Apple fiercely guards its intellectually property. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the company recently obtained a trademark registration for the design of its retail stores.
According to the trademark description, the registration covers Apple’s minimalist design and layout, which includes “a clear glass storefront surrounded by a paneled facade” and, within the store, an “oblong table with stools…set below video screens flush mounted on the back wall.”
While the Apple trademark made headlines, this type of trademark right—known as trade dress—is not unusual. It generally covers the design and shape of the materials in which a product is packaged. Examples include the layout of a magazine cover and the distinctive shape of a bottle. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a fast-food chain to protect the appearance and décor in its Mexican restaurants.
As with other trademark registrations, trade dress applicants must be able to show not only that the design is distinctive, but also that the average consumer would likely confuse its products with others of similar appearance.
Here, Apple had good reason to want to protect the design of its retail outlets. Locations in the U.S. generated an average of $43.3 million in FY2011. In addition, while the most recent registration only applies in the U.S., counterfeit stores have popped up overseas. As Reuters reports, a counterfeit store that opened in China looked so authentic that employees thought that they were working for Apple.
As this trademark highlights, consistently using a distinctive “look” can be extremely valuable and certainly worthy of protection.