In the world of patents, some money, a lawyer and the carefully crafting a few hundred words can go a long way — for better or worse.
One such example is the case of Peter Wolf, owner of Photocrazy, a company that takes photos of sporting events such as triathlons, then offers prints to the participants by matching their race number to an internalized, searchable database.
And although this concept has been around for quite some time in various forms, EFF reveals that Wolf managed to get three patents on this generalized idea and is now attempting to squash other, smaller operations that use a similar method.
Specifically, 6,985,875; 7,047,214 and 7,870,035 are the patents Wolf has managed to secure with the help of some clever wording on behalf of his lawyer. The basis of the most vital component in primary claim — 6,985,875 — is the process of taking a photo of a sporting event, tagging and sorting the participants by their bib number and date of the event, then making available the photographs in an online search form using those variables.
Naturally, the patent filing explains it in far greater detail:
- 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.
This patent is drawing a great deal of criticism though, considering there’s nothing exactly proprietary within the filings — it’s a conglomeration of already-existing general concepts. With the patents in hand though, Wolf is able to effectively control this generalized idea and file lawsuits against other, smaller operations.
The first is a rather small company called Capstone, which has been using a similar workflow for their images for quite some time. Wolf is looking to sue them for doing so. Fortunately, two previous cases — Alice v. CLS ruling and Limelight v. Akamai ruling — make it seem like these patents could be rendered invalid for a number of reasons.
Even if the patents are determined invalid though, Capstone and any future company using a similar workflow aren’t quite off the hook.
Legal fees alone could collapse a small company such as Capstone, which is made up of almost completely part-time workers. Capstone is attempting to crowdfund support for the lawsuit, but only $5,000 has come through, which is just a drop in the bucket of the impending legal fees, regardless of whether the patent is ruled valid or not.
One way or another, cases like this show just how counterintuitive patents can be, when their original purpose was to create, not stifle, innovation.
To read up more on the patents filed, follow the respective links in the article above.