The TV-Anytime patent pool is announcing early adopter incentives to companies wishing to license patents for the programme schedule metadata standard in an attempt to kick start commercial applications.

TV-Anytime aims to address the means by which consumers will be able to search, select and acquire broadcast programming using devices such as digital video recorders.

Via Licensing Corporation, a division of Dolby Labs, which is administering the patent pool associated with the standard, has announced special terms to companies taking an early adopter licence for $10,000 before 1 June 2007.

Device manufacturers will then be able to sell an unlimited number of devices before the end of 2008. Subscription-based television services will also be able to use the patents until then on similar terms.

Thereafter manufacturers and subscription service providers will be charged at the previously published rates. These run at $0.25 to $0.50 per consumer product device or $0.14 per subscriber per year.

Public service and free-to-air broadcasters and metadata service providers will be able to use the patents until mid-2017, subject to a $10,000 licence and a one-time administration fee of $10,000.

While the fees are relatively nominal, they may nevertheless raise concerns that the standard is not genuinely open and freely implementable.

The patent pool covers patents said to be essential to the TV-Anytime standard owned by the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI), France Telecom, LG Electronics, NDS, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics and Sharp.

The TVA-1 standard was developed by the TV-Anytime Forum and is published by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) as TS 102 822.

The standard was developed over an extended period since 1999, involving 35 international meetings and over a hundred companies, including interested parties such as the BBC and other broadcasters.

The real question is why such a metadata standard should be encumbered by proprietary intellectual property at all and why these issues were not addressed previously.

The success of the internet has demonstrated the importance of freely available open standards, developed through bodies such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (EITF) and the World Wide Web consortium (W3C).

It appears that TV-Anytime standard, which has been so long in development that its name has attracted a certain ironic meaning, could be clouded by patent issues in the same way that some have seen the MHP multimedia home platform be overtaken by commercial concerns.

To our knowledge, there has yet to be any real-world deployment of the TV-Anytime standard, although organisations such as the BBC have been experimenting with it for some time.

In practice, the licensing costs for data providers are almost insignificant in comparison to the substantial costs of implementing and supporting the scheme. As a result, we still may not see TV-Anytime soon.