Picture This! US Patent Office Grants Amazon ‘Photography Against A White Background’ Patent

PatentTrademarkOffice-Seal_svgSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Contributor

Doesn’t it seem “patently” absurd that Amazon would be granted a patent for the process of taking a photo against a white background? Earlier this week, Udi Tirosh broke that news at DIY Photography. Tirosh said that he really wasn’t sure how he could tag the story any way “other than a big #fail for the USPTO, or a huge Kudos for Amazon’s IP attorneys.” He added that in a patent titled “Studio Arrangement,” Amazon took IP ownership on what photographers “call shooting against a seamless white backdrop.”

Tirosh wrote that Amazon’s patent “describes the arrangement of elements in the studio to make a product shot—and “even details the F-stop, ISO value and focal length you need to use”:

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; …

Tirosh also noted that part of the patent “describes a table and some trivial lighting”:

… an elevated platform positioned between the image capture position and the background in the longitudinal axis, the front light source being directed toward a subject on the elevated platform; a first rear light source aimed at the background and positioned between the elevated platform and the background in the longitudinal axis, the first rear light source positioned below a top surface of the elevated platform and oriented at an upward angle relative to a floor level; a second rear light source aimed at the background and positioned between the elevated platform and the background in the longitudinal axis, the second rear light source positioned above the top surface of the elevated platform and oriented at a downward angle relative to the floor level; a third rear light source aimed at the background and positioned in a lateral axis intersecting the elevated platform and being substantially perpendicular to the longitudinal axis, the third rear light source further positioned adjacent to a side of the elevated platform; and a fourth rear light source aimed at the background and positioned in the lateral axis adjacent to an opposing side of the elevated platform relative to the third rear light source; wherein a top surface of the elevated platform reflects light emanating from the background such that the elevated platform appears white and a rear edge of the elevated platform is substantially imperceptible to the image capture device; and the first rear light source, the second rear light source, the third rear light source, and the fourth rear light source comprise a combined intensity greater than the front light source according to about a 10:3 ratio.

Tim Cushing of TechDirt wrote that Amazon differentiates “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.” He jokingly remarked that 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.”

Tirosh said that he believes that “there is plenty of prior art on this”—and that there is “absolutely no way to enforce it.”

Cushing sarcastically explained how this innovative step-by-step photography method works in practice:

1. Turn back lights on.
2. Turn front lights on.
3. Position thing on platform.
4. Take picture.

Writing for Salon, Andrew Leonard said that studio photographers have been taking pictures of their subjects against white back drops for many years. He added that the “notion that such a thing could be patented strikes many people as inexplicable and bizarre. But that’s also exactly why this particular tidbit exploded so quickly out of the amateur photography blogosphere and into the mainstream tech press.”

Like Tirosh, Leonard said he, too, thinks that this Amazon patent seems “utterly unenforceable, absent an army of inspectors who barge into photography studios across the world patrolling for infringing setups.” He said it also seems “utterly ridiculous.” He questions how Amazon could “know that photographers haven’t already stumbled upon the exact same setup.” Then he asks, “And how, in any rational sense, is this the kind of thing that patent law was originally designed to protect?”


Amazon’s ridiculous photography patent makes Mark Cuban happy: The latest intellectual property grab by Jeff Bezos is a huge gift to advocates of patent reform (Salon)

You Can Close The Studio, Amazon Patents Photographing On Seamless White (DIY Photography)

US Patent Office Grants ‘Photography Against A White Background’ Patent To Amazon (TechDirt)

Amazon inexplicably granted patent for common photography flash setup (The Verge)

Taking a photo against a white background? Amazon owns the patent on that (qz.com)

US Patent 8,676,045

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers.  As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

61 thoughts on “Picture This! US Patent Office Grants Amazon ‘Photography Against A White Background’ Patent”

  1. Well, Paul, seeing as though for headshots, you would almost use an 85mm (sometimes a 105) lens and either f4 or f5.6, yeah, they have patented headshots.

    Now, depending no your set up, an ISO of 320 might be too high, though…

    1. Jude – only if taken under very specific parameters. My fear is that they are going to say that anyone using anything is ripping off their patent.

      1. When you consider that white is a spectrum of all other visible colors, I think they have a pretty good start at claiming anyone making a photograph with any color background is infringing.

        When you consider the spectrum of reflected light is a function of illumination, I think they have a pretty good claim anyone using any light at all in photography is infringing.

