Apple’s store design trademark ‘could be impossible to defend’

Apple’s move to register the layout of its retail stores as a trademark could be ‘too broad to defend’ according to a retail design expert.

Apple's store on Fifth Aveue, New York
Apple’s store on Fifth Aveue, New York

Apple has secured the ruling at the European Court of Justice to allow it to register its store layouts as a trademark across the European Union.

This follows a similar trademark registration in the US in 2010.

David Dalziel, creative director at retail consultancy Dalziel and Pow, says, ‘I am really surprised about this ruling, it doesn’t seem to be defendable to me.

‘It is one thing to protect against the direct copy, which can and does happen in some developing regions where design is less sophisticated, but to attempt to protect a store layout would seem to be too broad, too sweeping to defend.’

Dalziel adds, ‘Stores designed with a rigid table plan existed long before Apple was invented and will continue long after Apple evolve their concept to their next iteration. That is the nature of retail design.’

The ECJ’s judgement says that Apple was granted the trademark as its store layouts fulfill the three criteria for a trademark: they constitute a sign, they are capable of graphic representation and they can distinguish the goods or services sold by one company from those of another.

Lee Curtis, partner at intellectual property specialist HGF says there is ‘not a lot of precedent’ for Apple’s move. He adds, ‘Apple has probably got further than any other retailer. This is probably because it values its design highly and it has the resources to do this.’

Curtis says, ‘For me, the design of the Apple store is quite distinctive. Apple’s move opens the door for other retailers to take out similar protection, but they may find it more difficult if they have less distinctive retail formats.’

Curtis says Apple may face issues around other companies creating ‘similar’ designs that are not the same as its layouts.

He says, ‘To get registration for a design you have to be quite specific. You can block similar designs, but the question will be “how similar is similar?”.’

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