Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's Madness - Madness I Tell You!

Amazon Patents the Photograph 


You may have missed it, but a bizarre, almost otherworldly article appeared in the news last week. 

Amazon patented the photograph. 

More accurately, they were granted a patent on the specific method they use to shoot objects on a white background for their website. In fact they go into painstaking detail to describe that method in the patent. They include particulars such as positions of lights, background and subject, settings for lights and camera, and even the specific order in which the photographer should do his stuff. 

So what's the problem?

The problem is people have been taking photos in exactly this way since, like, forever. 

Their are literally millions of similar images representing prior art on the web and in print. In my other identity as a commercial photographer I have personally created innumerable product shots using similar methods. Oh no! Does that mean I'm retroactively in violation of Amazon's patent?

On the other hand, the methodology they lay down is so comically precise that it's doubtful if they themselves actually follow it to the letter. So how could they ever prove infringement?

All some evil patent thief would have to do is use a different lens or camera setting, and there would technically be no violation. 

And BTW, you better believe that this is a HUGE BLARING WAKE-UP CALL that our patent system is royally messed up

But really, what was Amazon thinking?

And what was Amazon looking to gain with this, anyway? The right to say their photography methods are patented? Did they think everyone would just stop creating images on white backgrounds once the news got around?

"Uh, boss, it looks like we have to switch the website and the catalog to a Reflex Blue background. Amazon patented white."

"What?! Those dirty @&$?!  Let's call legal and do a patent search on the whole freakin' Pantone library! We won't get caught off guard like that again!"

In the mean time, if you're looking to break into the photography biz, there's a great new "how-to" guide for budding product photographers, also known as US Patent No. 8676045 It's a little wordy in places, but it'll get you started. 

Just make sure Amazon's lawyers don't find you. And whatever you do, don't try to patent that method. It's been done. 

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.

He can be reached through his website,, or at

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