The US Patent and Trademark Office has approved Apple's request to trademark the design and layout of its iconic retail stores — stores that other US companies have tried in recent years to imitate. Apple had to fight to get its store trademark, with the patent office rejecting Apple's request twice. In the second rejection, the USPTO said that Apple's design wasn't "inherently distinctive," prompting Apple to file a 122-page document arguing its case, complete with consumer surveys and photos of its storefronts.
It's important to note that trademarks aren't like patents; the standard for trade dress infringement is the "likelihood of confusion" of what the source of a trademarked item is. In other words, if a company designs a store that consumers confuse for an Apple store, they could be liable for trade dress infringement. Microsoft requested two extensions of time with the USPTO to consider opposing the patent, but didn't follow-through.
The trademark covers Apple's use of a "paneled facade" of glass, recessed lighting units, and perhaps most obviously, lined rectangular tables. As Reuters notes, Apple has already protected aspects of its store design, including a design patent on its glass staircases. Some of Apple's competitors, including Microsoft, have been accused of borrowing elements of its store design.
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