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Amazon granted patent for taking photos against a white background (uspto.gov)
253 points by edandersen on May 10, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 157 comments

I like how all the comments so far are defending the fact that the patent isn't quite as broad as the title suggests. Sure, they are patenting taking a picture against a white background when perpendicular against a... Who gives a fuck. This is a patent to take a picture against a whit background. There is no invention here. The only thing novel or unique is the fact is that some genius realized that with enough legal terms, you could patent a photo shoot. Shit America, get it together.

Apparently, approving such patents makes the USPTO "efficient", by getting rid of the backlog (as if that should be the main goal of the Patent Office?!):


You know what would make USPTO even more efficient than approving almost everything? Rejecting almost everything.

Unfortunately not, because when applications are rejected, the lawyers simply change some parts and send them back in. The only way to get rid of an application forever (as far as I know) is to accept it.

I bet I can slam a "No." stamp down on stacks of paper faster than a lawyer can generate stacks of paper.

At the very least I have postal service latency on my side.

Well, guess we'll be spending the day invalidating this. Instead of getting angry, just invalidate! It's easy! Find some prior art. This one should be a fucking dawdle.

It doesn't fully contradict your point, but FWIW, Applicants do have to pay the USPTO $1,200 to $1,700 (with some exceptions) every other time they send the application back in. And of course, "changing some parts" typically involves reducing the scope of rights you're seeking, which most folks would regard as progress for the public's interest.

That is peanuts to a large firm who has now pushed a large legal burden on it's competitors. If this is about saving money and clearing the backlog, then the government is externalizing the cost back to the tech industry.

If patent applications were version controlled with git, it'd be easy to check if those changes warranted a patent. No need to reread the entire thing, if the same examiner were checking it.

Maybe there should be a limit to the number of times to can refile a rejected patent and within a limited amount of time (like 6-9 months)

They do have this clause to try and expand the breadth of the claims:

It should be emphasized that the above-described embodiments of the present disclosure are merely possible examples of implementations set forth for a clear understanding of the principles of the disclosure. Many variations and modifications may be made to the above-described embodiment(s) without departing substantially from the spirit and principles of the disclosure. All such modifications and variations are intended to be included herein within the scope of this disclosure and protected by the following claims.

I am not a lawyer so do not know how much weight such clauses have, but it would seem to be trying for a lot more than just the specifically described arrangement.

Patent author & holder here: this is a standard and necessary clause with the purpose of generalizing the examples given in the patent claims and description. Without such a clause, it could be argued a slight variation away from the examples cited are outside of the patent's claims. This clause removes that capability.

But what if the patent itself is a slight variation of a more general and public notpatent?

Upvoted for being cuttingly accurate and making me laugh out loud.

>> Sure, they are patenting taking a picture against a white background when perpendicular against a... Who gives a fuck.

PMSL. Come work for me.

Looks very much like the photography that Dorling Kindersley has been doing for 30-40 years for their books.

What strikes me about it is how pointless it is. Do we really believe Amazon are going to file a suit against anyone based on this patent?

They can certainly counter-bully people using it, say if someone has a legitimate claim against Amazon, but happens to violate this patent.

That is basically what it all boils down to. Patent as much as you can so you can defend yourself, and eventually make a cross-license deal that doesn't cost too much money. And just maybe, it might make you a little money. My personal favorite is the patent on a cell phone ringing and vibrating at the same time. For a long time most other phones would alternate.

Primary Examiner: Blackman; Rochelle-Ann J. Other patents by the same examiner: http://patents.justia.com/examiner/rochelle-ann-j-blackman

It is the examiner's job to reject patents which aren't innovative, and that clearly hasn't happened here.

Funny. Looking at that list I start wondering how that really can happen. Yes, I know that jurisprudence is BS, there's no such thing as justice, etc., but really. I mean, looking at this list makes it so obvious that something isn't right, that I don't understand how she can have a job. That is, it couldn't be that examiner's work isn't overviewed/supervised by other instances, could it? If so, why Ms. Blackman haven't lost her job yet? Why nobody questioned her examination cases? Or maybe she is doing it right and it's only hard to understand if your brain isn't spoiled by law education? Can somebody explain?

It took me more years working than it should have to realize this: If someone consistently does a poor job, look up. They aren't the problem.

> I mean, looking at this list makes it so obvious that something isn't right, that I don't understand how she can have a job.

Just reading the list gives you no useful information whatsoever about how well or how poorly she is doing her job. All the list has is the abstracts from the patents. A patent abstract is kind of like the blurb on the back of a book, or a trailer for a movie. They give you an overview of what the patent covers, but there will be innumerable ways to accomplish what the abstract describes without infringing the patent.

When you are looking at a list of patents to figure out if you might be infringing one of them, or to figure out if one of them describes a solution to a problem you are trying to find a solution for, the abstract is more of a tool for telling you which patents you can skip rather than what ones you need to take a deeper look at.

To see what the patent actually covers, you have to read the claims. However, the claims are interpreted in light of the specification, so you have to read that, too. A claim may appear to be quite broad, but the discussion in the specification might limit general terms in the claim to very specific values or meanings. In most cases, a patent is not something you can just sit down and quickly understand, even if you are an expert in the field the patent is in.

Even this is not always enough. You should also read the "file wrapper" for the patent. That's the collection of documentation generated during the processing of the patent application. It will include things like the examiner's prior art search results, initial rejections of claims, the letters from the application trying to persuade the examiner to change their mind about rejected claims, answers to questions from the examiner, and stuff like that. You can get the file wrapper online through the "Patent Application Information Retrieval" (PAIR) interface [1].

[1] http://portal.uspto.gov/pair/PublicPair

The self-enclosed member can include an inner surface at least partially defining an enclosed region, and an outer surface that turns outwardly to engage a cavity or lumen wall in addition to turning inward to at least partially encompass a central region defining a longitudinal path.

Why nobody is showing concerns about her to the USPTO? Do US Government agencies have any politics about the general public concerned with the work of the individuals working there?

What about other examiners?

Why nobody is showing concerns about her to the USPTO?

This feels a little too close to being a witchhunt. Once we start talking about "why isn't the internet reporting these people to their employers?" the conversation has stopped being about ideas.

EDIT: The concerns seem justified. I'm just saying that maybe we shouldn't be trying to use HN to organize the end of individual careers.

