Apple Store Design Patent: Space Layout As Intellectual Property

English: Apple Store in Munich, Rosenstraße: t...

If you rank retailers in terms of revenue generated per square foot, Cupertino, California-based Apple Computer, Inc.’s nearly 400 Apple Stores sit at the top of the list with over $6,000 per square foot generated. The nearest contender is the venerable Tiffany & Company, who manage about half that figure at $3,017 / square foot.

Apple’s dominant retail formula depends on something the company is phenomenally gifted at: recognizing value in things where it wasn’t obvious before.  Often enough, those things aren’t even things built by Apple.  Its computer products are enabled in great part by software technology developed collaboratively and freely, its game-changing iPod is the world’s preferred personal delivery system for something it doesn’t make: music.

Yet a recent move by the retailing technology giant protects one thing the company undeniably produced itself: Apple has patented the physical layout of its retail stores.

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has today published Apple’s latest trademark certificate, which covers the “distinctive design & layout” of its iconic retail stores. The Cupertino company originally filed for the trademark back in May 2010, nine years after the first Apple store opened its doors in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

The trademark consists of two designs, according to Patently Apple, which first discovered the new certificate — one in color and one in black and white. The designs both resemble the typical Apple retail store layout, with wooden tablets in the middle and at the sides where customers can play with Apple products, and a Genius Bar and accessory shelves at the back.

When you put an Apple Store front up against a Microsoft Store front, as in the blog post on the other side of this link, one gets the idea that Apple’s protections aren’t just a case of corporate hubris.

Retailing success is a confluence of real estate, operations and product.  Apple’s leadership in all areas and recent move to trademark more of its own successes leads naturally to questions about what else might be protectable about a retailer’s mix of business aspects.  Can the real estate component – site selection –  be trademarked?

Short answer from this blogger is beats me.  I can’t find any evidence of this having been done.  Any of our counselor friends and readers with any answers are invited to leave a comment and further the discussion.

Retail Layouts Protected As Patent

While I can find no word on the trademarkability of a retailer’s method to select a store site, one wonders how ahead of the pack Apple is in trademarking their retail store layout.  A quick poke through the US patent database at Google reveals only one other retail store design patent.

In the eternal game of follow the leader, could more be far behind?

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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  • google_it

    April 3, 2013

    … There’s a pretty significant difference between a trademark and a patent.

    • Wayne Grohl

      April 4, 2013

      True enough. Are you aware of any real estate site selection criteria that have been either trademarked or patented?


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