Apple Wins Interior Design Trademark

By Colleen Lynch January 30, 2013

Apple is known for vehemently protecting its products with trademarks and copyrights, but can the design of its store count as a product too?

The answer is officially: yes. Apple Inc. has legally trademarked the design of its stores, with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issuing the final decision last week.

This trademark marks the end of an almost three-year-long uphill battle with the patent office, which began in May 2010.

Apple was rejected twice by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, over the issue of whether the store’s design counts as “inherently distinctive.”

On its third try, Apple submitted additional support for its claims, including drawings and other layout materials and documents, which helped sway the decision in Apple’s favor this time.

The design for Apple’s stores was described in the trademark at length as “a primarily glass storefront, rectangular recessed lighting traversing the length of the store’s ceiling, Cantilevered shelving and recessed display spaces along the front side walls, rectangular tables arranged in a line in the middle of the store parallel to the walls and extending from the storefront to the back of the store, multi-tiered shelving along the rear walls, and an oblong table with stools located at the back of the store below video screens in the back wall.”

The idea isn’t that out there--Apple’s stores have a look about them that screams “Apple,” and if another store was to copy or emulate the design, the similarities would be pretty obvious. This especially pertains to the new Windows stores, which some have commented share a likeness with the typical Apple store.

Strangely, though, Microsoft was in fact the first of the two tech giants to trademark the design of their stores, which went through in 2011. The slight but distinctive differences between the Microsoft store and the Apple store were enough to earn Microsoft its trademark, so Apple understandably felt they could get one also.

The reason behind the trademark has little to do with Microsoft, however.

More likely, the trademark will be used in court cases against the various Chinese lookalike stores that have long been copying Apple--both in product and store designs.

The documentation further details the store design as including “three-dimensional trade dress depicting the interior of a retail store with four curved tabletops at the front and rear side walls and a rectangular band displaying changing video images on the walls.”

Now, both Microsoft and Apple may have changed things significantly for other retailers looking to protect the recognizable interior designs of their stores--legally, it has been proven that it can be done.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

TechZone360 Contributor

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