A legal ruling taken in a European high court this summer has quietly rewritten the rules for the retail industry the world over. In a decision made in response to a petition by Apple Inc., the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that it is, in principle, fair game for a retailer to register its store layout for a trademark.
This development is significant for the consequence it confers upon a retailer’s physical store design, and the protection of its unique features it assures. The court’s decision means the appearance of a goods’ manufacturer’s flagship store is as legally entitled to safeguarding as are the goods themselves.
The subject first came to the world’s attention in November 2010, when Apple Inc. secured a trademark registration for its retail store layout in the States. But when the company sought to extend its trademark with international registration, the German Patent and Trademark Office balked. Among other reasons, the Germans claimed that Apple’s store layout was not distinct from that of other electronics retailers. Apple appealed the refusal with the German Federal Patent Court, which subsequently referred the matter to the CJEU.
This decision is meaningful to retailers who favour the employment of a signature layout in their flagship stores. And it represents a particularly heartening development for Apple, which has been battling back the appearance of a slew of so-called “replica” stores around the globe, particularly in China. In some cases, the fakes are so convincing the stores’ employees themselves have believed that they worked for the real thing.