I'm planning to do an exhibition in the near future where I want most of my work to be illustrated in the Polaroid photo format like the image bellow.
enter image description here

In this exhibition I may sell some work and someone asked me the question "Can you legally sell those photos since they represent the Polaroid trademark?"

I realized I don't know the answer. Can I sell and distribute this work with the exact dimensions as a Polaroid photo?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Legal in what jurisdiction? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 6, 2015 at 9:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related question on Law.SE. \$\endgroup\$
    – feetwet
    Oct 22, 2015 at 21:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hewlett Packard appears to believe it is free to do so: See their "HP Social Media Snapshots" product line. \$\endgroup\$
    – feetwet
    Nov 4, 2015 at 21:32

3 Answers 3


Polaroid applied for a design mark apparently covering the shape of their prints, but that application was abandoned in 2000. That shape is distinctive, but, for example, Fujifilm Instax looks similar — not to mention Impossible Project film, which is actually made in a former Polaroid factory.

You're not using the Polaroid name, which does have a valid trademark, currently held by a licensing company (since the original is defunct — all that remains is the intellectual property rights). That company also claims the "Polaroid Classic Border Logo" as an unregistered trademark — but as the other commercial examples show, that's not particularly strong. Generally, ™ covers "commercial misrepresentation of source or origins of goods" — if you are using this shape to imply that your photographs are made or licensed by the company with rights to the Polaroid name, then you might be in trouble. But, it doesn't seem that you are.

If you were selling actual prints made on Polaroid film, I don't think the question would come up — everyone understands that art made in some medium is made by the artist, not by the company that sells the medium itself. (Just as you can sell art made of Lego.) In this case, you're not doing that; you are just using a distinctive shape often associated with instant prints. If you're really worried, consult a lawyer, but in my lay opinion, I think you're well in the clear, because you're showing and selling your work, not a competing film product. As long as you don't do anything to imply sponsorship or endorsement, I wouldn't be concerned.

It's probably worth noting that this site's logo uses a similar shape. Of course, Stack Exchange isn't selling photographs or film -- but also, I've looked at that logo thousands of times, and never once did it even cross my mind to draw a connection with the Polaroid brand.


A piece of photo paper X x Y millimeters with uneven margins cannot be trademarked.

Do not mention the word "Polaroid" in print anywhere, do not use the company logo, and don't bother printing the black square on the back of the picture and you'll be fine.

  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ "A piece of photo paper X x Y millimeters with uneven margins cannot be trademarked." I wouldn't be so sure. Try searching the US trademark database and you'll find some very basic geometric patterns much less distinctive than this one. It might not be a very strong trademark, but it's not outside of the realm of imaginable, especially in a world where with design patents like this. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jan 5, 2015 at 14:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm A trademark such as that probably wouldn't stand up in court. However, that's not a court case most people could afford to win so the shakiness of such trademarks is moot (unless you're also a large corporation with deep pockets). \$\endgroup\$ Jan 6, 2015 at 9:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidRicherby Agreed. And although not really relevant to this case, apparently the IP licensing company sent threatening letters to Apple, and although no court is involved, they refuse any apps which create Polaroid-like borders. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jan 6, 2015 at 11:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm does this mean Apple could sue if another company make a tablet with rounded corners (even though this seems sensible to me so as not to get cut by the device you use). \$\endgroup\$
    – lharby
    Apr 25, 2016 at 9:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @lharby Yes; they did sue Samsung over essentially that. What's more, they won. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Aug 23, 2016 at 21:34

How can a border surrounding a printed photograph can be protected by trademark law when there are endless variations of scale, proportions and design that are possible on such a border. If the width of one side of the border is changed does the trademark still apply? Many companies offer the “classic” border style you refer to as well as offering variations of this in terms of size, colour and design without any reference to Polaroid. Polaroid has gone bankrupt twice and its trademarks have been bought by private equity lawyers who have been accused of being trademark trolls. They don't make anything, they just licence the marks and send intimidating letters to artisans. Not what Polaroid's founder had in mind methinks.


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