January 30, 2013
Apple Trademarks Their Store Designs
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
There´s no doubt that Apple has hit upon something truly special with their retail stores. The crisp, modern decor and the simplistic way the products are presented has inspired more than a few companies to take a similar approach. In true Apple fashion, the company has now trademarked the design of their retail stores in order to prevent potential copycats from ripping off their idea.
According to Reuters, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted Apple´s request to trademark the design of their stores last week. The newly awarded trademark covers "a clear glass storefront surrounded by a paneled facade,” as well as an "oblong table with stools ... set below video screens flush mounted on the back wall."
Other retailers have attempted to create a similarly chic environment to show off their products. Best Buy, for example, said in July that they would start redesigning some of their smaller stores to closely resemble Apple´s retail presence, complete with long tables and a sparse display of products. This is a drastic move away from the company´s current design of an open warehouse.
Though they haven't specifically mentioned Apple as an inspiration, Polaroid´s new Fotobars are also expected to look particularly Apple-esque, complete with iMacs in the editing stations and video screens mounted into the walls.
The Reuters report also mentions a bizarre incident in China last year where a whole slew of fake Apple stores were discovered. These stores were not authorized Apple retailers, yet the owners had gone to such elaborate lengths to make the stores look authentic that even the employees thought they were actually working for Apple.
The Apple retail stores are the brainchild of the late Steve Jobs, a project which was assumed by many to be Apple´s greatest failure. At the time the stores launched in 2003, other computer companies had tried and subsequently failed to launch successful retail operations.
In the last few years, however, the combination of beautiful products set amongst the beautiful stores has been a huge boon for Apple, earning them more money per square foot than any other retailer. And these stores have Jobs´ fingerprints all over them — from the Italian stone in every location to the infamous floating glass staircase invented by Jobs himself. The late CEO was even been awarded a patent for this staircase by the USPTO.
While Apple has been granted this trademark on paper, one law professor says Apple will have to prove that customers have been genuinely confused by other stores in order to win a patent infringement suit.
"The million dollar question in this instance, as in pretty much all trade dress cases, is just how close a competitor can come to the design without infringing," said Christopher Sprigman, a law professor at the University of Virginia.
Though the copycat stores were located in China, Apple will not be able to use this patent to file infringement suits in any future instances, as this trademark only covers stores within the U.S.
However, given Microsoft´s and Samsung´s recent interest in opening up similar-looking stores, perhaps Apple is gearing up to file even more infringement claims, potentially opening up an entirely new front in the ongoing intellectual property wars.