When we read about Amazon's new "Studio Arrangement" Patent (#8,676,045), we had to ask for PPA attorney Stephen Morris's input. While you might agree with Shoot the Centerfold's statement that the patent is "BS", the fact is that it's already been granted, so you still need to be careful.
Morris breaks it all down below:
PPA Attorney Stephen Morris Weighs-in On Amazon's Studio Arrangement Patent
What's a patent?
Patents are one of the main areas of intellectual property law (the others being copyright, trademark and trade secret). As noted by the U.S. Patent Office, once granted, a patent gives the inventor the right to "exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted."
A utility patent, such as the one obtained by Amazon, can be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.
What does the Amazon patent mean for photographers?
"Based on my review, the patent granted to Amazon is for the specific process outlined in the patent. This means that the act, or series of acts, described in the patent may not be replicated by others (unless a license is obtained). However, it does not prohibit photographers from using other methods to achieve the same or a similar result. As many have noted online, photographers have used various techniques throughout the years to create images of people and products on seamless backgrounds."
Am I / will I be infringing?
"Patents are a complex area of the law. Determining whether the use of a particular process to achieve a result is 'infringing' is very fact intensive and subject to judicial interpretation.
While nothing in this article is, nor should it be considered, legal advice, we can outline what it takes for a patent owner to establish that someone is infringing on their patent.
In order to claim infringement of a patent, the owner must demonstrate that every element of a claim is (1) literally infringed or (2) infringed under the doctrine of equivalents. The doctrine of equivalents involves situations in which the alleged infringement process has the "substantial equivalent" of each and every claim or limitation of the patent.
This means that if even just one element of a patent's infringement claim is missing from the process, then it is not infringement."
So... How many claims are there in the Amazon patent?
"There are 27 'claims' associated with the Amazon patent, and they're pretty darn specific. (If you're interested, you can actually view the patent in its entirety.)
As an example, Amazon's first claim is presented below. It requires that nine (9) very specific elements be present in the process:
A studio arrangement, comprising:
- a background comprising a white cyclorama;
- a front light source positioned in a longitudinal axis intersecting the background, the longitudinal axis further being substantially perpendicular to a surface of the white cyclorama;
- 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;
- an elevated platform positioned between the image capture position and the background in the longitudinal axis, the front light source being directed toward a subject on the elevated platform;
- a first rear light source aimed at the background and positioned between the elevated platform and the background in the longitudinal axis, the first rear light source positioned below a top surface of the elevated platform and oriented at an upward angle relative to a floor level;
- a second rear light source aimed at the background and positioned between the elevated platform and the background in the longitudinal axis, the second rear light source positioned above the top surface of the elevated platform and oriented at a downward angle relative to the floor level;
- a third rear light source aimed at the background and positioned in a lateral axis intersecting the elevated platform and being substantially perpendicular to the longitudinal axis, the third rear light source further positioned adjacent to a side of the elevated platform;
- and a fourth rear light source aimed at the background and positioned in the lateral axis adjacent to an opposing side of the elevated platform relative to the third rear light source; wherein a top surface of the elevated platform reflects light emanating from the background such that the elevated platform appears white and a rear edge of the elevated platform is substantially imperceptible to the image capture device;
- And the first rear light source, the second rear light source, the third rear light source, and the fourth rear light source comprise a combined intensity greater than the front light source according to about a 10:3 ratio."
So should I take this thing seriously?
Yes! Much like our stance on copyright, PPA takes the position that all intellectual property rights should be respected. Whether we like it or not, this patent has been issued, and photographers are encouraged to follow the law and to avoid replicating the process outlined in the Patent's claims.
That being said, PPA is monitoring the situation to ensure that Amazon's attempts to protect its patent do not overreach in ways that are detrimental to the photography profession as a whole. If you are contacted by Amazon or a law firm representing them with a cease and desist demand, please contact PPA's Customer Services... immediately. PPA takes this matter very seriously and we will help where needed.