Apple Can’t Lose: European Court Approves Retail Store Trademark


Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) just can’t be stopped. Its earnings reports have the entire business world in a tizzy, a new iPhone is on the way, and it has competitors like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) shaking in their boots. You can now add another victory to the list: trademarking the layout of its retail stores. In a ruling laid down by the European Union, the same body that previously said Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) needs to censor its search results, the courts decreed that Apple can, in fact, protect the design and layout of its store.

It seems like a wacky idea, but it’s hard to dismiss the distinctiveness of the company’s retail locations. In the U.S., others have tried to jump on the bandwagon and ride the Apple Store’s success, as in the case of the Microsoft Store, and the European court’s ruling would protect Apple from that kind of encroachment. Still, trademarking the way you put things in a store? It seems a bit ludicrous, although Apple brass would disagree.

The court’s briefing explained how it came to the conclusion that a store layout is a tangible, defensible business asset, and the ruling itself actually overturns a previous decision by German judiciaries. In coming to the decision, the EU court says that the unique collection of aesthetics that Apple presents really do make a difference.

“The Court takes the view in this respect that a representation that, such as the one in the present case, depicts the layout of a retail store by means of an integral collection of lines, curves and shapes, may constitute a trade mark provided that it is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings,” the ruling states.

The company initially filed for the trademark several years ago in both Europe and Canada. According to SlashGear, the application, when filed, covered distinctive design elements of the company’s stores, including steel and brown coloration. The publication also notes that it would be quite difficult for a competitor to actually have any kind of effect on the company by co-opting the layout of its retail locations.

But hey, Microsoft is trying, right?

So where does that leave us, as far as the American market is concerned? Well, it’s hard to believe that American courts would rule the same way EU courts have, much in the same way it would be quite a drastic change of direction if the U.S. determined Google needed to scrub its search results. For now, things are staying the same. There’s also the chance that Apple stores might be going through a dramatic change in the near future, as the company recently brought on some help to remake its retail image.

Still, it is understandable that Apple wants to protect its image. It’s facing a new challenge in Asian markets that few expected in the form of fake Apple stores. It’s pretty much unimaginable here in the States, but these are the threats companies face abroad. As strange a concept as it might be, these fake stores can have an impact on companies’ bottom lines and require legal action — like trademarking the layout of a retail location.

Thus, the European courts came to the conclusion that Apple’s presentation to the public in the form of a physical storefront is and should be protected under the law.

“The representation of the layout of a retail store, by a design alone, without indicating the size or the proportions, may be registered as a trade mark for services, which, although relating to goods, do not form an integral part of their offer for sale, on condition that that representation is capable of distinguishing the services of the applicant for registration from those of other undertakings and that no ground for refusal precludes it,” the ruling reads.

It looks like trademarking the layout of a retail store isn’t as crazy as it sounds. After all, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) recently passed through a patent on taking the picture of an object in front a white background, so anything is possible.

But don’t expect the European decision to come through in America anytime soon. However, giving up on the idea entirely is not exactly the way Apple likes to approach things.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: