Are Patents Like The Three This Photographer Holds Harmful Or Ultimately Helpful For Our Industry?

Aug 23, 2014

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

Are Patents Like The Three This Photographer Holds Harmful Or Ultimately Helpful For Our Industry?

Aug 23, 2014

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

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A California based company, PhotoCrazy (owned by Peter Wolf), is suing a South Carolina event photography business, Capstone, for violating three of PhotoCrazy’s patents. The patents, 6,985,875; 7,047,214; and 7,870,035, grant PhotoCrazy exclusive rights to certain workflows that have been commonly used in sporting event photography for quite some time.  More specifically, it cites taking photos of an athlete at an event, sorting the images by the bib number wore by the athlete, and putting them a website which allows athletes to quickly find their photos by entering their bib number. Like I said, a very common practice.

Is this starting to remind you of the Amazon patent hullabaloo?

A lot of folks got bent out of shape when Amazon patented a photographic lighting technique commonly referred to as seamless white background photography. While the move did seem a little unnecessary, even unfair to some, a lot of the backlash Amazon was receiving from the photography community began settling as people starting realizing that:

That’s were cases like the PhotoCrazy patent begin to differ. Though the PhotoCrazy patents are many, they are much more broad in terms of ways to execute the task at question, meaning they are more open to interpretation. One of the 20 claims made in US Patent 7047214, for example, indicates that using any of the three methods listed below to identify athletes could put you on the path to a patent infringement lawsuit.

1. A process providing event photographs of a sporting event for inspection, selection and distribution via a computer network, comprising the steps of:

taking photographs of at least one participant of a sporting event along at least one point of a course or field thereof;
associating identifying data with each photograph taken, wherein the identifying data is selected from at least one of: a number corresponding to a number worn by a participant, a participant’s name, a code acquired from a component worn by a participant, and a date and time, including hour and minute the photograph was taken;…”
US Patent Number 7047214
US Patent Number 7047214

Of course, there’s also the patent troll elephant in the room…Wolf is actively protecting his patent as evidenced by the lawsuit to Capstone, which is still working its way through the legal system close to nine months after it was filed on December, 31, 2013.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the accusation of a patent violation by Capstone may be unjust based on other similar cases. While the potential of a ruling in favor of Capstone would be likely, the legal costs associated with such cases are astronomical in comparison to most photographer’s salaries. Capstone has been forced to hold fundraisers to help pay for their court costs and told the EFF that the business is at a high risk of going under as a result.

Which leads me to this thought: If small photography businesses are are risk of being sued for implementing what would be considered typical methods of capturing, tagging, and selling photographs, will it stifle our industry by restricting how we can legally take a photo or will it encourage us to think outside of the box and find new (and hopefully better) ways to do so?

[ via Electronic Frontier Foundation | Photo credit: Andrea ]

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Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

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23 responses to “Are Patents Like The Three This Photographer Holds Harmful Or Ultimately Helpful For Our Industry?”

  1. Dave Crosby Avatar
    Dave Crosby

    That doesn’t look good. What are the other two patents?

    1. Ryan Lindsey Avatar
      Ryan Lindsey

      All three patents are linked in the article. Click the patent numbers.
      7870035 describes the ordering website process, and was filed in October 2010. I’m pretty sure SmugMug existed with a very similar business model in 2010.
      6985875 is the same as 7047214, and is the one described in the article. Calling them different patents would be incorrect, as they say in the document “Also published as:”, and list two other related patent numbers.

  2. PhotographerObscura Avatar

    Ah. The crazy US patent system which allows ideas to be patented rather than tangible inventions.

  3. Z Avatar

    The patent shouldn’t have been granted in the first place. Is there a patent on how you fillet a fish? The order on a gear shift? The court should revoke it on an obvious mistake. What a waste of money the lawsuit is!

  4. paul_wall Avatar

    IIRC from my university years, the subject of a patent should be “original” as “not already used in the industry” can the patent a process that’s been used for years?

  5. D Avatar

    Remind me to patent the process of filing for a patent. And the process for filing a lawsuit relating to a patent. And the process of disputing the validity of a patent.

  6. Mark Avatar

    If you look at the 214 patent, the application was filed in 1999/2000. While the method described in the patent may seem obvious to all of us now, it might’ve been unique in 2000. I’m not defending the patent, or the patent process. Frankly I think the process is badly broken. I’m just pointing out that things that are obvious today might not have been so obvious 14 years ago. Remember the first photo sharing web sites popped up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

    1. Jetty Avatar

      NO NO NO, the workflow was the very same back in the film days!

      1. Mark Avatar

        If that’s the case, then I’m sure they will find all kinds of prior art that will invalidate the digital workflow described in the 214 patent.

  7. Wil Fry Avatar
    Wil Fry

    The Amazon patent did not have a ‘degree of specificity’. It said clearly that the numbers and measurements used were only examples for *any* similar setup. Just to be clear.

