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Luma Labs — An open letter to our customers, past and future

Although I have not reviewed or tried Luma products, it's sad to see the fate of a product be killed off by a patent. It seems a competitor applied for a camera sling patent in 2007 and the United States Patent and Trademark Office has approved of it on November 1, 2011. Now that this competitor has the rights to this concept, they can go after companies that sell products that have the same concept. No one knows what the patent holder will do with this newly acquired patent. For all we know, they could be using it to product their time and investment.

Since Luma Labs is a small company, they have decided to immediately stop sales of their Loop and LoopIt to avoid any future legal issues. They just felt that the amount of money to defend themselves from any legal actions would be too costly to the business. However, that doesn't mean Luma Labs is closing shop. They mentioned that they have been working on a new camera strap concept for the past 6 months. It will be available in December and will be their primary product.

Own a Loop or LoopIt? Don't worry. Luma Labs will continue to support current customers with any problems they may have. I'm glad to see that Luma Labs isn't closing its doors. Their products looks great and I can't wait to see what new products they have up their sleeve.

Below is what they have posted on their site at Luma Labs:
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. Many other makers—especially in the specialty Leica marketplace—developed these variants further, culminating in exact implementations of the concept. For example, thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we know that 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 we’re pretty sure that 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’re acting unilaterally and conceding the market by immediately discontinuing the Loop and LoopIt. Full stop. We apologize for the sudden nature of this decision and our implementation of it, but we feel like our options on this matter are limited.

This isn’t the end of Luma Labs LLC, however.

We’ve been working on an interesting new camera strap concept for the last six months. It’s nearing completion and we were planning on introducing it soon as a companion to our existing product line. Now, it will be our primary product. We’re planning to bring it to market in December, the month we’ve traditionally introduced new products. Furthermore, we’ll continue to support our existing customers. Our accessories, including the PodMount, will become available for sale again soon as we take this opportunity to retool and reinvent ourselves. And, we will continue to implement all of our current service and support policies.

It’s a bet the company moment. It’s not without risks. Big risks. But looking at all the alternatives, we’ll take it.

—Duncan and Greg

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