back to article Amazon granted patent for taking photos against a white background – seriously

You sometimes have to wonder if the US Patent and Trademark Office is augmenting its staff with a few barely trained gibbons – and its latest patent does nothing to ameliorate that view. On March 18, the USPTO granted a patent to Amazon for photographing people and products against a white background. To answer your next …

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Facepalm

Un-Believing-Fuckable.

If I file a procedure & method for razing the USPTO to the ground, will they ratify it?

Please?

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Re: Un-Believing-Fuckable.

A slightly more subtle and ironic method might be to apply for a patent for a method of conferring intellectual property rights over concepts, ideas, methods and processes, and their specific or non specific technical implementations. Once that's granted, as it most surely will be, you can then sue the USPTO out of existence for infringing your shiney new patent.

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Re: Un-Believing-Fuckable.

@ Originone

Thanks for that - much better idea. I was running on the assumption that they're all, in fact, as idiotic as they appear.

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approaching zero?

No, they have been digging for some time.

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If you read it

They are patenting it not being a white background but detecting the background and adjusting "the web RGB colors" of the image to make it white - in other words automatic white balance.

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Re: If you read it

So the thing my camera does, the one I bought a decade ago?

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TRT
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Re: If you read it

Is that why the shirt I bought didn't look the same shade as the one in the image?

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Re: If you read it

"They are patenting it not being a white background but detecting the background and adjusting "the web RGB colors" of the image to make it white"

Like wot the genlock did wot I used on an Amiga computer all those years ago?

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Trollface

Re: If you read it (@John Brown)

Sorry, but as a pedant I feel duty bound to point out that GenLock has nothing to do with white balance. It is a system for locking the Sync Pulse Generator of a local device to match the Sync Pulses of an external reference (which may be the external video feed itself) so that you can mix local and external pictures together. Obviously if those pictures are in colour and the GenLock is not correctly phased then one or the other pictures will have wierd colours but this has nothing to do with making antything white.

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The problem are patent lawyers

Typically the patent clerk checks for such things. However since lawyers are very unpleasant to deal with, they will probably try their best to get them away more quickly. This is the main task of a patent lawyer, you don't need it otherwise. (My patent, and all the patents at the company I worked for previously, didn't need a patent lawyer.)

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Correcting the conclusion

'Nazer said Amazon would be unlikely to try and use this patent in court yet, and it's more likely something that the company can just add to its existing portfolio to use as a weapon when it has reached peak innovation and wants to stop more agile competitors from eroding its market share.'

The problem with stupid patents isn't necessarily that many will immediately or ever be aired in court, it's that the very threat of them stifles innovation and dramatically increases the barrier of entry into technology markets so that bloated incumbents can extract profits at the expense of the public good. The need to hold a war chest of vague patents to do battle with makes it much less likely that a new Microsoft or Oracle will rise up to slay the existing monoliths and therefore much more likely that the current ones will continue to extract excessive license fees well past their natural expiry date.

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Gibbons

Gibbons are highly intelligent primates.

Please do not insult them by saying they might work for this bunch of twonks!!!

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Re: Gibbons

Yep, if only the USPTO were staffed by Gibbons

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Alien

I have a patent on corporeal being.

So if you are not a ghost, please send the £50 licensing fee for yourself and any animals you own to the following address .....

Captain Cretin

The Starship Astral Princess

Clarke Orbit

Earth

Sol

Milky Way

Sorry, I can never remember the Post Code, I remember it ends ZZPluralZ.

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Facepalm

Re: I have a patent on corporeal being.

I remember it ends ZZPluralZ.

You forgot the Alpha...

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Anonymous Coward

The lawyers made sure the first patent they took out was 'methods for checking patent applications for prior art and obviousness'. So to avoid patent infringement, the USPTO was thus prevented from checking any subsequent patent applications. Et voila...

There's an argument that with the large financial numbers sloshing around patents, a small tax or tariff on patent licence fees could be directed to funding more and better patent inspectors.

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Anonymous Coward

There is no question that the USPTO is in a state of horrible disrepair. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that the USPTO, like the USPS, generates revenue for the government, but receives no funding from it. The USPTO is therefore dreadfully under-funded, and it has primarily attempted to deal with this problem by (1) hiring less qualified examiners, and (2) using computerized word searches rather than having examiners actually read patents to determine the relatedness of concepts. So anyone can get a patent on something simply by making sure that the invention is described using different terminology than previously granted patents on the same subject matter.

As a result of these practices, the value of truly novel patents is seriously degraded. In fact, the whole US patent system is now in a complete state of disarray. While its credibility may or may not be zero, its value certainly is. There is no general solution to this mess that I can think of, other than to re-examine everything from the '80s (when the computer word search method replaced human searching) to the present. This amounts to about 5 - 4 million patents.

