for free, but licensing fees would be charged to the makers of the devices such as smartphones and soundbars, Siino said.

The per-unit fees depend on the number of units sold — 70 cents each for the first 500,000 and 25 cents each for any over 50 million, for instance — and the license fees will be capped at $20 million a year.

The new standard creates surround sound without the need for a room full of speakers at different levels, said Jan Nordmann, Senior Director New Media at Fraunhofer USA. The technology has been used in Korea for four years, and is in the “early cycles of use” in the U.S. and Europe, he said.

It can be used in mobile devices with standard headphones and gives consumers more control over what they hear. A character speaking in a movie can be made louder if the background noise is too distracting, or a user can get commercials broadcast in their preferred language. Thousands of songs are being remixed and recording artists are developing new ways to take advantage of the new technology.

“A listener can feel like they are in the middle of the band,” Nordmann said.

In addition to San Francisco-based Dolby and Germany-based Fraunhofer, other members of the pool include Tokyo-based Sony; Korea’s Wilus Inc. and Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute; Paris-based Orange SA; Amsterdam-based Royal Philips NV; and Canada’s VoiceAge Corp.

Having a one-stop shop for patent licensing “makes it easy for innovators and product companies to know where to come,” Siino said. “We’re not going to have that litigation overhang in bringing this technology to market.”

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