Loop Production Suspended
You’ve no doubt heard about patent battles in the world of software. Companies such as Nokia, Apple, and Microsoft use their incredibly large patent portfolios against each other in a multitude of ways. Often defensively, sometimes offensively. While there are many patents for truly inventive things, there are also a great number that are for things that already exist. Patents are a good idea that have been appropriated over the decades as a corporate tool for establishing limits to competition, no matter if the ideas described by those patents are truly inventive. Furthermore, this kind of use of patents isn’t just limited to the world of computing.
We’ve been aware for quite some time that one of our competitors applied for a patent relating to camera slings in 2007. Their patent application contained dozens of claims that centered around two primary concepts. One of these concepts—that of using a sliding connection to connect a camera to a sling—applied to our product line. We did our research, consulted our lawyers, and found more than enough prior art related to this concept.
That prior art starts with the US 1885 Carbine Sling, which clearly features an attachment that slides along a leather strap and connects to the rifle with a hook. It goes onto Leica’s 1938 TROOV wrist strap which connects to a tripod-based connection with a hook assembly that would slide freely if not for the way that the strap was constructed. Leica went on to develop a neck strap with sliding screw mounts that seems to have first appeared in their catalog in 1969. Many other makers—especially in the specialty Leica marketplace—developed these variants further. For example, thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we know that leicagoodies.com was selling their version of this concept in 2005. One look at the photo on that page of a product made of a keyring, hook, and webbing tells the story.
In short, the idea of a sliding camera sling isn’t an amazing new invention. It’s just a really good idea that’s been around for a while and which has been iteratively developed. Neither we nor our lawyers believed that the USPTO would grant a patent for the claims related to this concept. It was a surprise, then, when our competitor was granted a patent covering the concept on November 1st, 2011. To say that we’re disappointed that the USPTO couldn’t find the prior art around the idea is an understatement.
Our disappointment doesn’t matter much in the scheme of things, however. Our competitor now has a legal tool and they desire to use it. This is, as they say, a problem. We and our counsel are more than confident that we can defend ourselves, and will do so vigorously if necessary. On the other hand, we’re a very small company that sells our products in limited volumes and mounting such a defense would consume the majority of our resources. After all, it took three years to rescind a patent about a method of using a swing. In other words, we have a Hobson’s choice on our hands. We could very well lose everything even if we won.
Therefore, we’ve suspended production of the Loop and LoopIt. Full stop. We apologize for fact that we are no longer able to sell the Loop and its accessories, but we feel like our options on this matter are limited.