(CN) - The layout design of Apple's flagship tech stores may qualify for trademark protection in Europe, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday.
Apple has already registered its 3D trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but the German Patent and Trade Mark Office rejected Apple's request to extend its trademark to Germany in 2013.
The German court thought that Apple's retail store layout was nothing more than "an essential aspect of that undertaking's business," and said "it was not sufficiently distinguishable from the stores of other providers of electronic products," the EU's highest court explained.
Apple appealed in Germany's Federal Patents Court, which then asked the EU Court of Justice whether the retail-store layout, by design only and without specific dimensions, qualifies for a trademark registration.
In issuing Apple a favorable preliminary ruling July 10, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice noted that the store layout constitutes a sign, is capable of graphic representation and is capable of distinguishing its good or services from a competitor.
Apple's "designs are among the categories of signs capable of graphic representation," the ruling states, citing EU trademark law criteria. "The representation, by a design, of the layout of a retail store is also capable of distinguishing the products or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings, and hence, satisfying the third condition."
All signs do not constitute a trademark, however, as they must possess a distinctive character, the EU court ruled.
"The distinctive character of the sign must be assessed in concreto
by reference to, first, the goods or services in question and, second, the perception of the relevant public, namely the average consumer of the category of goods or services in question, who is reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect," the ruling states.