THE EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE (ECJ) has ruled that Apple can trademark the iconic layout of its retail stores, which could force rival firms with similar stores to rearrange their shops to avoid lawsuits.
Apple first secured a trademark for its store layouts in the US in 2010. It then attempted to gain similar status in Europe. However, the German Patent and Trade Mark Office rejected the submission, claiming that it was not worthy of a trademark, forcing Apple to take its case to a higher authority.
The ECJ has now sided with Apple, agreeing that the layout of an Apple store is enough of a distinctive feature for a company to be granted a trademark.
"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 trademark," the ruling read.
The ECJ said that it reached this conclusion because the stores satisfied three key characteristics required for a trademark: "It must (1) constitute a sign, (2) be capable of graphic representation and (3) be capable of distinguishing the 'goods' or 'services' of one undertaking [company] from those of other undertakings."
The INQUIRER contacted Apple for comment on the ruling but had received no reply at the time of publication.
The ruling could well have some major implications for other firms in the tech sector, as many companies - from mobile operators to other handset vendors, notably Samsung - have mimicked Apple's style in their retail outlets.
As such, they could face legal challenges from Apple if the firm decides a rival is benefiting in the market by copying Apple's store layouts. Apple's long-time legal opponent Samsung could be the first to face a legal challenge.
The INQUIRER contacted Samsung for a comment on the ruling but had not received a reply at the time of publication. µ