Calling attention to the fact that this patent was examined by particular individuals seems ok. It's just a fact.

Using HN as an organizational vehicle to help angry people on the internet get some specific people fired, by name, would be a troubling new trend for HN. We're a community, not a task force.

It's an ugly trend, sure. But I think there's something to be said for reporting people to their employers when your concern is that they're doing their job badly, where "badly" here might be read as "incompetently" or "perniciously".

How do you feel about filing complaints against cops for, say, beating up arrestees? What about taking bribes?

If reporting a cop for taking bribes is OK, why is reporting a patent examiner for awarding a patent in the face of prior art bad?

What about reporting a clerk to their manager for speaking to you rudely? Not only does this happen all the time, I don't see a lot of people saying hey, lay off the rude clerks.

edit: a pair of summary examples:

"X is a satanist". This doesn't impact X's performance as a patent officer, or really anything else.

"X couldn't recognize prior art if it was disclosed in the patent application". This directly impacts performance as a patent officer, and can properly be reported to X's employer.

How do you feel about filing complaints against cops for, say, beating up arrestees? What about taking bribes?

Oh, there's no question: I love being beaten by police officers! And bribery is good for the soul, don't you think?

Seriously though, using HN as a way of organizing large numbers of people to action against specific employees is probably stepping a bit too far. That's almost the very definition of an internet witchhunt. Getting these people fired won't fix the underlying problems.

> That's almost the very definition of an internet witchhunt.

Apart from the two defining factors of a witch hunt: (1) irrational (2) assumption of guilt.

I'll grant you the "Internet" part, though.

> Getting these people fired won't fix the underlying problems.

Arguing against taking action is almost guaranteed to let these problems fester and get worse for almost everybody except those very few who are profiting from the situation right now (the ones that you are trying to protect from an imaginary witch hunt, a currently non-existent situation).

Then there's of course evoking the medieval imagery of torture, stake burning and death. Which is maybe appropriate as long as you're actually talking about e.g. the old 4chan (and similar) style "Internet witch hunts", mob justice, personal harassment and bullying.

But it is nothing short of disingenuous when referring to people taking action and filing complaints when they notice someone doing a bad job in a high position of power. Even if those complaints may result in more than just a slap on the wrist (which seems like a likely outcome, anyway).

The fact that people notice this as a group or a community doesn't make it a "witch hunt". And arguing to not do anything just because a lot of people are aware of it, is really quite silly, counter intuitive or counter productive (however you want to call it).

I'd be right with you if there was any suggestion remotely like a 21st century equivalent of stake-burning or mob justice, but there isn't.

I'd agree that HN isn't the place generalized advocacy and that the same should be actively discouraged if it happens more than rarely, but, for specific cases such as this one, HN users have a relevant and appropriate interest. Technology patents directly affect HN users' lives and businesses. Furthermore, HN users are particularly well-suited to have educated and well-informed opinions on this particular matter; much more so than most of the general public. It is such an obscure area that interested parties cannot reasonably expect the general public to properly protect their interests.

So, if not here on HN, then where?

* So, if not here on HN, then where?*

If you are referring to a vindictive mob singling out a low-ranking individual for mob justice, nowhere. That's about as far from the hacker ethos and the principles of a functional society as one can get.

>If you are referring to a vindictive mob singling out a low-ranking individual for mob justice, nowhere.

It sounds really terrible when you say it like that.

Well, if it wasn't for all the people in this thread valiantly defending the status quo, we'd be about this close to literally burning some innocent individual at the stake.

That's certainly worth a few frivolous patents, don't you think?

> Oh, there's no question: I love being beaten by police officers! And bribery is good for the soul, don't you think?

Sure, I picked a favorable example. I go on to directly ask you about the analogy: If reporting a cop for taking bribes is OK, why is reporting a patent examiner for awarding a patent in the face of prior art bad? Do you have a response?

> Getting these people fired won't fix the underlying problems

I'd say that depends on how many people get fired. If the effort to throw them out persists, the patent office will change.

Getting one person fired, calling it a victory, and going home is unlikely to fix any underlying problems.

>I'd say that depends on how many people get fired. If the effort to throw them out persists, the patent office will change.

Makes you wonder when someone will throw up a crowd-sourcing website that tracks patent examiners where people can submit/link to questionable patents they awarded and upvote/down vote to get some kind of consensus. I also wonder if people would really care enough to take part in something like that.

Ask Patents seems to be active enough:


I guess they aren't interested in focusing on individuals though.

It's funny how branding works, I searched for "patent overflow" to find the site.

Aghh, that completely slipped my mind.

I agree that it's very interesting, and its probably very telling as to the group of people that is probably going to be best equipped to addressing the problem without having to hack away at traditional means that have thus proven themselves highly ineffective/slow moving at this point.

I think that means there is probably going to be a subset of that audience that would participate in something like that but with more focus on individuals and pressuring the patent office to act through some means (email,tax,phone calls, transparency on a systemic issue with some data). I guess this could be a spin on civic engagement.

Ah yes, the old "just doing my job" line. If people can't hide behind that excuse, they'll be more inclined to act like responsible citizens and human beings.

So please, this is not a witch hunt. It's merely us saying that normal people, like you and me, are behind some of the madness that could potentially affect a giant section of the population. Treat them like human beings, and maybe they'll take the initiative next time without our prompting.

Good point. On the other hand, this isn't a case of non-disprovable accusations based on superstition. What it looks like is a case of incompetence. Surely not the only one at the USPTO, but that doesn't excuse it.

A witch hunt would involve gaming the reporting system to hassle people for irrelevant reasons.

This is at least arguably discussing how to report a legitimate concern.

> A witch hunt would involve gaming the reporting system to hassle people for irrelevant reasons.

Specifically I would say that a witch hunt is characterized by an assumption of guilt, combined with a high false-positive rate, combined with offers for leniency if the accused points their finger at others. That's how the House Un-American Activities Commission did it, and those are the parallels between the HUAC and Salem that Arthur Miller identified.

Merely accusing somebody of doing their job poorly isn't anything like a witch hunt.

absolutely.. stop here! It's the system not a poor woman working for a giant money printing industry! Challenge the status quo instead of sniping out individuals.

Not everyone has the ability to do both. People should do what they can.

