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Apple trademarks the desgin on all its retail stores

Friday February 8, 2013 at 8:37pm
Apple trademarks the desgin on all its retail stores
What typically comes to mind when you think of the word “trademark”? Naturally, most of us turn our thoughts to designs, logos, products and services that are discernibly associated with a particular person or company. We see trademarks every day in a multitude of guises – packaging, advertisements, shop fronts and displays, commercials… the list goes on and on.

But, have you ever considered that the particular layout of a store could be trademarked as well?

Well, Apple has just succeeded in doing so. Why would the layout of a store be worthy of trademark protection?

It would be if brand integrity and sales are compromised in any way. Last year, a blogger discovered that an Apple Store operating in Kunming, China wasn’t actually the real thing. The shop was so believable with its Apple logos, big glass windows, long wooden tables and stools with Apple staff t-shirts mirroring the real thing, that even some of the employees were shocked to find out they weren’t actually working for Apple.

What followed that discovery was another twenty shops attempting the same thing.

Chinese Authorities did crack down on all the shops, but the large scale selling of Apple products without authorisation clearly indicated the demand for wider protection.

Apple had already made efforts in 2003 to protect certain elements of its store design, in particular the floating glass staircase whose design is attributed to Steve Jobs. However, there was a recognised need to obtain more comprehensive cover. In 2010, well before the discovery in China, Apple had applied to the US Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) for their minimalist store layout. Their design patent application was denied twice before being approved just last month on 22 January.

However, what good the patent could have done in the case of Chinese counterfeit shops is questionable as patent protection does not legally go beyond the United States. But, it is general practice for companies to register similar trademarks and patents in other countries simultaneously, and in fact various international conventions and treaties allow brand owners to preserve their rights across borders to some extent. Indeed Apple has followed suit: the USTPO has indicated that Apple did seek similar protection in 19 countries including Turkey, China, Russia and various European countries as well.

In the US, however, Apple’s new trademark will ensure their distinctive store layout is preserved and protected from competitors like Samsung and Microsoft. Ironically, Microsoft must have been thinking the same thing, as it was the first tech company to trademark a store layout.
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