Apple Store Imitators in for an A$$ Kicking

Posted by | January 31, 2013 | General | No Comments

What’s this?

It’s a brand. How do you know? Because the USPTO says so.  And, because every Apple store (of which there are 395 worldwide) looks essentially just like this. This overall “look and feel” is Apple’s intangible intellectual property — its trade dress. And, not just because Apple says so, but because Apple’s attorneys convinced the USPTO that it is so. And so . . . on January 22, 2013, the USPTO issued Apple a Certificate of Registration (on the Principal Register) for the layout of its stores. 

This irked some folks (like the readers of Wired), who seem to think Apple is overreaching by protecting the store design layout. As a brand owner though, Apple is wise to have as many arrows as possible in its quiver. After all, when your fortress comes under attack, you want a substantial arsenal. In this case the fortress is that in store experience that makes Apple, Apple. 

No, this doesn’t mean that other stores can no longer use wooden display tables or have big glass windows (though I can see The Daily Show segment as I write — stores across America boarding up their big glass windows and cutting their rectangular tables into small, oddly shaped tables after receiving cease & desist letters from Big Bully Apple . . . ).  Apple’s registration is limited to “retail store services featuring computers, computer software, computer peripherals, mobile phones, consumer electronics and related accessories, and demonstration of products relating thereto.” Ergo, that little boutique on Main Street with all the odd knick knacks laid out on display tables will be just fine. What Apple aims to prevent with this registration is counterfeit Apple stores. And it’s not the only one.

Chipotle registered the trade dress in its restaurant layout, as did the California restaurant chain Dos Coyotes and the folks at Pub Group Investments, who protected both their restaurant layout and bar layout for The Pub restaurants (presumably because this was their only hope for brand protection, since their name is so obviously generic). The earliest retail configuration trade dress registration that remains LIVE today is for FOTOMAT drive-in photographic supply stores, which was registered in 1972 (and my guess is soon will be canceled for a failure to renew). Wawa Food Market is the second oldest, with a registration for the appearance of the outside of its grocery stores that was issued in 1984. In other retail trade dress of note, Ikea owns a registration for the outside of its furniture stores as does Walgreen for its retail stores. Apparently, consumer confusion is common at gas stations (must be all the fumes!) as most big gas companies own trade dress registrations for the layout of their gas stations: ChevronTexaco; HessBP and  Shell. Even Clean Energy Corp seems to be aware of this trend, having applied to register its trade dress in its bio fueling station.

Though Apple is experiencing a bit of a media melodrama over its registration of its retail store trade dress, at the end of the day, it’s better to be well armed (with IP protection) against pirates than to find yourself a sitting duck.


About Lara

Lara Pearson is a trademark attorney with Exemplar, where she also serves as the firm's Sustainability Steward. Lara's legal practice focuses on trademark and copyright law, including: intellectual property audits; trademark search & clearance; trademark and copyright registration & maintenance; intellectual property transfers; transactional work; and dispute resolution, including litigation when necessary. Lara primarily represents other social enterprises -- those leveraging their businesses and brands as catalysts for positive social and environmental change. Such businesses engage in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) to have a positive "triple bottom line" of people, planet and profit. As Exemplar's Sustainability Steward, Lara works with others in her law firm to measure and reduce the firm's carbon emissions and encourage engagement in social responsibility initiatives, including pro bono legal work and volunteering. Lara is a proud member of the Social Venture Network. Brand Geek is a member of 1% for the Planet and a Certified B Corporation, whose Incline Village office is certified under the regional Keep the Sierra Green program. Exemplar Companies is the most innovative professional services firm in the New Economy. Our unique, diversified expertise spans the disciplines of corporate law, business advisory, and capital/investment banking to better meet the needs of our high-potential customers. We have assembled a comprehensive suite of service to meet the complex issues facing companies in today’s challenging business environment. Our unique, holistic approach ensures the growth and success – and greatly increases the competitive advantage - of our customers. The Exemplar team is comprised of knowledgeable, highly skilled experts in a wide range of industries and disciplines. They work closely with our customers to provide trusted advice, incomparable support, expert guidance and the ultimate competitive advantage as they accelerate their businesses and position themselves to transform industries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.