Apple Registers its Retail Store for Trade Dress Protection

In another continuation of Apple’s efforts to promote its intellectual property, including its trademark, Apple has now received trade dress protection for the design of the Apple Store. As many readers may remember from our blog on Magic Apples, In 2011 there were over 22 stores opened up in Asia with a nearly identical look and feel to the Apple Store. Some of these stores had similar furniture, similar signage and employees wore similarly colored shirts. In fact some of the employees at these stores actually believed they worked for Apple based upon the similarities. These stores also sold knock-off Apple products and some competitor products, as well as Apple branded products. It should be no surprise that many of the customers believed they were purchasing authentic Apple products. Maybe as a reaction to those knock-off stores as well as other competitors retail stores, such as Microsoft and Samsung, Apple has now registered its Apple Store for trade dress protection.

Trade dress protection is a form of trademark protection and protects the “look and feel” of something. However, trade dress protection is broader than traditional trademark or service mark protection. It protects more than an insignia, a word or phrase. Trade dress protection extends to the tangible and intangible aspects of the object. For example, it may be used to protect a building shape, the layout of a building or the color palate around the room, including various signage. It may also extend to the intangible aspects such as the Gap or Old Navy television commercials. To the extent an object provides a distinctive, non-functional “look and feel” it may be protected from confusing use by competitors.

The U.S. Trademark Office has just registered two Apple Store images based upon their presumably unique layout. One federal trademark registration is directed towards a colorized version of the store,  and another is directed towards a non-color representation of the Apple Store.

While registration is not required to protect your trade dress rights, registration certainly has many benefits. However, even though we have experience in trade dress protection and litigation, one still has to wonder is Apple really the first store to layout its store in the manner illustrated in the picture or did they just copy someone else’s design…

In any event, it will be interesting to watch as Apple continues to enforce its intellectual property rights both within the U.S. and internationally, including enforcement of its patent and trademark rights around the world and if after reading this blog you decide you too would like to protect your trade dress, feel free to contact us.