        Yep, no more photography, at least not with visible light. Amazon has it covered.

  2. Photographers howl at Amazon patent of decades-old idea
    A patent that covers a technique for taking photos with no-fuss white backgrounds is decades old, raising a new round of criticisms about the merits of the US patent system.
    by Stephen Shankland
    May 11, 2014

    Photographers are hooting derisively at a patent Amazon won in 2014 for a photography lighting technique that’s been in use for decades, a patent that’s helped undermine the credibility of the patent system.

    Amazon’s patent 8,676,045, granted in March and titled “Studio Arrangement,” describes a particular configuration of the photography subject in the foreground and a brightly lit white screen behind, an approach that “blows out” the background to cleanly isolate the subject.

    It’s a fine idea, but not a novel invention, argued David Hobby, a professional photographer since 1988 who runs the Strobist site that for years has been a popular source of advice on flash photography. He used the approach himself as a staff photographer on his first job decades ago for a business publication.

    “We did every single shot on a blow-away light,” Hobby said. “It gave us a visual style and consistency, and we could shoot wide range of subjects. But even as a kid right out of college in 1988 I didn’t think this was new…There is no defending it on any level.”

    Indeed, it’s not hard to find an abundance of tutorials for the technique on the Internet. There’s plenty of jeering and fretting about the patent on sites like Photo.net forums and DP Review, an Amazon subsidiary, too.”I would think one could find prior art that would bring the validity of the patent into question,” said Robert Brunelli, an attorney with Sheridan Ross. Prior art refers to examples of the technique known before the patent application was filed — November 2011 in Amazon’s case.

    Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    The technique is very specific about the placement of lights and other equipment. That should ease the minds of any photographers worried about a patent suit, Brunelli said, because they could sidestep liability by fiddling with the photography formula.

    Although Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has said he’s worried that patent suits could stifle innovation — the exact opposite effect that the patent system was intended to have — Amazon has been in the thick of patent controversies before. The notable case is the controversial one-click purchasing patent, No. 5,960,411, on which Bezos himself is listed as one of the inventors. The patent stands in the US but was rejected in the European Union as “obvious to a skilled person.”

  3. Chuck. I agree with the hubris issue. I do know that photographs made by US Goverment employees, on the clock, for the use of the government are public domain for purposes of copyright.

  4. I’m good with it Annie, I didn’t think OS was a strawman but I bet the mountain men sure know how to spice up the Sundays, music, tune and a wide mouth mason jar. And I’m honored to be mistaken for someone I like.

  5. Feynman,

    Why hire a street hooker when you can get a call girl (woman) at the W. Don’t ask how I know this.

  6. Elaine,

    Yes. The plight of local small businesses is critical. Our neighborhoods suffer when we lose those businesses. You’d think Republicans, Champions of Small Business, would be screaming.

    But the corporatization of America continues apace…

  7. feynman

    “Conditions in Amazon distribution centers have been abysmal. They now may be adding air conditioning. But they work under a lot of stressful conditions.”

    I’ve read some articles about the terrible working conditions of many Amazon employees. One of the things that I hate about the company is that it puts a lot of local businesses/small businesses/brick and mortar stores out of business. I don’t buy books from Amazon. I usually get them from independent booksellers in my area. I prefer to support local businesses.

  8. That’s why some are irritated others by saying out loud what appears to be the sounds of a lunatic. If you don’t like the folks here, you are free to leave. I am for sure staying. Time is not on your side.

  9. That’s what I did for a living, and it was a successful living. This one was quite easy. Over 2 years I have seen folks here decry the success of billionaires and exult the role of govt. The most reliable indicator of current and future behavior, is past behavior. Pretty basic stuff.

  10. Why Nck do you presume to know what people are thinking?

    on 1, May 11, 2014 at 12:24 amNick Spinelli
    Tim, For many of the people here, billionaires and their companies are evil and greedy. There are maybe a few exceptions. So, hatin’ on Amazon and Bezos is consistent. However, these same folks love govt. and believe it can solve all our problems. So, them being angry @ a govt. agency is the newsworthy story here. It’s tangential, just interesting to me.

  11. Simms,

    I do not think that patents filed are challengable until granted. The folks at the patent office are suppose to use some common sense.

    1. keebler – its a government office, who there has common sense and if they did where would they use it?

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