What Does Apple Get By Trademarking Its Store Design?

Discussion
Feb 05, 2013
Tom Ryan

Apple’s retail store design — including details of the storefront, the shelves, the arrangement of the tables and the position of the products — last week was granted a trademark from the U.S Patent and Trademark Office.

The trademark covers Apple’s "clear glass storefront" design, including their "large, rectangular horizontal panels over the top of the glass front." It also covers the store’s interior furniture and fixtures including — specifically, "rectangular tables arranged in a line" as well as the floors, lighting and shelves. The store’s "Genius Bar" was also included.

"There is multi-tiered shelving along the side walls, and a[n] oblong table with stools located at the back of the store, set below video screens flush mounted on the back wall," the trademark description reads.

Apple originally applied for the trademark in 2010 but was rejected twice before finally being approved, according to ifoAppleStore.com.

The patents provide some protection from copycat retailers. Several reports assumed the motivation was driven by numerous fake Apple stores surfacing in China in recent years. Trademark rights do not extend outside the U.S., but companies that file for domestic protection often seek similar protection elsewhere. The U.S. trademark indicated Apple was seeking similar trademark protection in 19 other countries, including China, Russia, Turkey and several Euro countries.

Some reports also noted that while the first Apple store opened in 2001, only in recent years have rivals Microsoft and Sony begun opening similar stores of their own.

In any challenge, Apple would have to prove that consumers are confusing the alleged copycat stores for theirs.

"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," Christopher Sprigman, a University of Virginia law professor and the co-author of the book, The Knockoff Economy, told Reuters.

Apple has not responded to questions surrounding the trademark.

How important is store design to retailers’ differentiation strategies? What does Apple get out of trademarking its store design?

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22 Comments on "What Does Apple Get By Trademarking Its Store Design?"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

It’s hard to know whether Apple was motivated (as the article suggests) by extension of trademark rights to other countries, or to prevent “copycat” merchandising here in the U.S. However, there’s some overreach involved in extending the patent to the linear arrangement of tables and the configuration of the shelves. Does Apple really intend to sue a customer like Best Buy (who has a lot to learn from Apple), or is this targeted more directly at competitors like Microsoft with “me-too” retail store designs?

Dave Wendland
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

Perhaps on the surface many will poke fun at patenting a store design. However, when you not only have an environment that so closely matches the design and functionality of a product/service, but also have copycats emerging that dilute the legitimacy of your brand, I say “always use protection.” A brand is a delicate and fragile property that can—and should—extend far beyond its features and benefits. If other retailers have created something truly distinctive in its physical storefront, I expect we’ll see similar patents emerging.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
6 years 6 months ago

In such a fast moving world it is important to protect all assets that help differentiate you from your competitors. Apple clearly worked hard on this application since it was rejected in the past and they continued to pursue it. They see their store as a competitive advantage that they need to protect.

The Microsoft store in my local mall which is only a few stores away from the Apple store has a very similar feel, but there appears to be enough difference to keep them out of trouble

It will be interesting to see how Apple protects this new trademark and who if anyone they challenge with it.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

Differentiation at retail is extremely important to retailers and impacts their customers as well. Anyone who shops in a Wegmans or a Publix store can see and feel the store in a way that their competitors do not offer. Apple is protecting their brand in the USA before anyone can copy it—they have learned from their international experience. The fact that their stores now will be different will only enhance their brand.

Tom Redd
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

The Millennials (and younger) seem to be quick to identify a store, a beverage, and more by the shape, look, and noise it makes. They do not read that much—unless it is on a phone a pad or a video game or reality show ad. I am being a bit hard on this generation because I “possess” 3 of them.

With all this thinking in mind, it proves that Apple needs to patent a very unique store/layout. Any retailer that has a unique style and plans to really globalize like Apple has, must do the same. There is proof that there are Millennials in other countries and major copy-cat retail operations.

If you are a retailer and are not brewing on how to make your stores more unique, then you need to get on with some newly hired Millennials and get to the Patent Office.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
6 years 6 months ago

At first blush, this would seem to a move directed at some of the blatant copying done overseas, assuming of course that there is a reasonable enforcement of copyright laws in those venues. In this country, with the threat of litigation, I can’t imagine anyone trying to emulate the store design.

David Zahn
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

It feels to me like this would be rarely enforced. I am stuck on the sentence: “In any challenge, Apple would have to prove that consumers are confusing the alleged copycat stores for theirs.”

How likely is a shopper/consumer to walk into a competitor’s store and be “fooled” that they are not in an Apple Store?

I understand the need/desire to protect the brand, the differentiation, the shopping experience/environment, etc. I am just not certain that the US or European marketplace would lead to confusion (I have heard stories about China, but can’t speak about it from personal experience).

Lee Kent
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

When I look at the Apple store design, it epitomizes the concepts of ‘Service Design’. This is a technique for designing an end-to-end experience based on the service expectations of the customers. This type of design is very comprehensive and involves identification of all the touchpoints, actors, paths, personae and resulting experiences that you want to provide.

With this type of design, just imitating the layout will not give you another Apple store, but I can certainly see why they would want to protect it.

Robert DiPietro
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

It will be interesting to see how Apple uses this in protecting their brand. Some of the distributors of their product use a similar fixture and aligned tables—or maybe that is by design.

