"In the US, my understanding (IANAL) is that practicing a patent does not require a license, only importing or distributing."
The USPTO Sez (http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/doc/general/#patent)
The right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself, the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States or importing the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention. Once a patent is issued, the patentee must enforce the patent without aid of the USPTO.
Relevant portions bolded and italicized by me. (See also the the MPEG-LA's response to my query in the other article comments.
Certainly, if I were to write my own H.264 decoder, I am not infringing.
Yes, you would. That would be the non-bolded "making" above, which precedes the bolded "using".
Now, if I were to distribute a software decoder, that would require a license under current case law.
Perhaps under current case law (IANAL), but not under a strict reading of the USPTO's talk (as long as it's not for sale, sold, or brought into the US).
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