Apple Store layout becomes European trademark

Apple Stores are packaging for the retail experience, according to the ECJ

Next time you walk into an Apple Store in Europe, you are potentially stepping on trademarked ground.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled the "curves and shapes" of the iPhone-maker's stores are distinctive enough to constitute a trademark.

The Apple Store layout, described by the company as "retail store services featuring computers, computer software, computer peripherals, mobile phones, consumer electronics and related accessories and demonstrations of products relating thereto" and accompanied by the picture below, was trademarked in the US in 2010.

Apple Store Drawing

However, when the company applied to the German Patent and Trade Mark Office for a similar trademark in Germany, it was denied on the basis "consumers would not see it as an indication of the commercial origin of the goods".

Apple appealed to a higher patent authority in Germany, which referred the case to the ECJ to clarify "whether the representation of the layout of a retail store, by a design alone, without any indication of size or proportions, may be registered as a trade mark" and should be "treated in the same way as 'packaging'."

The ECJ's answer was yes: the Apple Store design is so distinctive it's effectively a sign "capable of distinguishing the 'goods' or 'services'" of Apple's business from its competitors'.

"A sign representing the layout of the flagship stores of a manufacturer of goods may lawfully be registered not only for those goods but also for services, so long as they do not form an integral part of the offer for sale of those goods," the ruling reads.

However, it added an important proviso, that the "depicted layout departs significantly from the norm or customs of the economic sector concerned", setting the bar quite high for any who would follow in Apple's footsteps.

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