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Amazon patented the photography studio with a trivial setup. This is an example of patenting something everybody knows about, which the patent applicant did not invent, and which is in use in lots of places not under the control of the (now) patent holder.

So, if I'm already using this setup, can Amazon do anything about it? Or does this prevent me from writing books advocating this setup, or prevent me from describing the setup in my role as a professional? What about amateurs? What about Wal-mart photo studio? What about existing books about this technique? What the hell?

Does this patent have any relevance to regular people and what we are doing?

For the purpose of this question, please assume the patent is valid. What effect does it have on us, assuming it's valid and can be enforced. Do we have to tear down our studios immediately or what?

  • Possible duplicate of this: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/50036/… which I could not find by searching! – Jasmine May 27 '14 at 23:51
  • I saw some product photos yesterday which looked like this. I asked about them but the store owner said they were done by someone else and he didn't know the technique. I didn't like the way the product looked - floating in the air with totally white behind it. – Jasmine May 29 '14 at 16:24
  • The only meaning I got from it is that someone at Amazon made a bet with a coworker regarding what they could patent...and won. The loser in this bet obviously gave the patent office much more credit than they deserved. – Robin May 29 '14 at 16:30
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@Jasmine - I just read the patent and here is my opinion. (I'm not a lawyer, but they worked for us and I used to have to do a lot of patent related work as a research engineer - a very long time ago).

You are perfectly safe ... Unless you plan to open a studio that uses their specifically prescribed and fairly detailed set up e.g. 10:3 ratio of light intensity between rear light elements and foreground elements, and at approximately 3200K, on a platform, with a white background that will be seen as pure white - RGB (255, 255, 255) on the inter-web, such that the effect is that your subject appears to be floating over a white seamless background and you plan to use this set up to photograph and then sell products on ... eBay(or any Amazon competitor) ... or Amazon chooses to establish retail photography services for vendors (or perhaps for individuals) so the vendors have access to a quick and easy way to get their products onto the Amazon MarketPlace AND you plan to offer competing service to the same Amazon vendors using the exact same technique.

So, if your intent is to use that specific technique to compete with Amazon, then yes, worry. Otherwise, politely roll your eyes at Amazon.

Why did I see it this way? Because they emphasized a reduced need for post processing - I worked a bit as a freelance photo editor. Do you know what is the number one global, freelance request for photo editing? Cutting away backgrounds from products - some parts of the world call that "etching" or "deep etching" and it is a requirement for some to place their products on the Amazon Marketplace....

Patents are pursued for business needs and are only useful if the patent holder is willing to sue someone for abusing his/her patent OR the patent AND threat of litigation is a deterrent to someone abusing that intellectual property right.

Whooo .... I need to catch my breath. In short, I think you are fine .... Unless you are Jasmine-the-Amazon-Competitor. Then, you're in trouble.

So, you're fine, unless you're not, based on the aforementioned criteria. Which reminds me of the famous words of wisdom spoken by Mr. B. Banzai - "Wherever you go, there you are."

Does that make sense?

V/R

B Shaw

  • Thanks for your opinion, I like this answer! I don't do product shots very often, but when I do, it's never with a seamless white background. I prefer images with the product in its natural setting. – Jasmine May 28 '14 at 16:44
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The general consensus on patents.SE is that this patent should never have been issued and will not hold up in court because the technique it describes is both obvious and has prior art in spades.

Of course, going to court against Amazon's lawyers is something that a private person or small business simply cannot afford (at least in the USA), even if they're sure to win. But then, it's very unlikely that Amazon would sue someone who is not a threat to them - the potential publicity damage far outweighs any possible gain.

Edit: Disregarding the question of whether the patent is valid, the second paragraph still holds: Amazon is going to ignore you if you are not in direct competition with them. And if you are, you have a legal department and don't need to ask here.

The absolute worst case would be if Amazon sold the patent to a patent troll intent on extracting the maximum revenue: in that case, you might receive a cease and desist letter demanding you pay a license fee which will be carefully designed to be less painful to pay than to avoid.

  • I'm aware that people are saying the patent isn't legal, but for the time being, it does have the rule of law. So, could you answer the question that way? I will edit my question to be more specific. – Jasmine May 28 '14 at 0:19
  • I wonder how would they know if a product photo was taken using a technique they patented. Maybe the photo looks similar, but how would they know? Perhaps I used 9:3 lighting for background/foreground, and used highlight slider in post to turn the background to 255/255/255 white. – Esa Paulasto May 28 '14 at 7:08
  • @Jasmine: see update – Michael Borgwardt May 28 '14 at 8:22

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