Apple trademarks the 'distinctive design' of its stores

Clear glass windows; neat rows of rectangular display tables; benches and tables in the back. Sound like a generic -- yet cool -- 21st century store? Yes. And it's one of Apple's newest trademarks.
Written by Reena Jana, Contributor

Last week, Apple officially registered a trademark for its Apple Store interior layouts -- as seen in its typical mall configurations -- with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.  The descriptions on the registered trademark certificate (available online at Patently Apple), illustrate the elegant simplicity of the retail environments:

"The store features a clear glass storefront...rectangular recessed lighting units traverse the length of the store's ceiling...rectangular tables are arranged in a line in the middle of the store parallel to the walls...there is multi-tiered shelving along the side walls, and a [sic] oblong table with stools located at the back of the store..."

And the descriptions also refer to a nearly generic, hard-to-distinguish store as well.

The designs, which Apple had first filed as trademarks in 2010, as Patently Apple reports, illustrate how brilliantly simple the Apple brand is. And how enviable it is, given the phenomenon of knock-off stores in China. Or how many other companies are using Apple Stores' successful look and feel as the model of what brick-and-mortar (or glass-and-metal) retail should look like -- especially when selling computers and mobile phones. So much so that similarities can be painfully clear. CNET reported, for instance, that Microsoft's Times Square pop-up store in New York, heralding Windows 8 and Surface during the 2012 holiday shopping season, was so Apple-esque that it was nearly confusing. And it's also worth mentioning that Apple Stores are so culturally influential that they have influenced the design for a forthcoming "bookless" public library in Texas, as Tyler Falk reported here on SmartPlanet recently.

Some design critics believe that Apple trademarking its ultra-minimalist mall store configurations is typical of Apple's design strategy--which can be interpreted as: 1.) create products that are so intuitive as to be obvious, and 2.) then claim the intuitive model as Apple's brand. As Kelly Chan wrote on Artinfo.com,

"However generic, the patented Apple store's characteristic rectilinear open plan with symmetrically arranged tables and wall displays has indisputably come to evoke the brand. At the same time, a description of this 'Distinctive Design' appears almost comically simple. Its organizational logic seems as natural as the grid of apps that appear on an iPhone, or the ease with which an image disappears with the swipe of a finger."

It wasn't so long ago that the Apple-versus-Samsung legal battle was on everyone's minds, either. And this latest action might make some wonder: could aggressive, and successive, intellectual property protection hurt Apple's brand perception? I can't help but wonder which strategy would boost creativity and corporate innovation more: not allowing anyone else to copy or be inspired by the trendsetting champion, or forcing the champion to reinvent itself because of copycats. And in the process, reinvent and delight and surprise consumers again and again.

Image: Apple

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The design appeal displayed by Apple Stores

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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