Even though I can't invent a new clean energy source, I try to reduce energy use where I can.

> Why nobody is showing concerns about her to the USPTO?

What are the odds that her supervisor has no idea what's going on? They either have a broken quality review process or, more likely, have been told to do more with less for so long that people know they aren't doing good work but need to deliver numbers. Hiring people to work in the federal government is a bitter political issue so it's almost certain that they're understaffed, particularly since the legally-mandated process and payscale will complicate hiring technical experts in fields which pay well.

In either case, you can complain about this person in particular but you really should be contacting your congressional representatives to request both legal reform and increased budget / accountability for the USPTO to avoid some congressman's “savings” costing industry billions when a bad patent is issued.

If we're going to have a discussion about patents, we need to actually have a discussion about them, not base our opinions on blatant misrepresentations. For example, people often claim that Apple "patented" the rounded rect, which is so dishonest that basically you have to call it a deliberate lie.

The title of the article is politically biased. Amazon did not patent shooting a subject in front of a white background. They also never patented buying something with just one click.

The problem is, that the political agenda against patents (and the people who oppose them, it seems) don't care whether the patents are on something innovative or not.

For instance, I participated in some work that resulted in a patent of a solution for some very difficult problems in MMOs. The outraged headline was "Company patents playing games online!"

When all of the opposition against patents comes form people misrepresenting patents, it's hard to see it as anything other than sour grapes that certain companies are more innovative than others. (the recent anti-patent movement is coincident with a specific innovation.)

While I agree with you that anti-patent rhetoric often spawns ridiculous headlines with unread articles beneath them, do you not feel that Amazon's patent in this case is a little odd?

Here's the abstract, for those who tl;dr'ed the article:

"Disclosed are various embodiments of a studio arrangement and a method of capturing images and/or video. One embodiment of the disclosure includes a front light source aimed at a background, an image capture position located between the background and the front light source, an elevated platform positioned between the image capture position and the background, and at least one rear light source positioned between the elevated platform and the background. A subject can be photographed and/or filmed on the elevated platform to achieve a desired effect of a substantially seamless background where a rear edge of the elevated platform is imperceptible to an image capture device positioned at the image capture position."

It appears that they've managed to patent the idea of setting up two lights, a white background, and a small pedestal for the object to be photographed. Isn't it a logical certainty that this has been done before? How is this an innovation worthy of legal protection?

"do you not feel that Amazon's patent in this case is a little odd?

Here's the abstract..."

Yes the abstract makes it sound very vanilla. OTOH that's the whole point of an abstract, to give the most cursory and non-detailed summary of the thing possible. Here's a slightly more detailed summary of what's being patented:

"More specifically, embodiments of the disclosure can allow images and/or video of an item placed in a studio arrangement as described herein to be captured with a background that appears, when captured with an image capture device, as a near perfect white without the need for post-processing, retouching, or other image manipulation. In other words, images and video of items captured in the studio arrangement appear against a background that is equivalent to a white background when converted into a web color hexadecimal triplet corresponding to a true white."

As far as inventions go that isn't the wheel or light bulb but it's still a legitimate invention. This patent is fine under the rules of the game today. I would be happy if 95% of current patents, including this one, weren't issued but the impetus for that change needs to come from legislation.

> As far as inventions go that isn't the wheel or light bulb but it's still a legitimate invention

Really? That's both trivially obvious as a goal and something which has been independently re-"invented" countless times since the dawn of printed product catalogs. The only difference is that they tossed in some technical jargon about the web — I strongly doubt that it'd have been issued if it referred to the identical process in the print world.

My understanding is those since the dawn of time setups generally needed "post-processing, retouching, or other image manipulation".

The desire for something like this might be obvious but the actual multiple moving parts they've arraying to achieve it in fact constitutes an invention. There might be many ways of achieving the same result -- those different setups are also inventions. Go take a look at how many patents there were for light bulbs before Swann and Edison.

This works both ways: patent holders view of what their patent covers expands dramatically if they need cash. Your work might have been a very specific problem but if the company goes broke, in a few years everyone might be hearing from a lawyer claiming it covers far more than you claim now.

Having clients receive letters from shakedown operations (e.g. a patent for part of a wired in-store POS system being claimed as integral to every online storefront) I'm rather skeptical about your belief that there's a significant problem of dishonesty on the patent reform side. Yes, there might be the occasional headline which oversells things but for every example you provide you can find a dozen cases where someone's lawyer made an equally outrageous claim which cost people doing actual innovative work millions of dollars.

It's also the examiner's job to narrow the scope of rights granted by a patent to accord with the amount of innovation present. The output isn't binary, and there's some utility in letting weaker filings through the system. An absurdly narrow patent that's impossible to infringe (often called a "glamour patent") still yields over $10k to the US treasury and avoids an extended and expensive fight by the government over rights, that at the end of the day, are of no value.

If you're going to call an examiner out, why don't we see if you can do a better job? Here are the rules if you want to prove the patent invalid (the examiner does not make them):

1. Read the claims. Of the thousands of comment this has generated, only a miniscule fraction have even mentioned the claims. The scope of the patent is defined by the claims, so that is what you must invalidate. The broadest claim is conveniently quoted for you here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7725200

2. If you want to prove non-novelty, find one documented reference that covers or even suggests using the exact combination of elements in the claim. Of course, the documents must be published and clearly dated before the priority date of this patent.

3. If you cannot do that, you may try to prove obviousness, in which case you need to find a combination of the documents above. How many documents you need to combine is not specified, but a rule of thumb is, anything fewer than 3 - 5 references. Anything more makes it difficult to prove obviousness.

4. If you cannot do that, try to prove it invalid as non-statutory patent eligible matter. That is tough, because broadly speaking, anything that has the least bit of industrial utility counts.

5. Another option is to show that the language of the claim is ambiguous. That does not mean “obfuscation” or “patentese”; this language is like plain English to those who read it every day. What it means is, for instance, if the language of the claim refers to one of many elements, but it is not clear which element it refers to. In NLP terms, it is a case where co-reference resolution is not definite. These types of invalidation are rare because they are easy to catch and typically examiners catch them pretty quickly.

6. One last option is to show that the specification does not have enough detail to support whatever is claimed. If the claim requires 10/3 lighting ratio and the spec does not mention it anywhere, that's an easy invalidation. Pointing to online comments from a thousand people and so-called “tech journalists” who do not know what claims are, and who can claim without any documented basis that “it's been used for ages”, does not count as a reference.

