A bright potential is shining for interactive TV in Brazil, which has a unique moment of opportunity to start from a complete, royalty-free specification — Ginga — and avoid the systemic stalling gridlock that has plagued patent-based/industry-segment-controlled interactive TV in the US and elsewhere.

The first developer conference is announced here for April 2.

It is heartening to see the broad mix of participation, including key players in the industry such as Globo (Brazil’s largest TV broadcaster), Intel, Sun Microsystems, CESAR Institut, University of Paraíba and SouJava (Brazil’s largest JUG).

Sun Microsystems has released a royalty-free Java specification as an alternative to the royalty-encumbered “GEM” and “MHP” family of digital TV specifications developed by the European Digital Video Broadcasting group and associated groups.

“GEM” and “MHP” may not be exactly household words, but they are the backbone specifications of the interactivity layer of Blu-ray, US cable’s “tru2way” platform, and national DTV adoptions in Italy, Korea, and elsewhere.

The backstory to this seemingly minor announcement should be evaluated closely by anyone around the world interested in the still-emerging field of digital TV deployments — it will provide eye-opening insight into the techno-politics of royalties, and the alternatives.

This royalty-free/open source specification work, announced in March 2008, has been a collaboration between Brazil’s Digital Television forum (SBTVD), the Brazilian government, Sun, and leading DTV vendors in Brazil to provide a royalty-free foundation to Brazil’s Ginga interactivity specification for DTV.

Patent royalties have been a painful aspect of digital TV rollouts around the world and belatedly recognized as problematic in the US.

Brazil is leading the charge of developing countries that are rethinking the business-as-usual approach of the developed world to the nexus between patent pools, standards, and open source (the word “neocolonial” comes up not infrequently when one looks at efforts by patent pools from developed countries to charge developing countries royalties to “join the digital TV era”).

Brazil has applied this fresh thinking to its digital TV rollout.  In 2006, Brazil chose the Japanese ISBD digital TV and mobile broadcasting standard in an MOU with Japan to “allow Brazilian companies to use the technology without paying royalties” — much to the chagrin and nay-saying of the royalty-encumbered European DVB and US/Korea ATSC standards.  The move sparked ongoing techno-geopolitical debates, but nonetheless has helped to up (or more accurately lower) the royalty ante for future DTV adoptions — like the already royalty-free UK MHEG-5 specification dodging the patent-pool bullet and enabling more royalty-free options for digital TV deployments.  One might suspect downward price pressure and bargaining leverage may have been in the picture when the MHP patent pool quietly lowered its prices.

Congratulations to the many incredibly talented people that have brought out the world’s newest and most innovative (and royalty-free!) interactive specification for digital TV, and thanks for the opportunity to help!