I’m not sure it will deter copycats abroad or in the US. The Microsoft store looks fairly similar.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

There are a lot of retailers who are looking at ways to create innovative store designs. Apple’s head start is inspiring others to “get a move on” and better mirror their brand identity through design. Ralph Lauren’s walnut paneling and rustic plaid blankets can’t be far behind.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
6 years 6 months ago

I think trademarking makes sense the same way that trademarking a logo makes sense. Customers identify the brand with both. But a store design is very different from a logo, so on a practical level this raises a downstream question:

Retailers are loathe to mess with a successful logo. Just ask the Gap. And Apple’s logo is certainly iconic. But store designs are functional and aesthetic reflections of not just the brand, but the products inside. Store designs have a lifecycle just like products and technology. So, does trademarking their store design portend that Apple might one day find itself clinging to its store design, like a logo, even if it has outlived its functional and aesthetic usefulness?

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

I’m assuming like most commentators here that the intent of the trademark is aimed at pirate knock-off stores overseas. Although the Microsoft Stores in North America have many similar elements, no reasonable consumer could confuse the two banners.

As to the other question, store design is more important than ever. Now that brick and mortar is just one channel in an omnichannel world, the physical store must deliver either a differentiated experience, heightened convenience or both. The good news is that store designers have more tools at their disposal than ever before, including high-tech systems for measuring dwell time, sentiment and the like. We’ve found that leveraging the data provided by these new tools can lead to simple store design improvements that drop millions to the bottom line.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
6 years 6 months ago

If store design were not important, all stores would look alike. All packaging would be simple and we would have to be educated consumers to buy anything. Store design as packaging is horribly important in that it delivers recognition and assurance. It lets you know that you are at a location and what to expect at that location.

What Apple gets out of trademarking their store design is the right to sue anyone who tries to infringe on their design for the purpose of misleading the consumer. There have been and always will be instances of copycat marketing. You work for years to build a reputation only to have it destroyed by someone using your trademarks to sell counterfeit products. Anyone who has been to China or has shopped with a street vendor in New York has seen this in action.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

When it doubt, file for trademark protection especially to prevent international copycatting. The reality, however, is that store design should reflect the brand identity. Having a store look like an Apple Store simply means you aren’t as good as an Apple Store. Innovation is the only way to succeed in the long term.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

Many people recommend that retail outlets focus on the customer experience and many of those people refer to Apple Stores as an example of changing the retail experience for consumers. If more stores begin to create experiences, then the idea of trademarking the design of the store for that experience makes sense.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

Good luck litigating this one! We’ll have to see if Apple will use this for legitimate reasons—i.e. preventing confusion—or simply try to squash competition (IMHO their record on such issues has been spotty). But if nothing else, the IPAFEA (Intellectual Property Attorney’s Full Employment Act) has been extended another five years.

Vahe Katros
Guest
Vahe Katros
6 years 6 months ago

Irony: Apple files a trademark to prevent the Chinese from implementing ideas based on Feng Shui. Not sure how Karma fits in to all this but Steve Jobs did like the quote: Good artists borrow, great artists steal.

I visited their newly opened store in Palo Alto recently and noticed the perfect alignment of the wood grains on the desks and floors. I brought it up to someone with an Apple badge who was being congratulated by others with badges and he shared some information.

He explained how they sourced the wood, kept windows and floors clean, laminated the glass so it could be a structural support, protected against earthquakes. He even mentioned how they thought about issues relating to the seasonal height of the sun and interior lighting.

There were a few more nuggets around sound management, but no doubt retail store designers struggle with their own issues albeit to build smaller cathedrals that serve other deities.

Steve Sommers
Guest
Steve Sommers
6 years 6 months ago

I’m not a fan of patents like this, nor am I a fan of process patents. To me, they are too vague and often include prior art. In this particular case, I have seen several restaurants with a very similar look—are they all of the sudden infringing on Apple? Should they be expecting cease and desist or bills to license Apple’s patent?

I fully understand wanting to protect their brand, but there has to be another way—something around forgery or fraudulent misrepresentation lines.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
6 years 6 months ago

What do they have to gain? Litigation material. On the other hand, there could “prior art” for the so-called “Apple design.” Is it just me or is the “Apple Design” reminiscent of an IKEA showroom? That bare-bones, clean-lines, rectangular design is very Scandinavian…Yes Microsoft is copying Apple. The question is…did Apple copy IKEA or anyone else?

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

A true competitor wouldn’t want to look anything like the Apple store. Only knock-offs that purposely want to trick the customers would want to copy the store. I’ve been in those in China. You wouldn’t know the difference.

Of COURSE Apple knocked-off someone else with their design—any public library! The tables, the wall units, the genius bar . . . think about it. What I think is unique is how the employees ‘work’ the store to the customers’ advantage.

Shilpa Rao
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

As rightly said by Peter Deeb, the layout creates differentiation for Apple. You know it is an Apple store because of how it is laid out, the materials used, the ambiance it creates. This drives footfall. It is more than a store, it is an experience center.

It is good to know that Apple values this and understands it as a differentiator. A lot of thought, research on how customers would interact, and design effort has gone in designing this store. I think it’s just an attempt to keep its identity safe.

This will also encourage other players to innovate and be different.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
6 years 6 months ago

Distinctive store design is imperative. Particularly for hyper-competitive categories. The best store designs communicate the brand point of view.

Apple effectively communicates that the product is the hero. However, if Apple stores are effective it is because of the product—not store design.

Apple has a right and responsibility to protect anything that it deems appropriate. Samsung would likely suggest that Apple is a litigious organization. This should concern all retailers. Do you have any “rectangular tables arranged in a line?”

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