Home Forums General Discussion Being sued for virtual tour patent — IVRPA referenced. Real or Scam?

This topic contains 12 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by Chris Leary Chris Leary 36 minutes ago.

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  • #23104
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    Concerned Photographer
    Forum Member
    • Forum Posts: 3

    I got an e-mail a bit ago with a threat to sue me for having a virtual tour on my website. IVRPA is referenced in the e-mail. Is this real or a scam?

    From what I can gather, they are claiming that they have patented VR Tour technology and that they will be suing anyone who has a virtual tour. I looked up the patent number, and it appears to be legitimate.

    We are writing to you on account of your operation of a website incorporating a 360° virtual tour using a geometric projection which keeps straight lines straight during up-and-down and left and right changes in the direction of virtual view. This technology is covered by United States Patent Number 6,754,400, as affirmed and elaborated by Ex Parte Re-Examination Certificate 9844, which is the culmination of a research effort conducted in the United States and Romania and originally funded by me.

    We have filed numerous lawsuits in the United States against infringers of the technology. All of these lawsuits have been successfully prosecuted as you can verify with a simple Google search. License fees have ranged into six figures. You should also be aware that when the International Virtual Reality Photographers Association challenged our patent in the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the patentability of our technology was confirmed with the issuance of 68 claims. Reference is made to the attached patent and re-examination certificate. Currently, the technology is licensed by Tour Technology Software to many users, including virtually every major hotel in the United States, either directly or through their virtual tour providers.

    As you can see from the record, our company will not tolerate patent infringement. We hope that you will choose to act responsibly and accept our very reasonable offer of a license under the technology which you are using.

    Our licensing fees for the life of the patent are as follows:

    License fee for a single photographer: $650

    License fee for a single real estate agent: $250

    License fee for a single restaurant, attraction or other business: $250

    The above fees include a release for past infringement of the patent.

    We trust that you recognize the seriousness of this matter to our company and we look forward to your promptly taking action to avoid enforcement activity.

    If you have any questions, or if you would like to address a special issue, I would be pleased to discuss the same with you.

    Very truly yours,

    Richard Wilson, Jr.

    President

    This does appear to be real, and a legal form was attached to the e-mail that appears to be legitimate as well.

    #23105
    Avatar
    Concerned Photographer
    Forum Member
    • Forum Posts: 3

    And I understand the IVRPA cannot provide legal guidance, I am mostly looking for confirmation if what they are saying about IVRPA challenging them in court is true, or a fabrication.

    #23106
    Avatar
    Concerned Photographer
    Forum Member
    • Forum Posts: 3

    .

    #23120
    Joergen Geerds
    Joergen Geerds
    • Forum Posts: 11

    Scott Witte is/was the lead on the ‘400 project. you can see more at http://archive.ivrpa.org/patent

    #23134
    Real Tour Vision
    Real Tour Vision
    • Forum Posts: 5

    Hello friend and IVRPA associates. Seeing the reference about Scott Witte and the link above Joergen really brings about a trip down memory lane! I’m not sure if anyone back here remembers or not, but Scott and I did a webinar together about this. We rallied the RTV troops and encouraged those in our photography network to make a donation to help stop this from spreading. Unfortunately, it could not be stopped and (as I have found) it is very true. After all these years it is still happening throughout the USA. I never thought in a million years it would find its way to me, but as luck would have it, it did.

    RTV has been going through a long and painstaking process over the last two years to make sure that the users of our virtual tour software are FULLY protected from this. It was not an easy task but I’m happy to state that we have settled the matter. Our licensing information is on the bottom of our home page in small font. If you like you can read more about said matters here – https://casetext.com/case/tour-tech-software-inc-v-rtv-inc

    Because RTV offers both a private labeled virtual tour hosting platform and performs national photography services for many large hotel brands, apartments, and medical facilities it was vital for us to get adequate licensing to not only cover new and existing photographers but to also cover each and every virtual tour production that we create for our national photography clients.

    To my knowledge, we are the first and only virtual tour hosting platform to have virtual tour patent protection and licensing spread to new and existing photographers. I’m sure there will be many more as time goes on, but at least for RTV the issue is behind us.