As an inventor, I have landed firmly in the middle of this horribly distasteful pile of ****. Fortunately the value of my IP is high enough to warrant raising funds to sue the numerous infringers. As an aside, I would add that the verbal abuse directed at "patent trolls" is completely misplaced. They are the one recourse to justice for little guys against 800 pound gorillas.

As to this particular patent, as a serious photographer I find it quite useful, surprisingly. It solves a problem I have been grappling with for some time. It is not about taking a picture against a white background. It is about configuring the stage and lighting so that the object appears to be completely suspended in space by making the platform indistinguishable from the background. I will be building this capability into my studio quite soon.

So I do believe that the patent's method is useful. Whether anyone ever discovered this method previously, thereby invalidating the patent due to lack of novelty, is another matter. How about if some of you professional critics take a look around and see if there is any "prior art".

P.S. I wrote a letter to the White House discussing these USPTO problems, but so far (39 months later!) I have not received a response. The current system is heavily stacked in favor of the 800 pound gorillas, as very few independent inventors can afford the $15 million plus cost of defending an infringement.

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FAIL

As an aside, I would add that the verbal abuse directed at "patent trolls" is completely misplaced. They are the one recourse to justice for little guys against 800 pound gorillas.

Patent trolls are those entities that hoover up patents solely for the sake of litigation. No physical product incorporating one of their patents ever leaves their premises. They don't help you, as a small-scale patent owner, assert your rights against that 800 pound gorilla; perhaps you meant patent lawyers?

As to this particular patent, as a serious photographer I find it quite useful, surprisingly. It solves a problem I have been grappling with for some time. It is not about taking a picture against a white background. It is about configuring the stage and lighting so that the object appears to be completely suspended in space by making the platform indistinguishable from the background. I will be building this capability into my studio quite soon.

Solving that problem is obvious to anyone skilled in the art.

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I think what he means is quite often the only recourse a small inventor has when faced with a large company infringing one of his patents is to licence or sell it to a third party with the funds and will to sue. Unfortunately at the moment, those are mainly patent trolls.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm going to patent discussing patent trolls on comments to news articles.....

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Anonymous Coward

IP Gold Rush + US global enforcement of IP = Perfect Storm of stupidity

It's the new gold rush. Grab a patent for anything and everything. Copyright too while you're at it. Then hire patent and copyright trolls and sue the pants off everyone on the planet who dares to even come near your vaguely-demarcated IP territory.

This is the nightmare scenario of intellectual property laws run amok.

IP rights have a long tradition in English Common Law, but represent a societal and economic value that must coexist with and be weighed against other societal and economic values. Somehow, IP rights have gained unprecedented status in their ability to trump every other imaginable human value. They are out of control and out of proportion to their traditional role in society. Their value has ballooned and become grossly exaggerated.

It is long past time to rein them in, curtail them, reduce them to a more limited existence in harmony with other societal values.

Specifically, we need new legislation to cut back on IP rights, and cut back on the power of international treaties that enable the global enforcement of IP rights. The upcoming TPP will only make things worse. The beast must be stopped.

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Devil

Re: IP Gold Rush + US global enforcement of IP = Perfect Storm of stupidity

"The beast must be stopped."

Probably too late. The shift of capital has become a tsunami. America is now an oligarchy, no longer a democracy. Not to bemoan a young Croesus their inherited wealth, but their families control the boards of all major multi-national corporations and to protect their holdings, they now control the US government.

So the US Patent Office rubber-stamps corporate patent applications. It will stifle innovation, eliminate small developers, and ensure that only the titans of patent inventory will rule ...

Well, my golly, if a few hundred million PAC-bux here, and a few thousands of Washington lobbyists there can't convince the government to see things in a favorable light ... well, then ... one might just as well retire to the yacht and drive a few golf balls off the sun deck!

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Those photobooths are obvious infringers

Amazon deserve a piece of that action.

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Joke

Patent for killing many people in one go in the patent office.

This involved closing door (1) in an airtight manner (2) then releasing (3) gas pellets (3b) from safe enclosure (4), finally putting fire (5) to the building after a suitable period of mourning (6). Although "Zyklon B" is mentioned hereunder, this is just done for illustration purposes and nothing in this patent shall be construed to mean that other chemicals may not be used.

Prior art you say?

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FAIL

Everybody should be sent home

Whenever these scams surface, all those involved with the particular case at the patent office, at all levels, should be immediately fired.

Patents like these must be also immediately invalidated without appeal.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Everybody should be sent home

That pre-supposes there are people with common sense and integrity to do so.

Bear in mind we are talking about the USA.

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Snap!

I've set up my studio with the subject, background, lighting and camera in such a way that I have achieved a really useful effect.

Now I want to "patent" that set-up so nobody else could use similar equipment in that particular arrangement.

Yippee!

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Re: Snap!

You're not thinking like a patent lawyer. Shame on you.

