Apple Gets Patent On Glass Cube


If you’re thinking of building a glass cube for a retail store, you now have two possible risks: a sweltering interior on sunny days, and a lawsuit from Apple.

The US Patents & Trademarks Office has granted Apple’s request for a patent on the design of its Fifth Avenue store in New York, meaning the design is now protected for 14 years.

It’s not the first time an Apple store’s design has been protected in such a way. In 2013, the USPTO issued a trademark to cover the internal design, going into some detail about the arrangement of the displays. Last month a European court said that the layout of an Apple store could be trademarked even without having to specify the size or proportions of the displays.

The latest ruling appears the most generic to date however. It’s a patent rather than a trademark, meaning that in theory it covers a way of doing things rather than a wording or design. (A trademark application for the Fifth Avenue store’s design is still under consideration by the USPTO.)

That said, the claim is covered in simply one line:

The ornamental design for a building, as shown and described.

The patent specifically covers the current version of the Fifth Avenue store, which uses only 15 panes. That was a redesign of the original version that used 90 panes.

It’s hard to tell exactly what is meant to be protected here. There’s no detail in the patent application about exactly how the store is constructed. A patent isn’t meant to cover either an idea or an appearance, so on the face of it the only thing this could protect is the construction technique of joining glass panels together to make a building. It seems virtually impossible that claim would survive a court case.


2 Responses to Apple Gets Patent On Glass Cube

  1. This is a Design Patent, not a Utility Patent. Generally, a Design Patent only covers the physical appearance of an object as portrayed in the drawings filed with the patent application. Therefore, the invention of a Design Patent is claimed with a single claim making reference to these drawings, as is the case here — such a claim is enforceable and has often been upheld in court. As to the scope of this patent, you might say that Apple has claimed a building with a design that looks like that shown in the drawing.

    That being said, Apple has had luck recently with the “Doctrine of Equivalents” — recall Apple v. Samsung concerning another Apple design patent for a smartphone pictured with round corners. In brief, this doctrine allows a court to hold a party liable for infringement even if the purportedly infringing device/process/design does not literally fall within the scope of the plaintiff’s patent claim, and is merely equivalent to the claimed invention. It’s Apple prosecution of competitors under this doctrine that I would keep a heads up about.

    By the way, a Utility Patent, by comparison, can claim an invention for a way of doing something (e.g., the suggested construction technique of joining glass panels together to make a building). Note however, that Apple would need to file a very different type of patent application to claim a process regarding the building.

    Source: I am a Patent Attorney — this is my wheelhouse.

    tldr: the author is confusing 2 different types of patents: (1) design patents that claim how stuff looks, and (2) utility patents that claim stuff itself and how to do stuff.

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