If you have any relevant prior art, you can post it to askpatents.com, and someone has already conveniently started a thread for it here: http://patents.stackexchange.com/questions/6543/photography-...

It'll probably not get any attention because 1) it's already issued, so no examiner is looking for prior art for it, and 2) nobody will infringe or otherwise care enough to go through the hassle and cost of a re-examination. However in case somebody does decided to do so, askpatents will be a good place they might look at.

So go ahead, put your money where your mouth is, and go find prior art. That will be more constructive (and enlightening) than making uninformed comments on forums read by nobody that makes policy decisions.

I just read the first one 8718462, and I actually think it might be worse than the "photographs on a white background" patent linked to in article.

This appears to be the broadest claim at a quick glance. If you do at least one thing different to this I believe you would not be covered:

2. A studio arrangement, comprising: a background comprising a 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 background; an image capture position located between the background and the front light source in the longitudinal axis; an elevated platform positioned at a first distance from the elevated platform and between the image capture position and the background along the longitudinal axis, the front light source being directed toward the elevated platform; a first at least one rear light source positioned between the elevated platform and the background, the at least one rear light source directed towards the background; a second at least one rear light source positioned in a lateral axis intersecting the elevated platform and being substantially perpendicular to the longitudinal axis; at least one light shield positioned between the second at least one rear light source and the elevated platform, the at least one light shield configured to shield the elevated platform from light emitted directly from the second at least one rear light source from lighting an upper surface of the elevated platform; and wherein a top surface of the elevated platform reflects light emanating from the background such that the elevated platform appears a substantially similar color as the background and a rear edge of the elevated platform is substantially imperceptible to an image capture device positioned at the image capture position.

Claim 1 (the only other independent claim) seems much narrower so that if you aren't using an 85mm lens AND some particular settings of the camera you wouldn't be covered.

Note: I am not taking a position on the validity or use of this patent just that the title[0] of this thread seems to be something of an extreme simplification to me.

[0] "Amazon granted patent for taking photos against a white background" (in case it changes).

That's not necessarily true - thanks to the doctrine of equivalents, even if what you're doing doesn't fall under the literal scope of the patent claims you could still be infringing on it. (What's more, whether you're potentially infringing also depends on how exactly those limitations came to be in the patent claim.)

"positioned in a longitudinal axis intersecting" = "pointing at"

obfuscation is the name of the game

You wouldn't get away with horrendous babble like this in essay in any subject at any level of education.

This looks like it's for product pictures

Products are usually photographed against an "infinite background" (usually white)

> an elevated platform positioned at a first distance from the elevated platform

Anybody understand what this means? Something can't be at a distance from itself, so are there two platforms?

(except the rest of the texts keep referring to "the platform", suggesting there is a unique single one)

The abstract sounds far-reaching, but for patents the claims are what matter. And the claims of this patent are extremely narrow. It shouldn't be difficult to sidestep these. My general rule is that if you see specific numbers in the claims ("eighty-five millimeter lens", " configured with an ISO setting of about three hundred twenty", etc.) you probably have a pretty weak patent.

The fact that they needed this configuration means they must have found prior art that discloses other configurations.

The notion that this particular configuration would not have been "obvious to try" is ridiculous on its face.

Weak patent or not, it should not have issued. Overcoming prior art through choosing a different set of standard lens settings, without any showing that a photographer of common skill would have not have tried those settings (IE they at least produce an unexpected result), is crazy

Would it be valid for me to submit my own patent application, with the exact same wording as amazon's, but substituting "50mm lens" in place of "85mm lens"?

I dont know how patent law works, so I'm honestly asking.. if the narrowness of the claims makes it okay, wont we eventually end up with hundreds of patents covering the entire space of possible configurations?

Patent law requires something to be "non-obvious". It cannot be a single step away from a previous patent. This patent would count as prior art for such an obvious change, and as such the patent you describe would not be valid or granted.

Non-obvious is supposed to be a broad term, but in reality a patent examiner will just search through prior patents for prior art. In this case, if you really did copy everything else word for word, he or she would very quickly find the existing patent and deny you.

If valid, this would be a nice way of amassing a huge patent portfolio whilst spending very little on lawyers' fees (with the potential added benefit of exposing possible grounds for invalidating competing patents if you get your applications turned down)

I've long wondered if this is the result of measuring the Patent Office's staff productivity by the number of patents granted per staff or working hours. Higher 'productivity' by such metrics could lead to higher budget or promotional opportunities for their managers, for example. Such things would skew their processes and judgment to allow for more patents being granted, while benefiting most internal decision makers.

If anyone knows the metrics/KPI used internally and by the governing body of the Patent Office, please let us know. It could help point to some ways to reform the system in the short term (without needing to go through Congress).

We could create a proposal to reform the system by changing their internal KPI and penalize the Patent Office and individual examiners when too many of the patents they grant are not held up by court or judged by an independent committee to be inappropriate, for example. (The penalty should be strong enough to counterweight the benefits they gain from granting more patents.) This should not require Congress action and the Executive branch can start a reform quite quickly.

Here's discussion on patents.stackexchange: http://patents.stackexchange.com/questions/6543/photography-...

There's a small voice, way way in the back of my head, that's wondering if corporations are in the beginning of a campaign to reserve everything doable and expressable to themselves.

That sounds ridiculous, except ... well, patents like this, and the apparent willingness of the Patent Office to grant anything that can be said on an application.

The silver lining to broad patents: very soon, all those broad patents are usable as prior art.

And the dark cloud behind that: Congress selling patent extensions to the highest bidder. Although I suppose it's eventually going to devolve to Congress being on retainer.

I believe the voice in the back of a head has been patented, you can't do that anymore without paying a royalty. Use your thoughts wisely.


Yes, beginning, I think it will get much worse.

Currently people are still free to write and publish without paying rent to a patent holder. I don't think ycombinator, for example, is yet paying anyone other than their host/ISP to run this site. But you know someone is going to patent blogs, and web pages in general, they're gold nuggets just waiting to be picked up off the ground.

We here are more aware of it because it's affecting us first. That the general public hasn't been directly affected and probably isn't really aware of what's happening also shows that it's only the beginning.

