Join to Save 360 VR Photography!
Your ability to make a living with 360 VR photography, possibly even to create such images for personal use, is in jeopardy. We need to act. We need to stop this. You can help. More on how below, but first some background:
A dramatic escalation!! Ice Portal to be the first VR-producer, to be sued in the infamous '400 patent
What is this all about?
You may have heard of the '400 patent ( US Patent 6,754,400 ). Anyone with knowledge considers it junk, but it is a real and being used to blackmail our clients. And recently it has been used to sue virtual tour producers.
Amongst the claims:
- They own the technology for producing 360 spherical images displayed using cube faces. (Although that hasn't stopped them from going after those displaying 360 cylindrical or equirectangular images.)
- The use of wide angle lenses "such as fish eye lenses" to create those 360 spherical image. (They illustrate using two full circle fisheye images back to back but the claim, which is what matters, is much broader.)
- Assembly, storage and display of these spherical images in digital form, on a computer.
- In addition they claim to own the idea of hotspots, of linking individual 360 images to produce a tour, even the idea of manipulating an image (especially using a mouse) to look around, navigate, even zoom in and out.... it goes on and on.
All this existed, was in common enough use, was even covered by existing patents before they applied for their patent. It almost looks like they just copied what already existed, put it on paper claiming they invented it and submitted it for a patent. They never acknowledging any existing 360 technology (known as prior art). The patent especially copies what already existed in Ford Oxaal's iPix patents and Apple's QuickTime patents. IPix Builder 4.1, which covers essentially everything in the patent,including output to cubic Quicktime VR was out the year before the '400 patent was filed. These and much other prior art preceded the '400 patent often by years. Yet the Patent Office examiner’s reason for granting the patent was that “[t]he closest prior art of record failed to teach or suggest, assembling the images in a digital format to create a complete spherical image surrounding the origin point, projecting the spherical image onto faces of a cube surrounding the spherical image, and storing images projected on the faces of the cube to provides an omni-direction image, and in combination with all the other limitations in the claims, that claims 1-40 allowable.”
They allowed everything claimed! Just think about how all encompassing and powerful that makes the patent look. Makes no difference how valid it actually is.
An outfit called Tour Technology Systems, LLC (TTS) now owns the patent and is using it to demand money from our clients including hotels, builders, realtors, media companies, anybody who uses 360 images and tours. TTS's lawyer sends them a letter saying their use of 360 virtual tours infringes TTS's patent and demands significant money for their continued use or they will take legal action.
Clients freak out. It is, after all, a real patent. Even when clients learn that they are protected, for instance IPix customers are protected by the IPix patent, it doesn't matter. The cost of defending against the '400 patent is too great. Sometimes they get mad at us (the photographers and tour producers) for putting them in this situation. Usually they take down the tours rather than pay the ransom and swear never to use 360 VR again. And they often tell others in their industry to do the same lest they get sued. One photographer lost a client worth $50,000 because of this.
If you haven't lost a client over this prepare yourself. There are easily dozens of photographers who have been hit financially and many times more seeing the threat to their clients. Anthony Handal, lawyer for TTS, tells us he is just getting started.
Tour producers are in even greater danger.
Consider this: It costs TTS $350 to file a suit. The company sued can't just ignore it. If they do they get an automatic judgement against them. They have little choice but to hire a patent law firm in New York, have them examine the suit and prepare an answer for why they feel the case should be dismissed (best case scenario). That isn't even taking it to trial. Just to get in front of the judge to ask for dismissal will cost $7,000 to $10,000, as Ice Portal has found out. To fight in court will cost $30,000 to $50,000. And that is just to fight about whether they are infringing the patent, a very broad patent. There is no assurance of winning. It makes no difference how bogus it may be, validity of the patent is another issue entirely. The thing is, even if they take the case to completion and win, they are still out all that money with essentially no ability to recover it. (And if they loose they are out far more.) Meanwhile TTS is free to go after the next target, regardless. They see no downside to doing so.
Obviously few companies can afford to do all that, much less suffer the business interruption and anguish. TTS says something like, "Hey. We don't like it either. How about we come to a much nicer settlement, say just $20,000 and we walk away."
That is what more and more companies can expect to experience unless we get this patent overturned.
The more you read the more outraged you will be. Just Google "Patent 6,754,400".
What if you don't sell your 360 images? There is nothing to stop TTS from going after PTGui, KRPano, Pano2VR, FPP, EasyPano... any software that produces or displays 360 images since the technology they all use is ostensibly covered by the '400 patent. It is just a matter of time.
What can you do?
Contribute! So far we've collected 3/4 of the $20,000 needed to complete the effort. That money has been very well spent. Our lawyer says that normally when requesting a patent reexamination the requester has one or two pieces of prior art often questioning only some of the claims. By contrast we have 23 examples. IPix Builder by itself covers essentially every claim. Every claim can be challenged by multiple examples of prior art. The upshot is that we have an extraordinarily strong case for reexamination.
All we need is that last amount of money and we, as a community working together, will have accomplished something extraordinary. But it won't happen without your financial help.
Before you contribute please acknowledge that you understand this:
The IVRPA has established this fund to challenge U.S. Patent No. 6,754,400 -- also known as the "400 patent". The holders of this patent claims that they own the rights to methods and processes to capture, create, store and display spherical panoramas and virtual tours.
The objective is to challenge the validity of the patent and have it overturned or weakened to the point of insignificance.
Your contribution to this fund will be held in a separate trust account by the IVRPA exclusively for this purpose, to cover legal and filing fees and other related items.
When the board determines that action on the "400" patent issue is concluded, any excess of funds remaining in the patent account (after expenses) will be refunded to contributors in proportion to their total contributions if that refund amount is $25 or more.
By contributing to this fund you are agreeing to these terms.
Put this into perspective, if you lose just one client, one 360 virtual tour job, how much will that cost you? And that is nothing compared to those tour producers who will get sued. How much would you pay to prevent this?
(Note: If you prefer, and especially for large contributions, you may wire money directly into the IVRPA Patent Fund account. Contact for more information.)
Please. Let's all do our part! If you can, a significant part.
IVRPA board member
Coordinator, patent committee.