This really is quite incredible. For some time now Litepanels have held an number of very broad and vague patents on the use of semiconductor (includes LED) lighting in photography and video production. The patents are vague, rambling and deliberately unspecific. Most of these are not patents on new technology, new ideas, new or innovative designs. These patents exist purely to try to prevent anyone else from putting LED’s into lights for use in photography and video production.
Now following a lengthy court case on the 11th of Sept a USITC Judge upheld Litepanels complaint that the only way to prevent abuse of their patent was an import ban on any type of LED lamp designed for photo or video use that may infringe on their patents. Because the patents are so ridiculously broad and basically cover any use of any fixture designed for film and video production that uses LED’s, an import ban would in effect be a total ban on the import of all photographic and video lighting devices that use LED’s. The final determination of the case is expected by January.
The problem is not so much the upholding of the patents, but that the patents were issued in the first place. There have been attempts to get the patents nullified, most of these involve showing that the patents lack “Novelty”. A patent is supposed to demonstrate a novel, new design or concept never seen before. If it can be shown that LED video lights were sold prior to litepanels patent was issued then it may be nullified, but all this costs money. There are examples of people using LED flashlights as lights for video well before Litepanels came on the scene so they can hardly claim that using LED’s for video is a new or novel idea.
I don’t have a problem with inventors or designers protecting their research and development, but come on, you shouldn’t be able to patent something as vague as the use of LED’s in a frame as a light for photographic applications. That’s like having a patent on the use of lightbulbs in a socket to illuminate a home! Let them patent specific designs like the Sola or specific layouts of LED’s and specific housing designs, but having patents on the general concepts isn’t right.
Litepanels didn’t invent the LED, they didn’t invent the video light and I don’t think they can legitimately claim that they alone came up with the idea of using LED’s to light a scene for photo or video. This is the US patent office at it’s worst. I didn’t think you could patent a concept. You can patent a specific design or an invention but surely not a the vague concept of putting LED’s in a frame for use in photography. The Litepanels patents make amusing reading as they include lots of “maybe” or “might” statements and are as vague as you can get. If this ban goes ahead then Litepanels will effectively have a monopoly on the sale LED video lights in the USA. This will prevent competition which in turn reduces innovation and new product development.