Food is still free, as in libre. Anyone is free to raise their own chickens, vegetables and goats, notwithstanding zoning laws, and to trade seeds and stud services. Monsanto and their ilk are working hard to push self-reproducing seeds out of the food chain, and blanket the earth with Roundup so that only Roundup ready plants will live. I'm assuming animals, via cloning and mules, are in our near future.

I have noticed several comments mentioning prior art as a defense against absurd patents. With the recent passage of the America Invents Act, the United States is now a "first to file" country, not a "first to invent". If you do invent something new, you basically have only one year's time to get a patent application filed before running the risk of losing it to another filer (provided you have publicly demonstrated or sold your invention). Demonstrating that you invented the product first will do you no good. It is possible to extend this by a second year by filing a Provisional Patent Application (a much simpler, less expensive filing that only grants patent pending protection for a year until you file an official patent application). On the surface the AIA was intended to make obtaining patents easier for the layperson, but the expense of filing with the USPO actually makes it much more difficult for the lay inventor to defend themselves against a large entity with money and lawyers. It also encourages inventors to hide rather than demonstrate their ideas, lest someone else file a patent application first....

First to file merely does away with the battles between inventors both trying to file for the same invention claiming and trying to prove that they invented it at some time prior to filing. First to file does not effect prior art and things that are already public domain. You can't just cruise on over to github and pick a FOSS project and be "first to file".

> If you do invent something new, you basically have only one year's time to get a patent application filed before running the risk of losing it to another filer (provided you have publicly demonstrated or sold your invention). Demonstrating that you invented the product first will do you no good.

Well the secondary filer would also have to implement it within the year, which for most things will not be so trivial. The more annoying thing about the AIA with regards to defensive patenting is the elimination of the SIR.


It would seem that switching to 'first to file' virtually guarantees that the USPTO patent backlog will get much bigger, as it encourages filing early and filing often.

From the detailed description, this is the problem they say they are solving:

> Prior art solutions for achieving such a result for capturing images and/or video of objects set against a true white background include solutions that often involve some type of image retouching, post processing, "green screen" techniques, or other special effects and image and video manipulation to achieve the result of an object set against a true white background. Accordingly, as will be described herein, embodiments of the present disclosure provide a studio arrangement in which an object can be photographed and/or filmed, and the images and/or video captured by the camera achieve the effect noted above without any image manipulation due to the particular arrangements of the subject, camera, lighting and background.

First of all, that's not true. You can buy various products on Amazon that do the thing they think they are solving.

Secondly, while other people have noted that to fit the coverage of their claim #1, you would have to be using a particular length lens, etc. They are just describing a typical portrait studio configuration. There is nothing novel about the configuration they are describing. Not the focal length, not the aperture, not backlighting to prevent objects throwing shadows, etc. Not one novel problem or solution.

The patent they refer to, 20030206735, is a patent for one such device, a lighting box. This patent refers to a previous Amazon patents for photographing against a white background. This previous patent appears even less novel and appears to be patenting lighting a backdrop to eliminate shadows. The other patents referred to seem to be irrelevant.

While I doubt the lighting box patent is really novel, at least there is a thing they are patenting. Both Amazon patents are patenting an arrangement of bog standard lights, backdrops, and cameras, arranged in obvious ways. There is no invention, no thing in these patents. If you still had to make patent models, the model would be... nothing!

Its not about how narrow patent is - its still picture on white background. Such a picture with this specs might be done for art (picture art is huge part of modern culture) and afaik law prohibits patenting art... I feel sorry if anyone breaks the patent by mistake and will get nice letter from Google that they need to get rid of their picture...

Why would they get a letter from Google?

I get sick of people fretting over stupid patents. Take matters into your own hands and invalidate these fuckers. I think I found some prior art just Googling around:


Frankly, this patent is even broader than Amazon's, as it includes support for multiple background colors, and it allows for the lights to be anywhere, as opposed to some specific position Amazon delineated.

The thing I'd like to know is, is there anything that we can do for this? you found the prior art quickly, so it is clear that the patent should not be valid but is there anything citizens can do to point this out? is there any way of invalidating a patent once it's been awarded short of legal action?

As far as I know there is no recourse other than legal action (which is incredibly costly) once a patent has been granted which I think is part of the problem of these ridiculous patents being granted in the first place.

Posting the patent here might be a good idea: http://patents.stackexchange.com/questions/6543/photography-...

Someone may eventually take a look at it.

The US patent system must be a money making scheme because it looks like (at least to my untrained eye) they're granting patents for anything. I thought the original idea was to patent inventions. Huh!

So we can patent camera and lighting angles now?

This is similar to my reaction: A patent for a focal length and ISO setting? How is this innovative?

Particular settings for otherwise standard set ups, do not seem to me to meet the bar. What's next: Patenting key strike patterns on our keyboards?

happened already ;) remember the guy who patented smileys? (it was unapproved later)

I don't know, am I morally wrong if I don't give a fu about patents, but honor and credit the original founder, IF I copy things? I mean like we've been thought in practice with CC

"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"

crazy. But very specific in some ways. 85mm lens is a great lens for this stuff and portraits. I see sales of the 90mm tilt shit increasing..

The diagram shows a person as a product. There is a lot of prior art out there for a lot of lighting setups, often diagrammed.

If you want to take better flash pictures may I humbly suggest http://www.strobist.blogspot.com/

Admittedly I only did a couple of years of law school before switching but...

...surely any evidence of prior use of the patent arrangement to the patent is a get-out clause for anyone being charged with infringement.

I can claim originality of a printing press all I want right up until someone can prove a printing press as I designed it existed prior to my design.

90% of patent investigation is finding anything even remotely close to what you are being taken to court for infringing.

I am certain a whole repository of photographs exist that used this setup prior to the patent filing.

Of course. But there is a huge asymmetry in that issued patents are presumed to be valid. There is no burden on a plaintiff to prove their patent is valid. The defendant has to separately sue to invalidate, and that costs at least a few $100ks per patent.

There should be an administrative process to invalidate patents and a bounty for successfully pursuing such actions.

The number Adam Carolla keeps using for defending against the pod casting patent is 1.5M. So far he has spent 60k on trying to get the venue changed, since neither he nor the patent holder lives in east Texas.

