"LA" stands for licensing authority, but each time I see MPEG LA and China in the news headlines I think of the other L.A. -- Hollywood -- and the ultimate intellectual property -- the movies and TV shows -- that all this other technological intellectual property is intended to distribute and protect. (See Chinese set-top box makers, MPEG LA face off over patent fees.) Will this current round, over set top boxes, be a re-play of what MPEG LA went through several years ago, with DVD movie players, which arguably culminated in China's creation of its own, homegrown DVD format? Meanwhile, one still wonders how it's legally possible to create a DVD player that sells at retail for $30 (see MPEG licensing basics.)
Two things are different this time around, however. This time, it appears that MPEG LA is offering much more reasonable terms than the roughly $15 required for a DVD player.
And with set top boxes, the customer is different. Unlike DVD units, which are ultimately sold to individual consumers, set top boxes are often sold to service producers, who include the box on a leased basis as part of the service. That's the model in the U.S. (which the consumer electronics industry has been fighting for years, incidentally.)
MPEG LA is hardly going to go after individual purchasers of cheap DVD players in an attempt to collect royalties, but they might very well go after the likes of Time-Warner, Cox Cable, or Verizon, for example. Of course, outside the U.S., enforcement -- even using the leverage of service providers -- will inevitably be more challenging. But for the sake of inventors everywhere and the integrity of the patent system, I wish 'em luck!