written by Susanne Somersalo, Ph.D., Esq., Patent Attorney at Gearhart Law
A few days ago the headlines hit the news that Apple can now apply to trademark its retail store design in Europe. The European Union court said that Apple can register an image of its store layout as a trademark with the German Patent and Trademark Office, which originally denied Apple’s application. Because the court decision is valid in 28 EU member states Apple may get trademarks for the store design not only in Germany but in all the EU countries.
Wait a minute, isn’t a trademark for a word or phrase or logo? Like the word mark Apple® or the logo with the apple – a design that everyone knows? How can a retail store design be trademarked?
Actually, a trademark may be any recognizable sign, design or expression which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others. Thus it actually may be anything that makes the consumer draw the connection between the goods or services provided and the provider. Of course every country has its own standards to define when a sign, design or expression draws this connection. The point is that when an entrepreneur is considering applying for a trademark for their business, they should consider every aspect of that business and what parts can be trademarked.
In the United States there are several trademarks for store designs, colors, sounds, and even scents. In addition to the word and logo marks, Apple has successfully trademarked various designs and sounds in connection with its services and products. The store design was already trademarked in the United States in 2011. The US Patent and Trademark Office has deemed that the store design distinguishes Apple stores from any other stores. When a consumer sees the glass building, she knows it is an Apple®-store, not a Microsoft®-store or Starbucks® coffee shop.
In order to protect every aspect of its store designs, Apple also has design patents for the building glass panels, and for the staircase design.
One may think that this is a little bit of an excessive approach to protect one’s Intellectual Property. However, this IP is worth of a fortune.