It would be even better if the patent application process was adversarial. There should be an-equally robust argument against the validity of the patent at every step of the process.

In theory, they're not called patent examiners for nothing. In practice, you can patent a white background.

From the verge comments by TheGage

"Patent attorney’s like myself find these articles rather uninformed. Prosecuting a patent before the USPTO nearly always (+95%) involve an Office Action in which an Examiner at the USPTO searches the prior art and then presents one or more prior art based rejections. The job of the patent attorney is to argue the claims of the patent in terms of novelty and non-obviousness over the prior art.

The file wrapper, which is available to anyone at this Government website who can complete the USPTO’s CAPTCHA and enter the US Patent No. (which is 8,676,045 for this patent), provides this dialog. In the prosecution history for this patent, you can see an Office Action (search “Non-Final Rejection” in the “Image File Wrapper” tab) and the patent attorney’s reply, prior to issuance of the patent.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the Examiner’s often do not present the most likely or on point prior art, but to say that granting the patent doesn’t involve prior art is incorrect. We can debate whether a granted patent amounts to anything and a lot of that depends upon context.

Finally, what so many get wrong (both journalists and the public) is that patent infringement hangs on the claims. That is, the claims define the scope of the invention. The detailed description/specification provides various examples in support of the claim. The Title is often vague due to case law imputing narrow title limitations into the claims (so never depend on the Title when exclaiming what someone has “patented”). In this patent, the claim is something like a page and half long, having over 7-8 features, each of which you would have to prove before a court that the alleged infringer has done in order to be awarded damages.

Indeed, in reviewing the claims, Amazon hasn’t just patented “taking photos with a ‘near perfect’ white backdrop,” but according to the claim for Amazon’s patent, I would argue that Amazon patented a very involved and strictly defined way (the’re even ratios in the patent so avoiding infringement would be as easy as having slightly different ratios) by which to take photos with a “near perfect” white backdrop.

Hope that helps. I know few patent attorney’s bother (and we’re a rare breed with only ~70K of us registered patent agents from the start of the patent system), and I’m probably wasting my time because it makes for less dramatic coverage, but I would like the anti-patent vibe on cites I otherwise enjoy to be less sensational and more informed.

Best, MKG"


As a patent attorney myself, I can say that what this particular patent attorney misses is "the forest for the trees"

The point is that patenting the idea of taking photos against a white backdrop with certain ratios is ridiculous, whether you can tweak the ratios to avoid infringement, or whatever.

Yes, someone got paid to turn it into a half page claim "that would have to be proved to a court". Great. That's not hard for a patent agent to do, that's what we are paid to do. It is completely irrelevant to whether this patent should have ever seen the light of day.

His entire comment smacks of "it's okay, because it may have been a lot of work to get this patent!"

> patenting the idea of taking photos against a white backdrop with certain ratios is ridiculous

Is that really obvious? I haven't studied the patent from top to bottom, but I did look at the claims, which seemed extremely narrow. I'm only an amateur photographer, so I can't rule out -- at least not on a brief reading -- that this particular combination of elements might produce some novel effect.

Anyway, of all the bad patents coming out of the PTO, this doesn't seem to me to be one of the ones to be most concerned about. It's extremely narrow, and on top of that, how would they ever detect infringement? Is there any chance they could tell, by looking at an image, that it was produced exactly this way? I rather doubt it.

The question I always come back to is, is the cost to society of granting a monopoly on this technique outweighed by the intellectual contribution of the idea? In this case, the cost seems so small that I'm not even sure it's worth my time to figure out whether there was any intellectual contribution at all.

The combination of elements is descriptive, not proscriptive.

There are clauses elsewhere in the patent that greatly expand the claims so you do not have to have copied the exact description in the claims to be infringing, as long as your setup is similar and is aimed at achieving the same end result.

> Prosecuting a patent before the USPTO nearly always (+95%) involve an Office Action in which an Examiner at the USPTO searches the prior art and then presents one or more prior art based rejections.

I recently replied to a non-final office action on a patent I helped write. I was ready for battle, having 20 years ago rescued a patent written by other inventors that came back with dozens of patents cited as reading on it. It took days to research and respond to each item in that office action.

This time, the office action must have been written on Friday afternoon during a busy session on Farmville. Only the first few claims had specific references and the rest were rejected "by ditto." Only one patent was cited as reading on this patent. Responding was so easy I had to read the fairly brief office action three times to assure myself that was it.

Now that's just two data points, and maybe this newer patent is lucky to be for an unusually clearly novel device, but I have reasons to think it is in a field with lots of patents.

The difference in care taken by the examiner looks astounding. That first time I worked on saving a rejected patent, I ended up flying to DC with an expensive patent lawyer and demoing the invention to two examiners. Does that even happen anymore?

I think standard practice these days is basically to reject most patent applications once and then accept them if the applicant bothers to resubmit - the USPTO doesn't have the resources to actually investigate applications in depth, and any examiner who tries is at risk of losing their job for not meeting their targets.

Startup checklist item #378: Get some bullshit patents we don't even believe are valid to use defensively and/or pretend we have some protectable IP. Of all the things I don't want to spend time on, this is right up there.

There are tons of prior art out there to invalidate this stupid patent. Wondering what lawyers at Amazon where thinking when they filed for this patent.

They were thinking: more billable hours! Yay! What else can we patent?!

I am going to file a new patent for taking arbitrary volumetric images of objects placed inside virtually infinite integrating sphere [1] illuminated by arbitrary combinations of spectral emitters (polychromatic light sources).

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integrating_sphere

I have long understood the primary incentive to patent an idea is to protect research and development investments. It makes sense from the perspective that inventions can often be reverse engineered for a fraction of initial R&D cost. I could be wrong, but if I am not... how much R&D went into this little gem of photography 'innovation'.

I'm always laughing my ass of when I read for which stupid shit you can get a patent in the U.S. If you seriously ask for a patent like this in Europe, they tell you to take your pills and get the fuck out of their office

Oh dear... I should have been a lawyer. I could troll for money, instead of wrecking my head with processing myoelectric signal on a mean 16MHz machine. [no offense to lawyers]

This reminds me of the application to the jp patent office on playing with a Kendama. The difference is that the jp office didn'nt approve it.

