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Apple has taken another small step towards protecting its intellectual property in China by successfully registering 11 design patents for the iPad display cases on show at its bricks and mortar retail stores, as well as the design for its Shanghai Apple Store.

The Hong Kong Intellectual Property Office is reported to have approved the patents for the near ubiquitous clear stands that sit on Apple Store display benches. The interactive displays help fanbois find out more about the products being displayed adjacent or call an assistant for further help.

The designs, which ifoAppleStore.com has gotten hold of, are all variations on the same basic model of a wedge shaped clear box with iPad embedded in it and alternatively shaped holes at the top for various combinations of Apple’s differently sized shiny hand-held toys.

The Register of Designs document itself is disconcertingly vague, describing it only as “stand as well as a combination of a stand and electronic device”.

Several reports have suggested that Apple’s aims in registering the designs with the Hong Kong IP Office were to help protect it legally against the growing number of fake Apple Stores popping up in China.

But when The Register spoke to a HK IP Office spokeswoman she confirmed that the “one country two systems” rule which lets Hong Kong function as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) within China means any ruling there would not cover the mainland.

Dan Harris, an attorney with Harris & Moure and Chinese legal expert, told The Reg that Apple was more likely just covering all bases.

“You cannot have a patent without filing for it,” he added. “Apple needs to and no doubt does file for patents wherever they do business.”

According to Patently Apple, Cupertino is on a roll with its Apple Store-related patents, having just been granted one for the design of its Shanghai outpost which opened in late 2010.

This time it sought to get the nod from the US Patent and Trademark Office for the design, which mimics the firm’s 5th Avenue store in New York with its towering glass cylinder and steps leading underground into the shop below. ®

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