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The first Matrix film had the bullet time sequence, and people will most likely associate that technique with the movie.

Research into bullet time shows that it was used long before The Matrix (although it was most likely called something else), and the name was also used in the video game Max Payne (the name is the same, but the technique might be different).

From the wiki link, it states:

The term "bullet time" is a registered trademark of Warner Bros., formally established in March 2005, in connection with the video game The Matrix Online.

Can a studio copyright or hold ownership over any filming technique?

Does this mean if I want to use this technique in my own movie and I would have to pay WB money before doing it?

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    That's not what a "trademark/copyright" is...a trademark is a name not a method. That's what patents are for.
    – Paulie_D
    Nov 19 '18 at 15:41
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    "The term "bullet time" is a registered trademark" - It seems you can use it in your movie but you can't call it "bullet time"...
    – colmde
    Nov 19 '18 at 15:50
  • @Paulie_D - Can WB patent bullet time?
    – user67636
    Nov 19 '18 at 15:54
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    What exactly would be in that patent? Remember, that you can achieve this effect using different methods.
    – Mouvier
    Nov 19 '18 at 15:58
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    Your link: Max Payne wa´s released in 2001. Trademark "Bullet time" was registered in 2005. Before 2005 anyone could use the term.
    – Mouvier
    Nov 19 '18 at 16:01
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I'm a patent agent (not practicing).

The comment about "bullet time" being a name that you have to license is spot on. There's nothing stopping you from copying the technique in your movie, as long as you don't call it "bullet time."

That said: if the technique is implemented in software, then the method of doing it might be patented, so that anyone else creating that effect would be suspected of using the patented method. That would apply to the maker of the software, not to the ultimate consumer.

The problem with Warner having a method patent (I'm not saying they do) is: let's say some other video game tools maker offers this same effect, without using the forbidden name. Now Warner has to sue them just to look at their source code, or else convince a judge that there is no possible way to implement it without infringing. Either is a tough sell.

Of course, big companies are bullies, and they might demand you take a license from them, even knowing that they have no case, because you can't afford a lawyer.

Patents are public (once they're issued), so you can always search the USPTO database for relevant patents, if you're really paranoid. However, I wouldn't if I were you. "Willful infringement" can triple the damages if it really came to that.

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  • Whether or not the technique in question is implemented in software has nothing to do with its patentability (except insofar as many jurisdictions don't allow software to be patented at all). Plenty of non-software special effects used in movies, such as those involving physical mechanisms, are also the subject of patents.
    – Psychonaut
    Oct 8 at 11:58
  • He was talking about "bullet time" though. Can you point to some patents on non-software special effects? Secondly, what jurisdiction relevant to movie-making does NOT allow software patents? The US certainly does. Oct 9 at 15:17
  • There are easily thousands of such non-software patents. To choose just one notable example, there's US patent 3,879,115 from 1975, which describes camera mechanisms for special dissolve and fade effects. To answer your second question, the EU generally disallows software patents, and yes, it certainly supports a thriving film industry.
    – Psychonaut
    Oct 10 at 9:47
  • And your notable example is expired. As for the EU, unless things have changed in the last five years, no they do not disallow software patents. Oct 11 at 16:57

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