Microsoft was granted a patent covering the Photosynth app, which enables iOS users to view 3D landscapes that have been created via a mesh of 2D images.
The granted patent reflects the exact functionality of the Photosynth panorama stitching backend. From the abstract:
"A collection of photos and a three-dimensional reconstruction of the photos are used to construct and texture a mesh model. In one embodiment, a first digital image of a first view of a real world scene is analyzed to identify lines in the first view. Among the lines, parallel lines are identified. A three-dimensional vanishing direction in a three-dimensional space is determined based on the parallel lines and an orientation of the digital image in the three-dimensional space. A plane is automatically generated by fitting the plane to the vanishing direction. A rendering of a three-dimensional model with the plane is displayed. Three-dimensional points corresponding to features common to the photos may be used to constrain the plane. The photos may be projected onto the model to provide visual feedback when editing the plane. Furthermore, the photos may be used to texture the model."
The app began its life as a research project by Noah Snavely, a graduate student at the University of Washington and was then transferred to Microsoft via the acquisition of Seadragon, a company that continued the work of Snavely.
Neither Snavely nor Snapdragon founder Blaise Aguera y Arcas are mentioned as patent authors, but the patent lists Microsoft researcher and University of Washington professor Richard Szeliski among the four inventors. Another key person is Maneesh Agrawala, who is associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and in charge of Berkeley's Visualization Lab. Snavely, however, is mentioned together with Szeliski in several other related non-patent publications.
The Photosynth patent was filed by Microsoft in March 2008, nearly two years after Microsoft's acquisition of Seadragon and more than a year after the first demonstration of the technology, which the company released in cooperation with the BBC.
The patent covers the feature set of the technology on "any type" computing device, including portable devices, workstations, servers, and mobile wireless devices.