If You License Images Online Are You Infringing Unilock’s Patent?

Posted on 12/26/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Patents are granted for original ideas. Unilock has a U.S. patent that describes in broad terms a system for licensing the use of images online. The company is claiming that stock agencies are infringing their patent when they license image use through online sites.

Most people believe patents are a way for inventors to protect their invention for a limited period of time enabling them to benefit economically from their creation. The exclusive right granted to a patentee in most countries is the right to prevent others from making, using, selling, or distributing the patented invention without permission.

However, it is also possible to obtain a patent that describes a system for doing business. Often these can be quite vague and overly broad.

Before issuing a patent the Patent Office is supposed to determine that the process has not already been described or is in use by someone else. However, in the early days of an industry patent examiners often don’t have access to what a variety of start-ups are doing. In such cases they may issue a patent for something that is already in use by someone else. When it can be proved that an invention had been described, or was in use prior to the date of the patent by someone other than the patentee, that is known as “prior art,” and the patent on the invention is not valid.

Patent Trolling

Some companies – Unilock being one of them – make a business of buying up patents that have not been exploited by the patentee and then trying to collect royalties on any activity that relates to the patent. Such companies are known as patent trolls. Patent trolls typically bring their claims in the Eastern District of Texas, which is a favorable jurisdiction for plaintiffs.

Initial claims were brought against Dreamstime, Inmagine, Revostock and Depositphotos. Patent litigation is extremely expensive, and many companies will settle just to avoid costs. Dreamstime settled with Unilock for an undisclosed sum. The cases against Inmagine, Revostock and Depositphotos were dismissed with prejudice before any judicial ruling on the patent claim.

Undeterred, Uniloc filed new patent claims in Texas against a numbers of other companies including:
    Getty, Corbis, iStockPhoto LP, Age Fotostock America Inc., SS SPV LLC, Envato PTY Ltd., Fotolia LLC., PhotoShelter, Inc., Photo Stock Plus, and VectorStock Media Limited
Any company that is notified of a claim by Uniloc should recognize that it may be helpful to join forces with other defendants and publicly share as much information as they can to discourage these claims. PACA is willing to be the central point for collecting information. They also suggest that anyone contacted by Uniloc might want to get in touch with Tamany Bentz, a patent attorney from Venable LLP in Los Angeles, at 310-229-9905 who represented Dreamstime.

Another resource is Ellen Boughn (ryyra@ryyraobhtua.pbz) who worked with Ms Bentz to prepare an expert report for the Dreamstime case on early stock photo industry practices. While Dreamstime choose to settle, it appears that other defendants whose cases were later dismissed also used Ellen’s report.

Copyright © 2013 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Ellen Boughn Posted Dec 26, 2013
    Thanks, Jim, for posting this.

  • Carroll Seghers Posted Jan 4, 2014
    Uniloc USA has a very spotty record of success in dealing with large firms regarding patent claims. Those with smaller legal resources seem to be able to settle. That is their game. They invent nothing, ride on the ideas of others and bully the weaker firms into paying for nothing. Yet another reason for the US and other countries to set new laws in this area that reflect the realities of todays industry and commerce, and which will encourage the innovation needed for the future.

    Thank you Jim, for letting the photo community know. God forbid that they start naming photographers as co-defendants.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff