Jon Wilson alerts us to yet another unfortunate casualty of our screwed up patent system, led by our clueless US Patent Office. Luma Labs, who made very popular camera straps
, has announced that it's discontinuing the product immediately
, because a competitor just got a patent on one aspect of their camera straps. They think the patent is bogus, and are pretty sure they could win if they fought, but the cost and resources are just way too high:
Our disappointment doesn’t matter much in the scheme of things, however. Our competitor now has a legal tool and we’re pretty sure that they desire to use it. This is, as they say, a problem. We and our counsel are more than confident that we can defend ourselves, and will do so vigorously if necessary. On the other hand, we’re a very small company that sells our products in limited volumes and mounting such a defense would consume the majority of our resources. After all, it took three years to rescind a patent about a method of using a swing. In other words, we have a Hobson’s choice on our hands. We could very well lose everything even if we won.
Therefore, we’re acting unilaterally and conceding the market by immediately discontinuing the Loop and LoopIt. Full stop. We apologize for the sudden nature of this decision and our implementation of it, but we feel like our options on this matter are limited.
The whole thing really is pretty crazy. They note that they knew the competitor had applied for a patent, but never thought it would be granted because there's tons of prior art going back over a century:
We’ve been aware for quite some time that one of our competitors applied for a patent relating to camera slings in 2007. Their patent application contained dozens of claims that centered around two primary concepts. One of these concepts—that of using a sliding connection to connect a camera to a sling—applied to our product line. We did our research, consulted our lawyers, and found more than enough prior art related to this concept.
That prior art starts with the US 1885 Carbine Sling, which clearly features an attachment that slides along a leather strap and connects to the rifle with a hook. It goes onto Leica’s 1938 TROOV wrist strap which connects to a tripod-based connection with a hook assembly that would slide freely if not for the way that the strap was constructed. Many other makers—especially in the specialty Leica marketplace—developed these variants further, culminating in exact implementations of the concept. For example, thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we know that leicagoodies.com was selling their version of this concept in 2005. One look at the photo on that page of a product made of a keyring, hook, and webbing tells the story.
In short, the idea of a sliding camera sling isn’t an amazing new invention. It’s just a really good idea that’s been around for a while and which has been iteratively developed.
Once again, as I have in the past, I'll ask defenders of the patent system to explain how this encourages innovation? It seems to bust all the usual myths that we hear. Patent system defenders claim that if there's prior art it's easy to invalidate a patent. Not if you want to stay in business as a small company. They'll claim that patent examiners are competent. If so, how did this get approved despite prior art going back to 1885? They'll claim that the patent system "protects" innovators. Well here was a company with a successful product on the market, being forced to shut it down completely over a bogus patent. This is indefensible.