Free-to-air broadcasters will no longer have to pay patent licence fees for using MHP interactive television middleware. The fees set by the patent pool administrator Via Licensing have been controversial and have partly accounted for the lack of widespread adoption of the DVB standard.

In a letter to the DVB Project, which oversaw the development of the Multimedia Home Platform standard, Via Licensing president Jean-Michel Bourdon informed the organisation that the requirement for free-to-air broadcasters to pay patent licence fees for MHP has been removed with immediate effect.

The letter states that the decision has been taken in the interests of supporting the continuous deployment of MHP services around the world.

The use of MHP 1.0 will still attract a royalty of $1.75 per device from manufacturers. Subscription service providers pay $0.25 per subscribing household per year. There is an administration fee of $15,000 per licensee, reduced to $1,000 for small organizations.

The previous plan was to charge public service broadcasters up to $100,000 a year from 2009. Although comparable to the licence fees charged by providers of proprietary middleware, and not enormous in comparison to the overall costs of broadcasting, this was enough to dampen enthusiasm for MHP, which had been devised as an open standard.

Anthony Smith-Chaigneau, a long-time advocate for MHP who is co-author of the definitive book on the subject and now works for Alticast, wrote recently that “Proprietary vendors saw their ‘billion dollar market’ at peril and fought very hard to ‘bad mouth’ the DVB-MHP standard and inhibit its entry into the market.”

As a result, public service and commercial broadcasters were less inclined to licensing the standard. The BBC was notably negative, supporting instead the more basic MHEG-5 standard for Freeview and the new Freesat service.

MHP, which is based on Java, remains significant for interactive television. In the form of GEM or Globally Executable MHP it provides the basis of the OCAP standard, now known as Tru2way, as adopted by cable companies in the United States. The GEM Framework is also used for interactive features in Blu-ray discs. It also offers the basis for an open standard in IPTV and hybrid broadcast and broadband services.

The decision to drop the licence fees for free-to-air broadcasters will no doubt be welcomed by the DVB Project. Last November the organization initiated a review of its intellectual property processes, largely as a result of its frustrations with the MHP patent pool arrangements.

The question remains whether the change in licensing policy has come too late, or whether long-term damage has been done to the MHP initiative. As regular readers will know, informitv has been covering the MHP story for many years and would welcome your views.