Guy Claims Patent On Photographing People In Races And Then Selling Them Their Photos; Sues Photography Company

from the how-is-that-patentable? dept

The folks over at EFF have yet another story of patents gone wrong. This time it's from a guy named Peter Wolf, who owns a company called Photocrazy, that takes photos of sporting events like running and bike races, and then offers to sell people their photos by matching up their bib numbers. This kind of thing has been around forever, but because Peter Wolf paid a lawyer and said some magic words, he got some patents (specifically: 6,985,875; 7,047,214; and 7,870,035). Here's the primary claim in the 875 patent:
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;

informing the sporting participants of the identifying data;

transferring the photographs to a computer network server;

cataloging each of the photographs in a web-site server according to the identifying data;

accessing the server at a location other than the sporting event and searching for a photograph of a particular sporting event participant utilizing the identifying data; and

displaying the photograph of the sporting event participant for inspection and ordering.
Or, as EFF's Vera Ranieri summarizes:
In plain English: Take photos of a race, tag and sort by bib number and date, and search for photos based on that tag via the Internet. That’s it.
This, of course, is the problem with many patents these days. You could take nearly any half-competent programmer, explain to him what you wanted to do, and they could build you a system like this without any trouble at all. Because there's nothing tricky here at all. It's just putting together a few basic obvious ideas that were really only limited in the past by the underlying technology not being ready. But now that it is... one guy has patents to block anyone else from implementing such an obvious idea. These patents aren't promoting the progress, they're hindering it. It seems likely that under the Alice v. CLS ruling, this patent is not valid.

Wolf is suing a small (mostly part time!) photography company called Capstone for doing some of this. While it's already likely that the patents are invalid, with Capstone, because of how it works, and because of the Limelight v. Akamai ruling, it's likely that Capstone itself isn't even infringing (that ruling said that if separate parties do separate parts of the claim, you can't say that the original party "induced infringement" because there is no direct infringement). But, still, as we've discussed many times, patent lawsuits are crazy expensive. And Capstone is a tiny company:

Capstone doesn’t have a widely-distributed podcast that it can use to drum up the backing of thousands of fans and supporters. Its owner’s own attempt to crowdfund the defense raised only about $5,000. And although Capstone’s business has been profitable, the owner tells us that because of the patent lawsuit and the costs his company is facing, his business faces the very real prospect of shutting down.

Recent reforms have been helpful to reduce costs for some defendants. For example, the Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) program now being implemented at the Patent Office promises to be a much cheaper way to determine validity.  One problem though, is that it is still too expensive for businesses like Capstone. An IPR costs $23,000 in filing fees alone, and requires paying lawyers and often experts as well. 

Ranieri notes that the US Patent Office is accepting comments about dealing with post-grant challenges, and now might be a good time to highlight that it's impossibly expensive for small businesses being sued over questionable patents:
EFF previously advocated for reduced fees for IPR filings by small businesses and others without the ability to fund patent challenges. Unfortunately, the PTO ignored our request. However, the PTO is currently accepting comments regarding the post-grant challenges such as the IPR process. We encourage the public, especially small business owners, to let the PTO know by September 16 that the costs are still too high for many, and absent a lower cost, patent trolls will continue to assert dubious patents against companies they know can’t afford to do anything but settle.

Filed Under: innovation, patent troll, patents, peter wolf, photography, races
Companies: capstone, photocrazy


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  1. icon
    Peter Wolf (profile), 24 Aug 2014 @ 11:09am

    Re: There must be some prior art

    There must be some prior art

    Hi Anonymous, I, the US Patent Office and hundreds of photographers have searched high and low for the past 15 years to find some prior art. There isn't any.

    Most of my friends thought in 1999 my ideas would never be successful. It was a gutsy move on my part and my wife thought I was "crazy" to start a new business where people would actually search for their own pictures (hence "PhotoCrazy" for the company name). I learned HTML programming and some machine code on an RV vacation trip to Canada with the family that year. I composed most of my PhotoCrazy website on the way back while the wife was driving the RV.

    We had four little kids to feed and it took all of my savings and a lot of hope to launch PhotoCrazy. I operated in the black from the get-go. Sweet.

    One of the patents even covers advertising on a photo, like no one even thought of that before 2010...

    That idea was conceived around 2004 and again I applied for patents at that time. I saw the handwriting on the wall with all the digital cameras and cell-phone cameras that selling photos online would quickly fade away. As of 2014 all of our photos are free on our website - check it out (www.photocrazy.com). We are slowly building a list of sponsors who pay us to advertise on the photos. We hope that advertisers will pay enough to significantly cut or even eliminate the registration fees for the sporting events as well. It will be a win-win scenario for everyone.

    Yes, you are right, advertising on amateur sporting event photos was novel and unique in 2004 (you got the year wrong).

    We are currently negotiating license agreements for these newer patents with several very large companies. These companies recognize the value of intellectual property. Battling things out in court is an absolute last resort where typically no one wins.

    BTW, I have other innovative methods and products for the event photography industry right around the corner. I hope to be selling those new products in the next few months and several major companies are anxious to see demonstrations. Yes, of course, a key product is already patented by me and I am sure someone will come along and belittle it.

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