    Should any of you out there currently using the RTV system get a letter like this simply reply and let them know that you are using RTV. Have them refer to the licensing tag on the bottom of our website. Because we allow our photographers to private label our virtual tour hosting system, Mr. Wilson and his team will likely not be able to tell that you are using our virtual tour software. It has come up a couple of times now, and we can give you a stock letter to send to them if you need it.

    If anyone has any questions please feel free to give me a call 231-932-1586.

    Blue Skies,

    Jason

    Jason LaVanture
    RTV, Inc
    Direct 231-932-1586
    Virtual Tour Software

    #23135
    Jürgen Schrader
    Jürgen Schrader
    IVRPA Member
    IVRPA Director
    president
    • Forum Posts: 94
    • ★★

    I’m posting this in the name of our member Jason LaVantura who had a technical diffculty with our forum to post this. We will look into the issue, but meanwhile this might be helpful.

    Hello friend and IVRPA associates. Seeing the reference about Scott Witte and the link above Joergen really brings about a trip down memory lane! I’m not sure if anyone back here remembers or not, but Scott and I did a webinar together about this. We rallied the RTV troops and encouraged those in our photography network to make a donation to help stop this from spreading. Unfortunately, it could not be stopped and (as I have found) it is very true. After all these years it is still happening throughout the USA. I never thought in a million years it would find its way to me, but as luck would have it, it did.

    RTV has been going through a long and painstaking process over the last two years to make sure that the users of our virtual tour software are FULLY protected from this. It was not an easy task but I’m happy to state that we have settled the matter. Our licensing information is on the bottom of our home page in small font. If you like you can read more about said matters here – https://casetext.com/case/tour-tech-software-inc-v-rtv-inc

    Because RTV offers both a private labeled virtual tour hosting platform and performs national photography services for many large hotel brands, apartments, and medical facilities it was vital for us to get adequate licensing to not only cover new and existing photographers but to also cover each and every virtual tour production that we create for our national photography clients.

    To my knowledge, we are the first and only virtual tour hosting platform to have virtual tour patent protection and licensing spread to new and existing photographers. I’m sure there will be many more as time goes on, but at least for RTV the issue is behind us. If anyone has any questions please feel free to give me a call 231-932-1586.

    Should any of you out there currently using the RTV system get a letter like this simply reply and let them know that you are using RTV. Have them refer to the licensing tag on the bottom of our website. Because we allow our photographers to private label our virtual tour hosting system, Mr. Wilson and his team will likely not be able to tell that you are using our virtual tour software. It has come up a couple times now, and we can give you a stock letter to send to them if you need it.

    Blue Skies,

    Jason

    Jürgen Schrader
    President of the IVRPA

    #23146
    Joergen Geerds
    Joergen Geerds
    • Forum Posts: 11

    I would suggest to first look into any relationship between the actual owner of the ‘400 patent, and whoever is making a claim to “own” it.

    #23190
    Chris Leary
    Chris Leary
    IVRPA Member
    • Forum Posts: 4

    I just got the letter from Richard Wilson Jr too. I deleted all my 360 work on my website – do we really need to pay this guy? What about the 360 samples here on IVRPA? Do we need to delete them as well?

    #23199
    Avatar
    Ian Tresman
    Forum Member
    • Forum Posts: 2

    United States Patent Number 6,754,400 “System and method for creation, processing and visualization of omni-directional images” states two main novel innovations:

    1. “assembling the images in a digital format includes the step of transferring two planar fish-eye images to hemispherical images while removing distortions in the planar fish-eye images.”
      This does not appear to be novel, and is pre-dated by, for example, US Patent No. US6002430A (1994) and a 1997 paper on “Omnidirectional Video Camera.”

    2. “projecting the spherical image onto faces of a cube surrounding the spherical image”
      I am not aware of any 360-deg virtual tour camera/software that requires this.
    #23200
    Real Tour Vision
    Real Tour Vision
    • Forum Posts: 5

    Hello again everyone! I agree with Jürgen 100%. I suggest that someone back here google the company you get the letter from “Tour Tech. Software, Inc.” and find this link in the SERPS – https://casetext.com/case/tour-tech-software-inc-v-rtv-inc-1

    Using the information provided there reach out to the attorney for the Plaintiff and ask about the validity of the letter. It makes sense that it would continue to amp up however as I talk to more and more photographers this is happening to, the Gmail account and the fact that the company has moved from NY to FL creates suspicion.

