Apple can trademark store layouts, rules EU

Apple Store

Shops that copy the design and layout of an Apple store could soon be forced to change them following a European ruling.

Apple won its case with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over whether it could trademark the layout of its stores. The firm secured a similar ruling in the US in 2010.

The US trademark covers the Genius Bar, the furniture and lighting and the faade, which gives rivals very little wriggle room.

In its decision, the ECJ said the layout of Apple Stores fulfilled the criteria for a trademark. In that it constituted a sign that can be represented in a graphic and distinguish goods or services of one company from another.

Apple failed in an attempt to trademark its stores with the courts in Germany last year, before coming to the ECJ as a final arbiter. The ECJ reversed a 2013 decision by the German Patent and Trademark Office, which ruled a retail store layout could not be trademarked by itself.

"From this the Court concludes that 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," the court's judgment said.

"The Court takes the view in this respect that a representation that depicts the layout of a retail store by means of an integral collection of lines, curves and shapes, may constitute a trademark provided that it is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings," it added.

"The Court emphasises, however, that the fact that a sign is generally capable of constituting a trademark does not imply that the sign necessarily possesses a distinctive character within the meaning of the directive.

The ruling now prevents other retail outlet from duplicating the Apple layout through the 27 member states.

IT Pro approached Apple for a comment on the ruling but had not received a reply at the time of writing.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.