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Thursday, July 10, 2014
Court Says Apple Store Layout Could Be Trademarked

The representation of the layout of a retail store, such as an "Apple" store, may be registered as a trade mark, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled today.

In 2010, Apple registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office a three-dimensional trade mark consisting of the representation, by a multicoloured design, of its flagship stores.

Apple subsequently sought to extend that trade mark internationally. In 2013, its extension to German territory was refused by the Deutsches Patent-und Markenamt (German Patent andTrade Mark Office).

Apple brought an appeal against that decision before the Bundespatentgericht (Federal Patents Court, Germany). The latter asked the European Court of Justice, whether "the representation of the layout of a retail store, by a design alone, without any indication of size or proportions, may be registered as a trade mark for services aimed at inducing the consumer to purchase the goods of the applicant for registration and, if so, whether such a 'presentation of the establishment in which a service is provided' may be treated in the same way as 'packaging.'"

In its response Thursday, the court said that the layout of a store could constitute a trademark using only "an integral collection of lines, curves and shapes" as long as it "departs significantly" from the norms of the economic sector concerned.

The court added however that the uniqueness of a design must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account competing stores and the shifting expectations of shoppers.

The court concluded 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, 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."

It is now up to the German national court to rule on Apple's individual case, in line with the EU court opinion.

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