Apple could get a trademark on their store layout
A trademark is usually something we associate with a logo or a slogan, but trademarks are much more than that. A new ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (the CJEU) shows that the concept of a trademark can be stretched very far - even to include the layout of a store.
The U.S. tech-company Apple, known for iPads, iPhones and computers, is a big player in the trademark game. Many trademark rights have been granted over the years to the world-famous company, and in 2010 Apple decided to take their trademark rights to the next level. Apple registered a three-dimensional trademark consisting of the representation of its flagship stores (a drawing of the layout of their stores) with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
After getting the thumbs up from the US Patent and Trademark Office, Apple sought to extend the trademark internationally.
While trying to do so, Apple, however, encountered resistance in Germany, as the German Patent and Trademark Office refused to acknowledge Apple’s interior design as a trademark. The German authorities said that the depiction of the space devoted to the sale of Apple’s goods was nothing other than the representation of an essential aspect of Apple’s business - making trademark protection impossible.
Apple, unhappy with the decision, appealed the verdict, and the appeal ended up before the CJEU, who recently delivered their judgment in the matter.
The CJEU were asked to determine what exactly constitutes a trademark, and if Apple and others are allowed to trademark the layout of a store or not.
In their verdict, the CJEU - in accordance with the trademarks directive - stated that a trademark must 1) constitute a sign, 2) be capable of graphic representation and 3) be capable of distinguishing the goods or services of the applicant from those of other companies.
The CJEU decided that the layout of a retail store can fulfill all three conditions by means of an integral collection of lines, curves and shapes - if the use of such makes it possible to distinguish the goods or services of the company from other companies. This would, according to the CJEU, be the case if the layout differs significantly from the norm of the particular line of business.
The verdict also states, however, that there should be a case-by-case assessment, and that the relevant authorities must determine whether the layout is able to be considered a trademark or not. In this regard, the authorities must determine if the conditions of the trademarks directive, as stated above, are fulfilled, or if the sign (meaning the layout of the store) is merely descriptive of the goods or services in question.
The CJEU concludes that the representation of the layout of a retail store, by design alone, without indicating the size or the proportions, may be registered as a trademark - which is very good news for Apple. It is now up to the German court to apply the CJEU-verdict to the dispute between Apple and the German trademark authorities.
With this verdict, the CJEU paves the way for trademarking the layout of a store - which is something we have never seen before within the EU. Some might say that it’s the first step on a slippery slope of American trademark standards, but it shall - never the less - be interesting to follow the development of this concept in the future. Maybe Apple’s stores was a one-off affair - maybe we’ll see lots of trademark registrations for store layouts. Only time will tell.