May 9, 2014
Today a photography blog unearthed another strange development in America’s ongoing patent train wreck: Amazon was recently awarded the intellectual rights to taking pictures of people in front of seamless white backgrounds.
Critics of the deal from the tech and photography worlds are split on what they see as the bigger affront: the gullibility of the US Patent and Trade Office, or the genius of Amazon’s patent lawyers.
The patent, which you can read here, was originally filed in 2011, and has the fittingly sparse title, “Studio Arrangement.” It takes five pages of dense text to explain the photographic innovation at issue. There is a diagram that, TechDirt points out, “pretty much looks like every photo studio in the history of photo studios.”
The Amazon technique is illustrated in their patent filing with this flowchart:
As photography writer Udi Tarosh pointed out on the blog DIY Photography, this method is not exactly new. TechDirt summarizes it thusly:
1. Turn back lights on.
2. Turn front lights on.
3. Position thing on platform.
4. Take picture.
As TechDirt explains, this filing is unlikely to result in any serious disruptions for the photography industry, because the specifications listed are easy to work around and almost impossible to enforce.
The US patent system makes it quite easy for people to lay claim to intuitive, easy processes, which so-called “patent trolls” have used to throw wrenches into the cogs of actual innovation (an issue that some in the US Senate are trying to address). However, as TechDirt writer Tim Cushing points out, it’s unlikely that Amazon is actually going to go this route. Instead, he thinks, they just want the credit for dreaming it up.