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Europe's highest court: Apple CAN trademark its retail store layout

'Special' design protected on appeal after Germany said nein

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Europe's highest court has stated that Apple can indeed trademark the layout of its stores - the iAltars - in a ruling that could ultimately dunk copycat retailers in hot water with the litigious US titan.

The decision follows a spat last year, when the German Patent and Trademark Office said Apple could not extend the 2010 US copyright of its flagship store design - a 3D sketched image - to Germany.

Apple's case was then taken to the Federal Patents Court in Germany, but it too refused to grant the trademark, citing the design as nothing more than the representation of an aspect of the business, which consumers would not associate with the "commercial origins of the goods".

An appeal was subsequently lodged with the Court of Justice and it today ruled in Apple's favour, showing that it is not only copyrighted logos or brand names that are enforceable.

"The Court concludes that the representation of the layout of a retail store, by a design alone, without indicating the size or the proportions, may be registered as a trade mark for services, which, although relating to goods, do not form an integral part of their offer for sales," the CoJ said.

This is on the condition that Apple's trademark blueprint "is capable of distinguishing" between its goods and those from other retailers.

Apple is as fiercely protective over its own stores, and those set up by its shrinking legion of Apple Premium resellers, as it is the product sold in those retail arenas. And understandably so.

Under the Version 2 refit programme, APRs were expected to cough upwards of £100,000 to update their shops with Corian countertops, Apple approved wooden flooring and furniture.

Some decided they could not justify the outlay on the layout and dropped their APR badge, the majority fell into line. ®

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