Worried About the Amazon White Background Patent? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Be

May 18, 2014 - Holly Cardew

If you own an online store, you’ve probably read about the Amazon white background patent.

Word on the Web is that Amazon was granted a patent for the use of white backgrounds for product images, sparking angry reactions amongst online retailers and photographers who argue that the technique has been used for decades and that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office must be crazy.


So, what’s with this patent?

Sure, the U.S. patent system has been known to surprise people with some absurd grants. It’s also true that photographing against white is being used more frequently by both massive eCommerce stores and small online businesses, as online retailers have come to realise that a nicely lit photo with a simple background can really boost conversion rates.Amazon photography set up

However, there’s a lot more to the patent than just the white backdrop. For a bit of light reading, you can find the patent here. The patent is concerned with the whole studio arrangement and not just the background; it lists in extensive detail the setup that Amazon has claimed to be their signature technique. By extensive detail, I mean the positioning of the lights, the focal length, the exact ISO value and things that suggest that the USPTO might actually be crazy.

The reason behind the creation of the patent is that Amazon claims their technique is the purest form of ‘white background’ product imagery because there is no retouching or use of green screens. So if you’re worried that you’ll get sued for having good product images, I can tell you that it’s highly unlikely.

Most small eCommerce store owners don’t have the time, equipment or money to replicate this apparently patent-worthy setup. But if for some bizarre reason you think that this particular studio arrangement is the only way to have a good product image — although you’d be wrong — then it would still take a lot of time and effort on Amazon’s part to prove that you’ve used that setup.

amazon page

Get some of Amazon’s secret sauce

I think the most important thing that has come out of this kafuffle is that people are realising the importance of good product images. If Amazon, one of the world’s largest online stores, has gone to the effort of patenting their product image technique, it has to count for something.

Even though they’ve patented the specific technique, who says we can’t use their product images as inspiration? Have a look at the screenshots below; all of Amazon’s product images obviously feature a white background, but note that they’ve left a bit of white space around the photos so the object doesn’t quite meet the edges. Also, some of Amazon’s product images have shadows — which is not a bad idea because it makes the products look more realistic. If you want to learn more about the power of a white background, check out our previous blog post!

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