The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is no stranger to making generally awful (and excessive) patenting decisions, but that doesn’t make its latest grant any less absurd. Amazon has officially been granted a patent for its brilliant idea to… take photos on a white background.
Whether it’s a testament to the skill of Amazon’s IP attorneys or the fact that the USPTO can be wildly ineffective, photographers have been up in arms ever since the details of the patent — vaguely (and appropriately) dubbed Studio arrangement — were released. Basically, the patent lists in absurd detail every condition needed to fulfil Amazon’s (arguably) signature technique.
The details go into everything from the F-stop to ISO value to focal length. It even goes into the exact geometry of every lens, stand and light source. This is just one sentence from the nine-page application:
And while all that might seem ridiculous, there is a loose method to Amazon’s madness. It tries to set itself apart by explaining that previous art would often useimage retouching and green screens. Tech Dirt explains:
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.
But while Amazon almost undoubtedly did not pioneer this technique as they claim, the fact remains that there is still pretty much no way to enforce the patent. The extensive and specific conditions listed mean that there is pretty much no way to either A) violate it or B) know if the patent has even been violated in the first place.
So why did Amazon file this insane thing in the first place? This could legitimately be its way of ensuring that no one else’s photos look absolutely, 100 per cent identical to its own (even if they can get pretty damn close). What’s more, with Amazon being a massive corporation, it’s also possible that this is just one of the many, many patents it perpetually files — and this one just happened to stick.