Does anyone know why the defensive patents were eliminated? If Amazon is being honest with the goal of this then that would have been perfect.

defensive patents were not eliminated. There is still, for example, RPX corporation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RPX_Corporation) which does "active" defensive patent protection in a for-profit model.

What was, however, eliminated, was the Statutory Invetion Registration: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Statutory_Inventi...) For this reason: "Since the adoption of the eighteen-month publication procedure, the use of SIR has decreased substantially, and the America Invents Act eliminated this tool for inventors." (http://www.aiarulemaking.com/rulemaking-topics/group-3/repea...)

Even if you change the title to - "Amazon granted patent for taking photo in a particular way." It still sounds really bad.

On the practical side:

Does this mean that in the us legally speaking putting lights and camera like on the picture requires consent from amazon?

This stupidity need to be stopped ..

Sorry, stupidiy stoppers ARE patented!

Is that why the bookcase keeps falling off the wall?

Just imagine what happens if you implement a One Click over a white bakckground!

Any plans to reform the patenting process?? Anyone???

Next up: patent for taking pictures with any device.

Wow - cornflakes! (can we patent that?)

Okay so this patent is for background color of RGB:1,1,1 Do they have patent for RGB:1,0.99,1 ?

This looks like it's for product pictures

How dare they describe a good way of getting even white background on photos so others can use it for a nominal (or no) fee?

This kind of attitude that any patent is only filed so to be used for a lawsuit is part of the problem.

What's wrong with patenting this method of taking photos for others to see and use?

Has anyone contacted Amazon and asked if they license this patent and for how much? No. Let's hate.

Patents aren't supposed to protect descriptions, they're supposed to protect inventions.

My degree is in Digital Imaging Technology, I worked out of college for many years as the CEO of a film startup (stillmotion) that did quite well (way before I joined DigitalOcean).

This disgusts me. Here are the idiots behind it(*potentially, as I've not talked to them, I can't confirm 100%):


Gross gross gross gross.

As someone who worked with this team during the time in question, I find this to be a mean-spirited and ignorant comment.

It's mean-spirited because you refer to my colleagues as "idiots," when I can assure you that they are not.

It's ignorant because you appear to have no idea how the assigned-patent process works in a large company. If you wish to have a discussion about the merits of this particular patent or the process in general, go right ahead. Just leave the personal attacks out of it.

Anyone who isn't an idiot would have seen how idiotic this patent is.

It seems the patent has four inventors, but tinasu isn't one of them. Where did you get the name from?

It's an extrapolation from my research, I could be wrong, but I'd be willing to bet I'm not (if i'm wrong, I'll happily apologized many times over).

"Extrapolation" is not an acceptable reason to offer someone up for public shaming.

If you are wrong, any number of apologies would not cover you for this: you are making a direct public attack on someone who might well be an innocent party.

The way you have written it is potentially libellous - libel is illegal (perhaps even in the USA) for a reason.

Don't gamble with accusations please. Do that on your own turf if you must but don't drag HN into a witch hunt.

Fair, fair.. buttttt...

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jeremy-sawatzky/6/8a/461 is almost certinly one of those who "invited" the parent, if you look at the side on linkedin, Tina is the CEO he works with, also works at amazon, and Christina = Tina, so it's not like it's a wildly unthought out comment, I did put some logic behind the claim.

But yes, I do agree it's bad practice.

Then why do it at all? You are making lots of suppositions and public shaming of individuals never does any good.

I'm not a lawyer, so I really have no clue if this is accurate AT ALL, but.. is amazon the only one who can impose the patent infringement claim or can the inventors also? I also ask because, if they are the people who invented it, and they can, it seems they have gone off and started a photo/imaging company... that's a little troubling no?

You should be banned for this comment.

Following his reasoning, he should be public shamed.

The last tweet is pure gold in this context: https://twitter.com/thinksimplenow/status/464738030125711360

This kind of public shaming needs to happen more often. Someone should build an anonymous (to avoid lawsuits) public index of assholes like these.

>public index of assholes like these.

It's hard for me to upset with these specific individuals, because I don't know their plans or agenda. In reality, if it wasn't them, at this point, it would be someone else at some other point. From that perspective, companies are almost forced to do this to protect themselves. What would happen if they were beat to the patent?

All you can do is hope the the patent holder is the most benign option. The real idiots are the regulators. This system is broken.

What would happen if they were beat to the patent?

In this case there is no "Beat to the patent." to consider. This is basic photography.

Knocking out a background nicely with backlighting and an infinity curve so that the back is brighter than your foreground highlights, so you can then tune the camera to get the back all white and just chop out your subject easily is a technique that predates digital photography.

You may note that the advance they describe is that this technique negates the need for computer processing. There is a very good reason for that, and that is because when this technique was developed, computer processing was done on hand cranked adding machines.

>In this case there is no "Beat to the patent."

The fact that they were issued a patent says otherwise.

No it doesn't. It just means that money has been spent needlessly on something that should it ever actually end up in court will just be a colossal waste of time and money for everyone concerned. Merely being issued a patent doesn't prove if the patent is worth a damn, there was a patent issued for a method of swinging on a swing http://www.google.co.uk/patents/US6368227

>No it doesn't.

Yes, it does. They got a patent for the process, meaning had they not, someone else might have. Hence them "beating" others to the patent.

I'm not arguing about the validity of the patent, or really, the system in general. I'm saying, it's better to have the patent yourself then be sued by a troll holding a patent for a ridiculous process you're using, resulting in a "colossal waste of time and money for everyone concerned."

Unfortunately, this is the state of the world; some players filing over-arching, stupid patents, others filing defensive patents for leverage and protection. Until they sue someone for this, it's impossible to know the intent. Regardless, it corrupts the system.

This kind of public shaming shouldn't happen at all. Maybe it was only patented to be able to defend against patent trolls.

The patent system is the problem, not the companies using it to their advantage. Because that's what companies in capitalism do, using everything to their advantage.

>> Maybe it was only patented to be able to defend against patent trolls.

It seems like this has been the standard rationale given by companies when they are awarded these kinds of patents. A few years later, we see lawsuits "defending" these ludicrous patents.

The system is certainly broken, but a broken lock does not justify a burglar's actions.

"The system is certainly broken, but a broken lock does not justify a burglar's actions."

Wow, that's such a loaded analogy.

