Last week Apple Inc. was awarded two US trademarks - numbers 4,277,913 and 4,277,914 - for “retail store services featuring computers, computer software, computer peripherals, mobile phones, consumer electronics and related accessories, and demonstrations of products relating thereto.”
These trademarks, covering both a monochrome layout – 4,277,914 – and a colour version – 4,277,913 – set out such distinctive retail features as Apple's clear glass frontages, recessed display units and oblong tables.
In short, the tech giant has trademarked its stores. For a company so closely associated with digital innovation, what amounts to an interior design patent might seem unbecoming but according to the Walter Isaacson's biography, Steve Jobs placed a great deal of emphasis on distinctive shop design, stating that “Unless we could find a way to get our message to customers at the store, we were screwed.”
More recently, fake Apple stores have been uncovered in China, though existing patent laws should protect Apple Inc.'s intellectual property rights in cases as egregious as this. Perhaps Apple's motives lie closer to home. As Wired.com reports, it is not the first tech company to trademark its store design; Microsoft was awarded a similar trademark for its stores in 2011.
Moreover, Apple's stores are quite distinct, and, we feel, a legitimate design extension of the consumer electronics company. Whether you love or hate the time you've spent queueing for the Genius Bar, you're unlikely to mistake this retail environment for any other.
Nevertheless, tastes change, and the Apple Store's layout, which according to the trademark documents was first used in 2006, will likely go out of style in a few years time. Should we look out for another store trademark, around 2023? Perhaps. For more on the story read Wired, or Patently Apple's posts. For more on an early design innovator whose influence can be felt across Apple's ranges, stores and all, consider our Dieter Rams monograph, As Little Design As Possible.