Photographer Files Vague Patent, Sues Others for Shooting and Selling Photos of Sporting Events

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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:

  1. 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.

(via EFF via Techdirt)

  • Vin Weathermon

    So you are saying the patents are vague? Reading them you will note that they were filed in 2000, 2005, 2010. This was not something just tossed out there; they are very specific and based on the filing dates, very original. So I think at this point calling them unoriginal “today” may work for you, but not “then”. And that’s what patents do….protect you “later”.

  • Jim Johnson


    I’m saying you’re wrong about the purpose of patents.

  • Jim Johnson

    My feelings are fine. You have just fallen into the internet trap. You seem frustrated that you can’t convince everyone how right you are.

  • Marcellus1

    Good news is that if the defendant can manage the legal costs to get a court decision, the patents could be invalidated. A very recent supreme court case (Alice v CLS Bank) held that using a computer to perform an otherwise patent-ineligible process does not make the process patent-eligible. As long as any evidence can be provided that name, number or the like was used to match up photos to a player before this patent (which should be relatively simple), then the use of a computer won’t save the patent.

  • Chris Blair


  • jrconner

    I agree. I wish someone with a white hat and good heart would patent a protection racket as a generic scheme, and then sign a document ensuring he would never enforce the patent.


    Criminality is just criminality. Ethical and just laws would not allow this practice to exist. Nice to see that those on the he right, middle and left thinks this is deplorable. Me thinks… America needs a purge of the criminals no matter their political persuasion. IMHO. Can we please start the purge in the morning?

  • RonT

    No, patent trolling is quite different from copyright protection, as it also is from genuine protection of a unique process or device that someone has invented.
    Patent trolling is essentially a business model of the deliberate patenting of something (usually processes it seems) then filing suits against ‘infringers’, followed by settling out of court. It works best on countries such as the US, which has a highly litigious legal culture and a history of enormous payouts in court cases (making the gamble doubly worthwhile). Patent trolling in countries which don’t have both of these aspects to their legal culture are noticeably absent

  • RonT

    I think that any unique software, process or device that has been developed should be protected. The real issue here is that the process is not unique but a patent has still been granted, which is why it could be invalidated if someone is prepared to pay the legal fees involved in challenging it.

    Possibly if you reread the details the reason why some are a bit miffed will become more apparent. Patent trolling is very different from IP and copyright protection.

    Also, have you changed your mind? I thought that you wanted those photos of you balancing the silver-painted vegetables on your glistening buck-naked body to remain private ;-)

  • Doc Pixel

    “No, patent trolling is quite different from copyright protection, ….”
    What made you think that I don’t understand that? I was only warning against getting into the wrong “mob mentality” group, that has many leaders of that movement that equate patents, trademarks AND copyrights as one in the same.

    “Patent Troll” is a made up name by people that disagree with a person’s/companies right to defend their creations or assets. If you care to read comments outside of those here, you would find that many a photographer has been called a “troll”, because they went after the unauthorized use of their images.

    It would be nice if the patent trolling label was only used against those that look to play the court system to make an easy buck. But it isn’t, and that’s what I was trying to say.

    BTW: way back in the 80’s as a young student, I designed a rather neat house improvement tool. I had not the money for tooling, nor the know-how to bring it to market. However, with the help of an attorney, I was able to get a patent on it and sell it to a company that could produce it. The common thinking today, is that I am/was a patent troll. If the companies that I pitched the product to would have failed to respect the NDA agreement, I would’ve had no other choice than to sue them…. or of course, just back down and throw up my hands in despair. Wouldn’t want to be called a patent troll now would I?

    What I’m trying to portrait here, is that patents… as well as copyright, is not so easy a task to reform, and you must be careful who you support in doing so. Your next great idea (or picture) just might be up for grabs with no recourse whatsoever who takes it and markets/sells it better than you can.

  • dimitrisservis

    “And although this concept has been around for quite some time in various forms”

    The patent discloses and protects specific forms.

    The first independent claim is indeed too vague and general and can collapse pretty easily and so will the dependent claims then, which is where the innovation is probably hidden…

    Patents are more and more becoming the main impediment for innovation… even for patent trolls…

  • Aannddyy

    This is a clear unlicensed violation of my patent entitled: Scam that makes money.
    I’m suing this punk.

  • Peter Wolf

    Forum contributors, PLEASE read the patents in question and
    try to understand some of the legal and technical details before judging the
    validity or anything else associated with the patents. Wrong information is
    misleading and confusing. Mr. Skelps is fueling misinformation on these forums
    and websites he has published.

    The invention occurred and was filed with the Patent Office in 1999. No one has
    ever found any prior art before that date – including the USPTO. Unfortunately
    the patents didn’t issue until 2006 and by that time many event photography
    businesses used the invention including Capstone. A patent owner can’t really
    do much until the patent issues. So, for six long years I sat there and saw my
    ideas being used and couldn’t do a thing.

    Once the patent issued we contacted some event photography companies and
    several, including the largest in the industry, MarathonFoto, licensed with us
    immediately. Some refused to license and we filed our first law suit against 8
    infringers, including Brightroom. Within a short time they all settled and/or
    licensed with us. There were a few more lawsuits and the end was the same –
    they settled and/or licensed.

    I contacted Michael Skelps at Capstone in 2008 and we had a cordial phone
    conversation. I personally followed it up with a polite email explaining the
    situation. He didn’t respond! We contacted him again in 2011, he didn’t
    respond. We filed a claim against Capstone in 2013 and he had to respond
    through attorneys. That is a VERY expensive way to communicate.

    Recently I personally contacted him again by phone and email but Michael Skelps
    doesn’t respond! Michael seems to be fixated in fighting until the bitter end.
    It makes absolutely no sense, especially from a business point of view.

    I believe Mr. Skelps has a really bad case of pride or stubbornness and he may
    very well go out of business and bankrupt before conceding that he could be
    wrong or resolve our differences.

    I don’t wish anyone to go out of business or bankrupt but Mr. Skelps will NOT
    communicate. What can you do if someone doesn’t want to talk or communicate
    accept through his lawyers? The noose is tightening more and more around his
    business and personal finances. Can anyone talk some sense into Michael? I
    really hate to see what he is doing to himself.

    His recent filing of a Motion For a Judgment on The Pleadings is a feudal and
    VERY expensive way to invalidate the patents. We have filed a response and his
    motion will be denied. PLEASE, someone talk some sense to Michael and tell him
    he doesn’t have to go down this road. Doesn’t he realize that even if the
    patents were invalidated he would still be stuck with the legal fees. Are
    bragging rights that valuable? I don’t think so. Michael, call any time if you
    want to talk: (805) 492-0562.

  • ajfudge

    disclaimer: I’m not a lawayer.
    Is there a way to challenge a patent in court? Prove that the patent is generally used and not proprietary so it can be discount/trashed?

    Don’t the Patents Office have some kind of waiting period so they could investigate a pending patent and determine if it’s valid or not?

  • Janine Skelps

    Friends, I ask for positive thoughts and prayers. Our Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings has been filed. The ruling is due in just 12 more days! We feel very strongly that this represents the side of right, and that especially considering recent Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Alice), that our motion has very strong legal merit. Please pray and send positive thoughts that the judge will apply the correct interpretation to invalidate these weak patents that have held the event photography industry hostage for too long! We still need your help at! ( Thanks to all who have contributed: Family, friends, colleagues and race Directors! IF you get the chance, read some of links we have attached to this, our information cover page for our defense crowd-funding page. Thanks in advance!) — Janine Conlin-Skelps