A California federal judge found that three patents for computerized methods for categorizing photographs of participants in sporting events involved concepts that were too abstract to be patentable.
Plaintiff Peter Wolf is the president of PhotoCrazy, a business that takes event photographs and offers them for sale via a computer network.
In 2006, Wolf obtained two patents, both entitled “Process for Providing Event Photographs for Inspection, Solution and Distribution via a Computer Network.”
The independent claim of the first patent includes clauses like:
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.
The patent’s specification noted that event photography traditionally used the bib number of participants in an event, such as a race, to match participants to their photos. According to the specification, this method was time-consuming, costly, and too dependent on visual identification.
The claimed invention purported to improve upon this traditional process.
In 2011, Wolf obtained a third patent for an “Advertising and Distribution Method for Event Photographs.”
Read More: Patents
The Patent Infringement Lawsuit
Wolf sued Capstone Photography and other defendants “engaged in the business of providing event photographs for inspection, selection and distribution via the Internet,” claiming infringement of his patents.
The defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings; a means of disposing of cases when all material allegations of fact are admitted in the pleadings and only questions of law remain.
Citing the recent US Supreme Court decision in Alice Corp. Pty. Ltd. v. CLS Bank Int’l, the judge found that the patents claimed nothing more than “the abstract idea of providing event photographs organized by participant, as applied using the internet.”
The judge found that the patents merely used basic computer technology to perform the same matching of bib numbers to photos that was previously performed manually.
Also, taken individually and as a whole, the independent claims do nothing more than recite a series of conventional steps carried out using basic camera and computer functions and mostly essential to placing searchable event photographs online for inspection and ordering.
The case is Peter H. Wolf v. Capstone Photography Inc.
US courts are increasingly hostile to method patents based on using computers to carry out functions that were previously performed manually.
As the court said in the Wolf case, it takes more than “the addition of generic computer functions” to make a method patentable.
If you have an idea for a method you think may be eligible for patent protection, contact our office to arrange a free initial consultation with one of our attorneys by calling (626) 796-4000.
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Photo attribution: “Women’s Marathon London 2012 002” by Aurelien Guichard from London, United Kingdom – Olympics. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.