Stanford News


CONTACT: David F. Salisbury, News Service (415) 725-1944

Stanford and Yamaha pioneer partnership in music synthesis

Electronic musical instruments, computers, video games, and karaoke may never sound the same.

Stanford University's Office of Technology Licensing (OTL) and Yamaha Corp. have announced a joint licensing program that comes close to cornering the intellectual market on a type of music synthesis called physical modeling.

Physical modeling involves producing sound by generating a mathematical simulation of actual musical instruments, rather than modeling the sounds alone. The approach allows performers to duplicate the performance nuances, such as over-blowing or variations in vibrato, that are possible with real instruments.

It also allows computer musicians and others to create and play new instruments that could never exist in nature, such as a flute played with a violin bow. The technology also can be applied to reproducing realistic sound effects, like doors slamming and cars screeching around corners.

"Stanford and its faculty believe in both the basic research that underlies most advances, and in the transfer of knowledge and technology to society," said Stanford University President Gerhard Casper. "This innovative technology, and the resulting partnership with Yamaha, signify that dedication to research and to fostering its practical uses and benefits."

The joint licensing program, which OTL officials believe is the first program of its kind in the country, grants the use of more than 400 patents and patent applications. These include basic patents for physical modeling synthesis developed at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics and previously marketed by Stanford under the name Sondius® and by Yamaha as Virtual Acoustic® (VA). The portfolio also includes patents and applications covering Yamaha's XG format, a set of rules for tone generation that extends MIDI, the standard communication interface among electronic instruments.

The Sondius® program was Stanford's first effort to not only patent discoveries made on campus but to trademark them as well. "The development of Sondius, started in 1993, was a major experiment for OTL," said Mary K. Watanabe, the OTL associate handling the program. "This major collaboration with Yamaha is a validation of this approach, as well as an important second step."

Under the new agreement, licensees pay a flat fee for the entire portfolio that is less than the maximum fees charged by the previous programs. "This makes things much easier for our licensees. They are not always certain which specific patents they will use in developing new products. With the new program, they will not have to pick and choose," Watanabe said.

The joint agreement represents a new type of relationship between Stanford and Yamaha. It is the first time that Stanford has entered into a joint agreement of this magnitude with a corporation. As far as OTL officials can determine, it is the first relationship of its type between a U.S. university and a private company.

Stanford and Yamaha have a long-standing business relationship that began in 1975 when Stanford granted Yamaha a license for its Frequency Modulation (FM) Synthesis, developed by Stanford professor of music John Chowning. With considerable investment on its part, Yamaha used FM synthesis to develop products such as the world's first fully digital synthesizer and an FM synthesizer chip found on the sound boards that give many personal computers audio capability.

"It's not every day that an international corporation joins forces with a world-class university in this way," said Kazukiyo Ishimura, president of Yamaha. "We're delighted with our renewed partnership with Stanford and are excited about the promise of Sondius-XG."

Stanford's FM synthesis patent, which expired two years ago, was the second biggest money maker in campus history. It brought in more than $20 million. OTL officials hope that Sondius-XG will ultimately reap an even bigger dividend for the campus.

The new licensing program will be administered by OTL, the unit that licenses patents, copyrights, and trademarks association with Stanford innovation.


By David F. Salisbury