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Amazon has just been granted a patent on the method for using:

  • A white seamless background
  • An elevated platform
  • Rear-facing lights

...in order to make the entire background and platform disappear without the use of green-screen techniques.

That's a fine approach, but it certainly does not look patent-worthy to me. If we can find examples of this technique being used before November 2011 ("prior art"), then we can help invalidate the patent, and possibly prevent photographers from being sued.

I have various links regarding the patent:

I think this issue is worth the attention of the Photo Stack Exchange community.

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As any answers should be posted on Ask Patents, I reckon this question could be closed but not deleted here (until the Ask Patents question gets an accepted answer, at the very least) - I obviously don't want to wave my moderator stick, if the wider community doesn't agree with me, which is why this comment exists :) –  Rowland Shaw May 7 at 9:44
2  
Please leave it open. –  TFuto May 7 at 11:32
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I think its relevant. How many of the people on this site have any reason to peruse the Ask Patents site? If anything having this posted here makes them even more aware of the issue so that they could go there and provide their input. While being specific and probably non-enforceable, i think this is a very important issue for photographers. –  ecathell May 8 at 20:45
1  
@ecathell: That's exactly why I posted it here. And if nothing else, we'll get a bit of photography history. –  Craig Walker May 8 at 22:08
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I can't say when it was first used, but I do have a book here from 1985 that describes how to get a completely white background (give it 2 stops more light than the subject). –  Bart van Ingen Schenau Jun 18 at 14:02

1 Answer 1

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I don't know when they were first used, but I can find some easy examples from the 20th century. For example:

American Photo, Jan-Feb 1992, page 116, "A User's Guide to Know-How", by Russell Hart:

[...] shoot the subject on a sheet of clear plexiglass [...] and run your
white seamless a foot or two behind the plexi. Make sure your lighting keeps the seamless fully illuminated to avoid rendering it gray in the final shot.

Popular Photography, May 1995, page 75:

To keep background truly white [...], you've got to light it. Here, lights were placed on each side of a white seamless backdrop at a 45-degree angle.

I'm not a lawyer, and patents (unfortunately and sadly against the constitutional intent) seem to be written to be impossible for non-lawyers to read, but I've seen various opinions on the degree of specificity for lighting ratios, positions, and focal lengths that this patent purports to cover.

One of the most interesting is How Amazon got a patent on white-background photography from technology news site Ars Technica. This suggests that the patent was granted because some of the specific numbers involved aren't previously found in writing. That's likely true, since it includes a number of measurements that are really incidental to the technique and are unlikely to be detailed elsewhere.

There are an uncountable number of patents out there. Basically everything you do ever violates someone's granted patent, and as crazy as it sounds, many of those patents are legitimate under our current system. This isn't a site for legal advocacy, and, as much as I admire what they're doing over at Ask Patents, I'm afraid that — short of some big, well-funded company fighting it out in court — this one is probably going to stay around until we get real patent reform.

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