The crucial second part of your patent application is to say that while the setup you lay out is one way of acheiving a good picture this shouldn't preclude any other set of paramaters from being considered under the patent.

Now that we know you can open up the methodology as a catch-all variable it only seems logical to do the same with the idea itself.

'While this methodology (or any other) relates specifically to the taking of a good picture, it does not preclude the utilisation of these steps (or any other set of steps) in the furtherance of another goal. These other goals are also covered under this patent.'

Bingo, you've successfully patented everything.

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Anonymous Coward

Totally useless patent

It's virtually impossilble to have a pure white background. However my proposed patent for taking photos against a non-white background, that's an earner.

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Joke

Hahahahahahaha you now owe Amazon a quid ------------------>

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Prior Art

Got some hanging on my wall - taken by a Professional Photographer from about 6yrs ago....

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Can I patent something?

Can I patent an idea for an office, where multinational corporations can register even the most vague or stupid of ideas? This office will do minimal checking of the idea, including whether it describes something that has been done or registered before, or is even possible.

This office will then allow said corporations to sue anyone who does something even vaguely similar to the registered idea, for billions if necessary.

I ask this because clearly the fact it's been done before does not bother the US Patent Office.

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Hmmm.

Passport agencies now have to pay amazon then? Looks like the UK have it covered though... they don't specify white:

https://www.gov.uk/photos-for-passports

taken against a plain cream or light grey background

But in the US, they may need a slight change to the instructions.

http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/photos/photos.html

Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background

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... taking photos against a white background – seriously

Is it too late to patent taking photos against a white background flippantly?

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TRT
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Taking photos against a white background...

Is that why Flickr has gone for that crappy black look now?

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Breaking news 2025

US courts report that all current IP patent licensing dispute appeals have been completed and the value of shares in US business jumped to record highs as every business is set to receive a trillion dollars in licensing fees.

In other news employment is at a record low everywhere (except the legal sector) cost cutting is rife as every business is set to pay a trillion dollars in licensing fees.

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Just asking

Has USPTO also granted a patent to photograph a black cat in a coal cellar at midnight?

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Happy

Re: Just asking

That reminds me...

"The blackness of my belt is like the inside of a coffin on a moonless night."

Haru/Chris Farley

Beverly Hills Ninja (1997)

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Anonymous Coward

Have a look at the diagram. It is a rather quirky and odd set up.

Patents are about a process. But it seems daft that you can't set up lights in a certain way because someone else protected their right to that arrangement.

Almost like saying you can't have 4 chairs around a table and eat food off it.

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Or that you can use a ruler to measure any length so long as it's not 10cm.

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Obviously a conspiracy

USPO is a front for the USA lawyer Mafia.

No, it's not made OK if Amazon claim they are never going to sue someone. Who knows when someone like Murdoch or Ellison would own Amazon in the future?

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White, eh?

Something that they need to consider is that the term "white" has a number of different definitions. Ask anyone that worked in the TV industry back when colour was being brought in and you'll hear all about it! Does this patent specify the exact illuminance and mixture of white that they intend to use?

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Not quite as bad as El Reg makes out.

Valid patents frequently depend on an arrangement of very specific angles that produce a superior product. An example of such a patent would be an angle on a camshaft that allows the optimal flow with minimal pulsing in closed high pressure pump for a single piston pump.

In this instance it isn't simply on a white background. It is for:

...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.

Now you can make fun of this all you want, but I've edited enough crappy "white" images in my time to recognize the commercial value of something that eliminates the need for such editing. And yes, this is the sort of thing a company could invest a couple hundred thousand dollars determining.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not quite as bad as El Reg makes out.

Quite so.

Here is a nice exercise to all those frothing at the mouth over this. Carry out claim 1 exactly as it reads. (Print it out, carry out each step, checking them off as you.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not quite as bad as El Reg makes out.

It is as bad. Every set up would have to be calibrated and verified with an ongoing p.m. cycle set up to make sure that there were no discrepancies. The size/shape of the object is also a factor (shadowing). The labor in the setup is no different than using a 'green' screen and editing the picture (photoshop plugin called advent-edge for example). They're going to have some post production work, since all DSLR sensors are not exactly the same (colour, noise), lens imperfections, mis-lighting of product due to setup requirements...

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https://www.linux.com/news/friday-funnies/patently-ridiculous

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Anonymous Coward

You got to be kidding

So this is a more expensive and better set up than I'd been using at a former employer... a white photographic area with a camera mount and an array of lighting. How is this different than what commercial photographers have been doing for years?

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This post has been deleted by its author

people and products?

They might be infringing on MY patent. I've patented photographing *objects* against a white background.

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Someone needs to patent a "method by which money can be extracted from business whereby a document is issued that purports to give a company sole rights to an existing product or process"

The USPTO might learn the meaning of "Prior Art" when taken to court for infringing on a patent that they issued...

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