You're basically saying that they must willingly sacrifice themselves on the alter of the competition just because you don't agree that this is how the system is to be used. The system isn't "broken" in the conventional sense that it doesn't do what it was built to do. It's doing it perfectly, it's just that you didn't consider the implications of someone taking your laws and systems to their logical conclusion.

All the "moral" companies that agree with your usage of the patent system have not taken advantage of the patent system. The ones you do see are the ones that don't agree with your usage. And for all we know, the former is struggling because it wasn't using all the potential advantages at its disposal like the "immoral" companies did.

In the context of the conversation, we've been talking about Amazon. You're right... I don't agree with their usage. This isn't some small little guy bravely trying to fight off the wolves with a few patents they got their hands on. I don't see many examples of them using patent system to do "what it was built to do".

I don't care if you want to call it moral vs. immoral. Software at the high level has become a game of who can get a patent and sue everyone else. I think it sucks, and yes, I think it is broken.

>The patent system is the problem, not the companies using it to their advantage.

How do you think the patent system ended up granting basically everything in the first place?

Like with practically everything benefiting huge companies in the US, it's the result of intense corporate bri... lobbying.

"How do you think the patent system ended up granting basically everything in the first place? Like with practically everything benefiting huge companies in the US, it's the result of intense corporate bri... lobbying."

Well, this is the effect of the democracy that you people have created and nurtured over the years. Why do you want to blame the companies that have stepped in to take advantage of the rules you have set forth? And yes, that includes giving them the power to affect the rules.

>Well, this is the effect of the democracy that you people have created and nurtured over the years. Why do you want to blame the companies that have stepped in to take advantage of the rules you have set forth?

I haven't nurtured this form of democracy at all (lobbying), I'm from Sweden, not the US. Nor do I believe that the actual voters have 'nurtured' this form of paid influence, if it were ever to be subject to a specific vote then I'm certain that the vast majority of american voters would be against this.

They have nurtured it if they did nothing to stop it. Either way, they set up their form of governance initially and then didn't bother to continuously monitor it and adjust accordingly.

They deserve everything that is happening to them precisely because of their in-action through their crappy voting. It may not be nice, but that's the reality of it. At this stage, only radical things will fix it.

"if it were ever to be subject to a specific vote then I'm certain that the vast majority of american voters would be against this."

Yes, there is the rub. They probably would vote that way, I agree with you. Except they can't. They're divided and powerless to demand any sort of referendum. Heck, one need only look at recent approval polls for congress/president/law to see that the majority are NOT happy. Yet, they plow on and do nothing except whine and vote.

It's not supposed to be a shaming, just important to see the people who submitted the patent.

The most troubling thing is that this diagram: http://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?Docid=08676045&homeurl=http%3A%...

Depicts pretty standard butterfly/paramount lighting (less the lower reflector) that is taught in every college photography program in the world. I also worry that they appear to be photographers outside of their jobs at Amazon, what kind of a competitive advantage is this? I have no clue as I'm not a lawyer.

Ah yes, because nothing's better than a repository of dox for script kiddies to reference on impulse and without a balanced arrangement of facts or even independent confirmation that the listed persons were actually involved. I can't think of a single instance where that's gone horrifically wrong!

We have a concept called "rule of law" to address such grievances. Vigilante "justice" should not be facilitated, especially not against people who got their names slapped on a patent. If the patent is illegitimate, bring suit under all applicable charges, including considerations for the malicious intent you so obviously believe the inventors held.

Let's never build a list like the one you've proposed.

We have a concept called "rule of law" to address such grievances

Unfortunately we don't. There is great asymmetry in favour of the patent holder, a patent is presumed valid until challenged, and that is easily a six-digit sum. Most people and most small companies don't have that kind of money lying around to state their case that Amazon is patenting basic techniques in studio photography.

And there is the problem. This outcome appears unjust because it is. The civilized way of justice through the courts is not available, consequently we are seeing calls for vigilantism. Someone will uphold the law, and if it isn't the Executive and Congress the street will step in to fill the void.

The civilized way is available. If existing patent law makes it prohibitively difficult to remove a bad patent, the civilized solution is to call your local representatives and work with them to author a bill that modifies the system. It is not to release personal information about the people who disagree and say, "Well, the law isn't what we want it to be right now, so we're going to harass, torment, embarrass, and scare you, because you did something legal which I don't think you should've been allowed to do." Again, look up rule of law. If we can't accept that sometimes we have to obey and respect law while simultaneously working to correct it, whether we agree or not, then we have nothing left.

> We have a concept called "rule of law" to address such grievances.

No it doesn't, and that's the problem. Vigilante justice is a slippery slope and tends to do more harm than good, but let's not pretend the motivation doesn't exist. Because it does. In spades.

The law goes after people that do illegal things.

Public shaming goes after people that do immoral things.

This is not about vigilantism.

There are multiple types of law, but all of it addresses the public's sense of acceptable tolerances of moral behavior. If someone immorally acquired a patent, there are or should be legal functions to provide redress. If the legal structure necessary does not yet exist, that's why you have representatives. Call them.

"Public shaming" is not a good behavior in civilized society. Think about the patent from the perspective of the authors. Consider their motives. It's very unlikely that the motive is "I'm going to sue everyone who takes a picture on a white background." Consider the importance of a defensive patent portfolio and the likelihood that a case that actually did cite this patent would fail. It's entirely plausible that the patent was acquired for purely defensive purposes ("If we don't claim it, a less-good entity will, and they'll use it irresponsibly").

Even after all this, perhaps the authors simply have a different perspective than many on HN. It's not actually objectively evil to have differing or uncommon beliefs on what comprises a valid patent. Does that disagreement really justify the complete obliteration of the person's privacy?

I keep posting about this on HN and people keep ignoring it, but this is just another example of the rapid deterioration of civil society. If people can't even disagree on a matter as blase as intellectual property law without getting doxxed and run out of their homes, we have a very serious problem with major ramifications for the continued existence of free society.

Can you be the first asshole on the list? It's not like these people operated without consent of Amazon. If anyone is an asshole here, it's Amazon.

Amazon is a company run by people.

People at Amazon are not absolved of making poor ethical decisions, just because they are doing it in the name of a corporation.

its seems to be a bit more specific than that

I don't have any idea of US Patenting works. Its ok some idiots apply for patents like this. How it got accepted! Is it like I can say anything i like and got accepted!

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