Despite receiving criticism in the past for their aggressive pursuance of patent and trademark infringements on their devices, Apple have now taken new steps to protect the features of their minimalist store design from copycats. On January 22nd, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted the tech giant’s precedent-setting request to trademark the iconic layout of their retail stores.
For Apple to be able to pursue a claim against anyone in breach of their new protection – known as ‘Trade Dress’ – they would need to be able to demonstrate how shoppers might confuse an allegedly infringing store design with their own. The design descriptors set out in the legal documents are fairly ambiguous – including “a clear glass storefront surrounded by a panelled facade” and, within the store, an “oblong table with stools…set below video screens flush mounted on the back wall” – meaning that Apple might have their work cut out trying to prove their case.
“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, Professor of Law at the University of Virginia and co-author of the “The Knockoff Economy.”
At first appearances the move by Apple may seem over-zealous but last year it came to light that a fake Apple store in Kunming, China was operating illegally using all of those features and looked so authentic that even the store’s own staff believed that they were working in a genuine Apple store. Pictures of the store went viral worldwide after being posted by a blogger and Chinese officials took swift action to close the store and twenty other similar outlets that were not authorised to sell Apple products.
Unfortunately for Apple their new Trade Dress Trademark rights do not extend outside of the United States – but it is hoped that they send out a clear warning to their competitors, with experts anticipating that now they have achieved this status on home soil it is only a matter of time before they pursue similar safeguards for their 250 global retail stores in the other dozen or countries where their products are sold.