In August 2011, Vitec Group, parent company of Litepanels, instituted an International Trade Commission investigation (337-TA-804) that could potentially ban all LED lights except Litepanels. This combined with Litepanels existing array of lawsuits against the smaller LED manufacturers in America could mean an almost complete market domination by Litepanels. Without competition the prices will rise even further than they already already are for whats essentially simple circuitry.
LED lights have become widespread in the past few years in video production, broadcast, film and photography to name just a few and a potential monopoly of this kind would be the equivalent of only one supplier of film stock (actually that’s probably not far away but for a different reason), one maker of SD cards or even worse… One camera manufacturer!
The real losers in all this, should Litepanels get their way, will be all the resellers including Litepanels. Because people will simply order online from overseas bypassing Litepanels. Unless Litepanels have figured out a way to stop you receiving a package from Ebay etc. Another loser will be the environment with many of us simply using the good old fashioned light bulb again and slowly filling landfills.
planet5D contacted several of the parties involved in the suit to get input from all sides – we heard back from Cool Lights (a defendant in the suit), a consortium fighting the suit (PatentFreeLED.com) as well as Litepanels themselves and present their responses for you to consider.
Cool Lights, one of the companies fighting Lightpanels made this comment.
Who is involved?
The initial complaint named 14 small companies, all being accused of making and importing into the USA, LED lighting products that allegedly infringe certain of Litepanels’ patents. These companies, known as the Respondents, are: Cool Lights USA, Flolight, Prompter People, IKAN Corporation, Shantou Nanguang, Yuyao Lishuai Photo Facility, Yuyao Fotodiox, Fotodiox USA, Elation Lighting, Fuzhou F&V Photographic Lighting Equipment, Visio Light, Stellar Lighting, Yuyao Lily Collection Co., Tianjin Wuqing Huanyu Film and TV Equipment Factory. Litepanels is asking not only that these named companies not be allowed to import LED Photographic Lighting and Components into the USA, but it is also asking for a “General Exclusion Order” which means that no one can import LED photographic lighting or components into the United States without a license agreement with Litepanels. Two of the main reasons they gave in the complaint were mainly that the number of competitors making such lighting are too numerous to name all of them individually and also apparent prompting from Litepanels resellers and dealers to initiate actions.
Several of the Respondents either didn’t respond or dropped out in one way or another during the proceedings. Some signed licensing agreements with Litepanels. Some agreed not to import their lighting to the USA.
The only companies left at this time are Cool Lights USA, Flolight, Prompter People, IKAN, Yuyao Lishuai Photo Facility, Yuyao Fotodiox, Fotodiox USA and Yuyao Lily Collection Co. These companies continue to fight the ITC action and have further plans to fight the Litepanels patents as well. The defences during the ITC action included:
- Obviousness (the invention is not novel and therefore did not merit a general patent).
- The Complainant (Litepanels) did not maintain a domestic industry in the United States and therefore should not be before the US ITC.
- Existence of “prior art” (previous patents filed for similar inventions).
What about Litepanels patents?
Litepanels has several patents pertaining to LED lighting for photographic use. The defenses of the Respondents included prior art showing clearly that there were previous inventions and prior common usage of the inventions that demonstrated LED and other lighting being used for film, video, cinematography and broadcast usage. Although the US Patent and Trademark Office works hard to ensure that only appropriate inventions are afforded patent status, the USPTO is not always afforded an opportunity to review all relevant prior art during the prosecution process of the patent applications. Seeking a reexamination of Litepanels patents is an option available to the Respondents as well as any other interested party.
How does Cool Lights USA feel at this time?
As far as our thoughts on the subject, we do not feel any part the ITC investigation was warranted. Cool Lights USA was named in the action and has been partnered with the other respondents from the beginning in fighting this as we believe it can only harm the Photographic Lighting market in the USA. Litepanels only named small companies to defend against this complaint for obvious reasons. However, we are facing it, going forward and will continue to fight the complaint. If a General Exclusion order is granted by the ITC, we will, along with the remaining respondents, initiate an appeal as well as a re-examination request for Litepanels Patents at the US PTO. There is much evidence to support our re-examination so we feel confident that if we do initiate it, it will be successful.
Patentfreeled.com’s response is the following.
“Litepanels has amassed an increasingly vague set of patents related to LED lighting for video, film and photography.
Litepanels did not…
- Invent the use of LEDs for use in video, film or photography
- Invent the type of LEDs used in their product
- Invent PWM (pulse wave modulation) used to dim LEDs
- Invent the concept of mounting lights on cameras
- Invent the concept of mounting lights on stands
- Invent the use of LEDs as a continuous source of lighting
- Placing multiple LEDS on a rectangular printed circuit board
There are a number of products that demonstrated all of these claims years before Litepanels even filed for their first patent. Furthermore patents are legally only given to those that create something new that someone skilled in the art would not think of. Clearly the claims above are obvious to just about anyone. Litepanels patents are a perfect example of a how mistake in the patent office can become an injury to the industry.
We are now in a period where the public can submit their views to the ITC on why Litepanels should not be granted an exclusion order banning video lights for video, film and photography production. These submissions must be sent in by October 13. We have made this process easy. You can simply email to this website and we will do the submission for you. If you want to submit your comments directly there are directions below for registering and sending your comments directly to the ITC. We also have a petition you can join to show the ITC how many people are upset by this action and will be negatively affected.
We contacted litepanels to see if they had a response and they sent us to their corporate statement on the matter which in part says:
Is Litepanels trying to claim that they own the patent on all LED panel based video lights?
Litepanels filed for patent protection of its technology when we first began developing the application of LED for use in the media/creative arts of film, television and photography. We do not own patents on all LED technology. In fact, our patents specifically refer to the application of full spectrum, white LEDs for image capture in those mediums. Litepanels lighting products also include a number of preexisting technologies for which we pay licensing fees to the owners of those patents. We seek similar licensing agreements with companies that wish to use our intellectual property.
We are firm believers in free, fair competition and the patent system that allows our economy to flourish. In order to protect the specific technology we developed, Litepanels was required to prove the validity of our patents, and the facts of this particular case have been heard and decided in an unbiased and open forum. The defendants were allowed ample opportunity to present their best evidence and arguments against the validity of our patents, with the result that our claims to our intellectual property were upheld.
Is Litepanels trying to use their patents to block competition and force everyone to pay higher prices for LED lighting?
We are not trying to monopolize or block all LED lighting fixtures from the market. The recent ruling is directed at manufacturers who are unwilling to pay licensing fees and infringe on Litepanels’ intellectual property. In fact, there are a number of companies who have chosen to license our technology in order to build their own LED fixtures, just as we license some technology from others for our products. We welcome more manufacturers to license and implement our technology to ensure its widest possible acceptance throughout the market. We do not expect the results of these intellectual property conflicts to dramatically affect the prices of LED fixtures in the future.
Considering the trouble Microsoft was in some years ago over its market share, should Litepanels win, surely the same rules that applied to Microsoft should then be applied to Litepanels??? Or does that not apply to UK owned companies?
What do you think?
Will this end up in filmmaker’s favor? Will LEDs only be sold by Litepanels? Do the comments by Litepanels win you over?
Sound off in the comments!
Simon Bailey is an award-winning filmmaker and commercial director. With almost 20 years experience in a range of roles within the broadcast and film environments, Simon’s always keen to help where he can.
(cover photo credit: snap from simon)