Polaroid: A Trademark’s Life After Bankruptcy(ies)

Written by Mark Terry

Did we used to shake the film that came out of the Polaroid camera or did we wave it in the air? Everyone had their own technique to make the picture appear faster, I suppose. Regardless, the concept of Polaroid instant film made it into the pop culture – even making its way into an Outkast song (“… shake it like a Polaroid picture!”). But then Polaroid filed for bankruptcy in 2001 … and again in 2008! Did that mean the end of the iconic Polaroid brand? Far from it.

            Land, the inventor of the Polaroid system (Patent No. 1,956,867) left Harvard just months before graduation in 1932 to establish the Polaroid company. Land is named on 533 Polaroid patents, including one for the first synthetic polarizer, and kept Polaroid innovative for decades with products including 3-D film. He also developed the Polaroid OneStep, which was the world’s best-selling camera in the 1970s. The coming of the digital age, however, marked Polaroid Corp.’s doom.

            After its first bankruptcy in 2001, however, One Equity Partners LLC, JP Morgan’s private equity unit, purchased a 53 percent stake in Polaroid for $56 million, helping it come out bankruptcy. Petters Group then began licensing Polaroid’s brand name in 2002 and bought the company in 2005 for $426 million. After it filed for bankruptcy protection (the second time) in December 2008, a group of investors in 2009 paid $88 million in the company for the brand name. So even after two bankruptcies and a multitude of negative press, the Polaroid brand was worth tens of millions of dollars

            There are iconic brands that transcend generations and continue to thrive. See my previous blog post about the famous Coca Cola brand. But for those brands that may have lost their ability to keep up with changing technology, like Polaroid, at least their names will live-on in new products. What is the name Polaroid worth? The amount is subjective (though $88 million is a good place to start), but it highlights the fact that whether you are a local business or an international business, it’s important to protect your brand. As we learned from Polaroid, sometimes the only thing remaining with any value after bankruptcy is the brand.

            Mark Terry is a Board-Certified intellectual property attorney residing in the City of Miami. With over a decade of patent and trademark prosecution experience before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Mr. Terry helps individuals and businesses protect their ideas and creations.


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