LED light panels. Who doesn’t love them? They’re awesome for videographers and photographers both, providing constant illumination for the former while enabling the latter to preview the effects of their lighting setup before taking the shot. In addition, LED light panels consume little energy and are thus more cost effective than conventional lighting equipment. And as with all technologies, Asian manufacturers are pretty strong competitors to those based in the U.S. In this case, however, a patent claim and subsequent ITC complaint by manufacturer ‘Litepanels’ could mean that soon LED light panels may no longer be imported into the U.S. from overseas.
It’s the website PatentFreeLED.com that is currently making photographers and videographers aware of this. According to the site, Litepanels has filed a complaint with ITC (the International Trade Commission) over alleged patents regarding the design and use of LED light panels. These patents, however, are so vague that PatentFreeLED argues that the U.S. patent system has failed here and that the ‘inventions’ claimed in these patents cannot actually be ascribed to Litepanels. From the website:
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 continous source of lighting
- Placing multiple LEDS on a rectagular 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.
What makes this whole story even more delicate is that this isn’t actually about protecting a U.S.-based businness (as is the job of the ITC), since Litepanels is owned by a UK-based conglomerate, the Vitec Group.
If the ITC should accept the validity of Litepanels’ patent claims and decide in favor of their complaint, this would in consequence mean that
- no manufacturer other than Litepanels would be allowed to sell LED light panels in the U.S.,
- consequently Litepanels having an absolute monopoly on LED light panels in the U.S.,
- consequently consumers as well as professionals having no choice between different brands,
- consequently Litepanels being able to price their products as low or as high as they like.
So what is there to be done about this? According to PatentFreeLED.com, until October 12th anyone can submit their personal view of the matter at hand to ITC. The makers of the site even prepared a sample response form that you can use as a template for your own letter to ITC.
So if, after reading through the website and studying the documents that deal with Litepanels’ patent claims and their ITC complaint, you feel that this is a just matter, then you can use the resources over at PatentFreeLED.com to have ITC hear your, the end-user’s voice. Because if Litepanels succeeds at banning all non-U.S. manufacturers of a certain type of product from selling this product on the U.S. market, think about what this could mean for the free market and for worldwide free trade. And, of course, for the amount (or lack) of choice we as end users will have in the future.
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