Wait, did Amazon just patent photography?
Hipsters grab your Nikons – Amazon’s just stepped up their photography game.
Filed back in 2011 and just granted in March, U.S. Patent 8, 676,045 lays claim to, “various embodiments of a studio arrangement and a method of capturing images and/or video.” It goes on to explain further details of standard photography techniques that have been around for ages: using a white background; employing a front, back and side light source; and even detailing the subject be located on an “elevated platform.” There are a thousand photographers out there using these techniques at this very moment. Does that mean they should be dropping their DSLR’s and looking for another gig? Not likely.
Further reading into Claim 1 revels why Amazon was most likely granted the patent, a unique set of criteria that will make it very hard to enforce in any patent litigation endeavor:
an image capture position located between the background and the front light source in the longitudinal axis, the image capture position comprising at least one image capture device equipped with an eighty-five millimeter lens, the at least one image capture device further configured with an ISO setting of about three hundred twenty and an f-stop value of about 5.6
Why all the specifics? An 85 millimeter lens, an ISO configuration of 320 and an f-stop of 5.6? My guess is that the reason for the detailed specifics is that Amazon likely filed the specification with a very broad set of criteria, as to have an easier time enforcing the patent in court. However, the first specification was most likely rejected and Amazon had to reconfigure its strategy. I would pay to see the patent prosecution history for this application. It was most likely a long and expensive battle before issuance. But it still raises the question: why?
Why would Amazon spend tens of thousands of dollars – just filing with the USPTO is at least $10,000, with filing fees and attorney costs – to lay claim to a patent that is wholly unenforceable? As TechDirt points out in their article concerning this outrage, if this is how Amazon wants to run its photography, couldn’t it have been handled internally instead of through the patent office? And why would an examiner at the USPTO waste their time prosecuting a patent that will never amount to anything? It seems that time could have been better focused on actual novel inventions and ideas, instead of a process that literally has been around for decades.
Again, it’s a case of the USPTO working in mysterious ways, and a company being granted another obvious patent for something they never invented but had the money to push through the patent system. I hope Amazon’s IP attorneys have fun spending all that money they just earned.