Apple has been granted a service mark in the US for the design and layout of its retail store, reflecting the company's interest to protect the design of its popular stores from copycat retailers.
Service marks are used to identify services in contrast with products in some countries including the US. The term "trademark" is often used to refer to both trademarks and service marks.
The service mark awarded last week covers the Apple store's clear glass storefront surrounded by a "paneled facade consisting of large, rectangular horizontal panels over the top of the glass front, and two narrower panels stacked on either side of the storefront," and "cantilevered shelves below recessed display spaces along the side walls, and rectangular tables arranged in a line in the middle of the store parallel to the walls and extending from the storefront to the back of the store,"according to the certificate of registration awarded by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Apple said in its application in May, 2010 that it was not claiming color as a feature of the mark. The mark consists of the distinctive design and layout of a retail store, it said.
In the certificate of registration, the walls, floors, lighting, and other fixtures are not claimed as individual features of the mark. However, the placement of the various items are considered to be part of the overall mark.
Apple has had problems previously with imitation stores. In 2011, authorities in the Chinese city of Kunming stopped 22 fake Apple stores from illegally using the company's trademarks after Apple lodged a complaint with authorities. Some Kunming stores were built to closely match the decor of Apple's own official retail outlets, with employees even dressing similarly, according to photos posted by a blogger.
Trademarks registered in the US may be given an international registration which serves as a means for seeking protection in member countries of the Madrid Protocol on international registration of marks, according to USPTO guidelines. Neither the Madrid Protocol nor the Madrid Agreement provide for registration of an "internationally effective" trademark. Each of the countries will apply their own rules and laws to determine whether or not the mark may be protected in their jurisdiction.
Apple's service mark bears international registration number 1060320 and U.S. registration number 4,277,914. The mark, covering retail store services, was first used by Apple and first used in commerce at least as early as September, 2006, and is now in use in such commerce, Apple said in the application.