After a nearly three-year review of 850 pages of supporting materials, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has granted trademark status to Apple’s retail store design, offering the company some measure of protection against copycat competitors. The approval came despite two application rejections by the government agency, including one that oddly stated the store design wasn’t “inherently distinctive.” In both cases Apple was able to submit additional materials and drawings, which eventually convinced the USPTO examiner to issue a trademark certificate this past week. The design Apple submitted for trademark status was of the so-called V2.0, mall store that features glass windows framed by stainless steel panels, topped by a back-lit Apple logo, stone floors, interior stainless steel walls and wood display tables. The Columbia (Md.) retail store was the first to qualify for the trademark, opening on September 23, 2006.

The first 30 or so Apple retail stores were designed with black-coated steel storefronts, and back-lit Apple logos on either side of a single or double entrance. Later stores featured a narrow frame of bead-blasted stainless steel or—very few—with stone exterior walls. Inside, early stores had wood floors, frosted glass partitions and non-illuminated wall graphics. But in September 2006 Apple introduced V2.0 of the interior design, featuring stainless steels walls, back-lit wall graphics and stone floors. It’s this latter design that Apple has trademarked.

Apple applied for the store design trademark on May 10, 2010, including a drawing and the following text description:

The mark consists of the design and layout of a retail store. The store features a clear glass storefront surrounded by a paneled facade consisting of large, rectangular horizontal panels over the top of the glass front, and two narrower panels stacked on either side of the storefront. Within the store, rectangular recessed lighting units traverse the length of the store’s ceiling. There are cantilevered shelves below recessed display spaces along the side walls, and rectangular tables arranged in a line in the middle of the store parallel to the walls and extending from the storefront to the back of the store. There is multi-tiered shelving along the side walls, and a oblong table with stools located at the back of the store, set below video screens flush mounted on the back wall. The walls, floors, lighting, and other fixtures appear in dotted lines and are not claimed as individual features of the mark; however, the placement of the various items are considered to be part of the overall mark.

Five months after Apple submitted its application, the USPTO sent back a letter refusing the trademark, and stating, “The applied-for mark is not inherently distinctive because the mark is not described as having any particular inherently distinctive features.”

Download the entire package (pdf, 181 Mb) of trademark application documents, the USPTO correspondence with Apple and the final approval documents. Or read more on ifoapplestore website