The US Patent and Trademark Office is frequently maligned for its baffling/terrible decisions… and rightfully so. Because this is exactly the sort of thing for which the USPTO should be maligned. Udi Tirosh at DIY Photography has uncovered a recently granted patent for the previously-unheard of process of photographing things/people against a white backdrop… to of all companies, Amazon.
I am not really sure how to tag this other than a big #fail for the USPTO, or a huge Kudos for Amazon’s IP attorneys. In a patent simply called Studio arrangementAmazon took IP ownership on what we all call shooting against a seamless white backdrop.
Here’s a photo of Amazon’s bold new photography concept, which pretty much looks like every photo studio in the history of photo studios.
There’s plenty of technical text to separate Amazon’s white-backdropped photo studio from the thousands in existence prior to 2011 (the date of filing), which shows just how innovative Amazon’s concept is:
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…
Amazon does more explaining later on, differentiating its proprietary white-background photo thing from others exactly like it by pointing out that prior art often refers to image retouching, green screens or other forms of image manipulation. Amazon’s technique is apparently the purest of the pure, being only the photographer, the photographed object/person, the white background, a number of front lights/back lights and some sort of object separating the subject from the ground below it.
How does this breakthrough work in practice? Glad you asked.
1. Turn back lights on.
2. Turn front lights on.
3. Position thing on platform.
4. Take picture.
Now, we’ll note that in all fairness (HAHAHAHA), Amazon filed this application back in the early days of photography, circa 2011. Nearly three years later, that foresight has paid off, and Amazon can now corner the market on taking pictures in front of a white background.
Currently, prior art input is being sought at Stack Exchange’s Ask Patents, but questions about the patent’s viability may come down to the very specific specifics listed above. On one hand, the listed stipulations make it easier to route around. On the other hand, two of the specifics are hedged with the word “about,” leaving only the 85mm lens specification as truly “unique.”
Is Amazon about to start sending demand letters to photo studios? That seems unlikely. But it does raise the question as to why this patent was sought in the first place. If this is how Amazon performs its product photography, it seems like it could have been handled in an internal document, rather than pushed through the patent office. Even if it’s never used for trolling, it’s still on record as “something Amazon thought up,” rather than nowhere to be found as studio setups for shooting against a white background have been in use for several decades.
Chalk up another loss in the USPTO’s column and a baffling, oblique “win” for Amazon’s IP legal team, which now “owns” an obvious method.