In March, the Eyewitness News I-Team shared a story about a small business owner who was trying to make a living by taking pictures.
However, he was sued for allowing customers to search for their photos on his own website.
That Middlefield business owner, Michael Skelps, fought the rule after his business, Capstone Photography, was nearly shut down.
“It was a shock and it was very scary,” Skelps said.
The lawsuit stems from three patents owned by a man named Peter Wolf, owner of PhotoCrazy.com in California.
The method Capstone uses to organize their photos for their customers was apparently patent protected.
“It's just something that's kind of hard to fathom, that somebody else can claim a monopoly on that,” Skelps said.
After an event like a race, Capstone publishes photos to its website.
When an athlete goes on the website, they search by their race bib number to find their photo.
“With a large number of participants, the only way to efficiently find their photo is from some look up mechanism. Especially when it's obvious when people are wearing their numbers, they're going to look up their photo by their number that they're wearing,” he said.
Wolf, the man in California, was awarded patents protecting the concept of creating databases that allow customers to search with identifying information, like a race bib number.
Skelps said that there's just no other reasonable way for people to find their photos.
The other issue is the use of advertising on the photo.
Any logo printed on the photo was considered a patented process, owned by Wolf.
The I-Team spoke with Wolf in March, who said, “Mr. Skelps copied that technique to generate revenue.”
Wolf, who holds 11 patents and four trademarks, said, “We had about 10 defendants in the court so far, all eventually settled with us and signed a license agreement.”
However, Skelps wasn't going to settle because his business was on the line.
“We stuck to our guns, we sweated this whole thing out,” Skelps said.
Although it proved to be financially and emotionally difficult, Skelps and his family are glad they weathered the storm.
“It was almost ten months to the day. From when the lawsuit was filed until the patents were invalidated,” Skelps said.
A judge decided that Wolf's concepts were to abstract and the patents should never had been issued in the first place.
The Eyewitness News I-Team reached out to Wolf again however he hadn't returned messages.
“We felt really good about that decision we, believed all these patents never should have existed, um, we never stole intellectual property,” Skelps said.
More importantly, Skelps said he feels that he has been a part of a movement to end patent abuse in the country.
Skelps launched a website that focuses on explaining his side of the story.
Also, anyone can donate to a fund to help with the crippling costs associated with fighting this legal battle. All of that can be found here.
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