  8. S Walgreen Avatar
    S Walgreen

    This goes deeper than patent trolls… it’s American corporate culture, hopefully one day soon somebody or group will force the US patient office to throw out the millions of these questionable claims.

  9. Burt Johnson Avatar
    Burt Johnson

    @Mark — I did software work for Sony in the mid 1990’s where we videotapes NFL games, then marked video clips based on each jersey number (semi-automatically). We then created videos for each team member, to be used in their post-game analysis, and for other teams to analyze (a requirement of the NFL team contracts).

    That seems an awful lot like the photo sorting talked about here, and I set it up for Sony to do years before this patent. And no, there was no patent on it. Seemed too obvious to all of us, with just waiting for technology to catch up to let us do it.

  10. Gregg Bond Avatar
    Gregg Bond

    Wow! Are they really saying they hold the patent for metadata tagging of media? Online Galleries/Albums sorted by date?

  11. thebeline Avatar

    Soooo… This is bullshit. I wrote a small piece of software that takes photos on a computer (either retrieved wirelessly or via a card dump) organizes them, allows a minion to tag them, and another minion to use another piece to show and sell them, as well as stand-alone clients for people to browse and select at will…

    That covered?

    Also, the auto-tagging is a natural byproduct of facial recognition (Facebook/Google) and text recognition (also), which is provided by many companies and opensource software.

    Really, he brought nothing new to the table: Tagged Galleries, using Facial and Text recognition to tag. Plain. Simple.


    I really and truly hate the American Patent system.

  12. GianniB Avatar

    Intellectual property law, in all the world, prescribe that a patent be New and Not obvious = show a real inventive step.
    These requirements, in turn, are very questionable and patent offices (whose interests is collecting the )fees) ))

  13. Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    PhotoCrazy is nothing more than a paten troll.
    The following excerpt is from their patent application. It appears that they are trying to do what sports photographers do instinctively and homed by the various news media. Does PhotoCrazy have the financial resources to go against Sports Illustrated, Reuters, AP, Getty, etc? This looks like an abuse of the US Patent System similar to Amazon’s use of prior art.
    11. The process of claim 10, wherein the approximate time is calculated using the following formula:

    T p=(L p /L c)(Tf);
    wherein Lp equals the distance from a starting point of the event to the photographer;
    wherein Tp equals the minutes from the starting point to a photographer at location Lp;
    wherein Lc equals the total distance of the event; and
    wherein Tf equals the total minutes to finish the event by the participant.

  14. John Havord Avatar
    John Havord

    The problem with this issue, as I see it, is not the validity or otherwise of the patent but the very real problem that the court case could put the small company out of business. They may win the court case, but can they afford, to even try?
    Hard enough, to keep a business going, without all this unnecessary nonsense!

  15. John Havord Avatar
    John Havord

    Thinking of heading over to the US patent department. Have a real good idea, for a patent, that I could make a shed load of money from…………. breathing. Seems like there is something, in the region of 7 billion people, infringing my patent :)

  16. Jim Johnson Avatar
    Jim Johnson

    Their email address is posted on their website. Drop them a line and let them know how you feel about their business practices and what it does to the industry.

  17. FightForRight Avatar

    At Capstone Photography, we are the most recent defendant of this outrageous patent litigation, and we are not lying down. But we need your help. Check out for lots of great information regarding this case. Please read, share and donate if you can. Also, check out the most recent motion of our defense at

  18. Janine Skelps Avatar
    Janine Skelps

    Michael Skelps wrote: “Friends, I ask for positive thoughts and prayers. Our Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings has been filed. The ruling is due in just 12 more days! We feel very strongly that this represents the side of right, and that especially considering recent Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Alice), that our motion has very strong legal merit. Please pray and send positive thoughts that the judge will apply the correct interpretation to invalidate these weak patents that have held the event photography industry hostage for too long! We still need your help at!” ( Thanks to all who have contributed: Family, friends, colleagues and race Directors! IF you get the chance, read some of links we have attached to this, our information cover page for our defense crowd-funding page. Thanks in advance!) — Janine Conlin-Skelps

  19. FightForRight Avatar

    BREAKING NEWS: A Federal Judge in the Central District of California has struck down all three patents in the lawsuit in which Capstone Photography is a defendant. The Court ruled “that all three of the patents in suit are directed to patent-ineligible abstract ideas, and lack an inventive concept that would make them patent-eligible applications of those ideas.” The case is over and Capstone has prevailed. We are excited to have this issue resolved in our favor! However, the legal expenses are very steep and our small business will take quite a long time to recover from the $100,000 in legal expenses we have incurred. If you feel that we have helped your business, please consider donating at

    1. udi tirosh Avatar
      udi tirosh

      sweet! we just shared the good news and links