    Word to the wise – use a burner phone when you call so you don’t put yourself under the spotlight and keep us posted back here! Here to help as much as I can.

    Jason

    Jason LaVanture
    RTV, Inc
    Direct 231-932-1586
    Virtual Tour Software

    #23246
    Brian Richards
    Brian Richards
    IVRPA Member
    • Forum Posts: 18

    Please see my post on this topic that I have raised in the Members Forum.

    Brian Richards

    #23295
    Scott Witte
    Scott Witte
    IVRPA Member
    • Forum Posts: 1

    Apologies for not chiming in sooner. I’ve had a lot going on.

    I must preface this by saying that I am not a lawyer and nobody should depend on anything I say below. What I say is only my opinion or represents my understanding of the facts, which is several years old.

    First, I couldn’t blame anyone getting a letter like this for simply ignoring it as a seemingly obvious scam. Sure could look like it. I’m not sure when you would need to take it seriously. Certainly, if you receive an official complaint, a legal filing with the court, with actual papers delivered to you, you would have to. Filing such a complaint costs roughly $400, so I don’t know how worthwhile it is to them when dealing with a really small entity like an individual photographer.

    Nonetheless, if they take it that far you could be faced with working something out with them or fighting them in court, which would likely cost hundred’s of thousands of dollars. If you ignore the complaint there will be an automatic judgment against you. Even if you can successfully defend against it, the complainant can simply walk away with no consequences while you are still out all that money (in America, at least). They obviously expect you to cut your losses and make a deal. Some people have called this legal extortion.

    Some Background… and this is super-simplified: IVRPA sponsored a reexamination of the ‘400 patent. We could only afford to do this as an “ex-parte” reexamination, which meant we made our argument, once, “on paper” but had no right to argue in person. That would have cost at least 10 times as much, a minimum of $150,000 at the time. We were amazingly successful. Every single claim of the patent was struck down. But the patent owner has the right to argue their case in person, which they did. All claims remained struck down. Then the patent owner had the right to rewrite the claims to make them patentable, as long as the rewrite was based on the patent description. They did that and it was still struck down. So they did it again and again. Each time the claims became less clear and where drawn in ways that weren’t allowed, IMO. (Again, I am NOT a lawyer so take that for what it is worth.) And there seemed to be no end to how many times they could attempt to rewrite the claims.

    In my opinion, based on reading the transcripts, I suspect the examiner essentially threw up his hands and essentially said, “Fine. I will grant the patent on some very limited grounds. Now go away. We have lots of other projects we need to get to.” They may have been thinking, “Let the courts sort this out. We are done with it.”

    The limited patentability came from the use of “frames per second” although that seemed to get translated into images per second, and on the use of “vectors.” To me, neither are patentable for so many reasons that I won’t go into here. I personally feel certain that if litigated to the end, instead of settling beforehand, the patent would be struck down, either at the patent office or in court. But that would take a good $300,000 or more.

    In the email, TTS states,”…virtual tour using a geometric projection which keeps straight lines straight during up-and-down and left and right changes in the direction of virtual view. This technology is covered by United States Patent Number 6,754,400…” By my understanding, this is not an enforceable part of the patent, but it sounds good and technical. (The method that “keeps lines straight” is simple geometry and TTS is using the exact same method covered by the Quicktime patent, which was part of the original reexamination. Further, it is just math, and math cannot be patented, by my understanding.)

    So what to do? I suppose you could make it enough of a hassle for them that they move on to the next mark. That is something of a dice roll. What confuses me is that Handel, the lawyer representing TTS, who I suspect has a majority financial interest in the patent, is a high-end IP lawyer, who has won patent infringement cases with millions of dollars in settlement. So why is he slumming around trying to shake down a bunch of individual photographers??

    Scott Witte
    ----------------
    Tour de Force 360VR :: www.tourdeforce360.com
    Scott Witte Photography :: www.scottwitte.com

    #23303
    Chris Leary
    Chris Leary
    IVRPA Member
    • Forum Posts: 4

    Thanks for your input Scott Witte!

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