It comes as no surprise that Apple owns numerous trademarks for its well-known Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad and other products. However, Apple has taken its trademark protection to a new level by obtaining a registration for the look and lay-out of its unique glass stores.

Historically, retail store interiors have been protectable as unregistered trademarks and trade dress. Trade dress is considered a sub-category of trademarks and is generally defined as the image, design or appearance of a product or its packaging. Examples of trade dress include a four-sided freestanding rotating rack used to display greeting cards, the visibility of food preparation areas in restaurants and even particular sales techniques.

Apple likely has a strong trade dress claim to the design and lay-out of its stores and this new trademark registration only strengthens its position. Other companies have also obtained trademark registrations for the design of their stores, including Microsoft and its store lay-out seen here:

Apple’s trademark registration, granted on January 22, 2013, covers retail stores and product demonstrations and features a line drawing depicting a typical Apple store. The store is described as “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.” But it doesn’t stop there. The registration also sets forth specific fixtures found in Apples stores including the “rectangular recessed lighting units,” the “cantilevered shelves below recessed display spaces” and the “rectangular tables arranged in a line in the middle of the store parallel to the walls.”

It was by no means a straight shot to registration at the USPTO. The mark was rejected twice for lack of inherent distinctiveness and failure to function as an indicator of source. According to the USPTO, although the company’s stores consistently use a “spare Scandinavian-inspired theme” they varied widely in appearance, ranging from the “entirely-glass flagship store in Manhattan, entirely glass-fronted stand-alone stores, entirely silver-panel-fronted stand-alones, and enclosed shopping mall bays of varying widths.”

Apple fired back with a claim that its mark had acquired distinctiveness, filing almost 700 pages of arguments including photographs, consumer surveys and affidavits from shoppers attesting to how easily-recognizable Apple stores are. Perhaps most impressive was testimony that the average annual revenue of each Apple store was $26.2 million in FY2009, $34.1 million in FY2010 and $43.3 million in FY2011. Apple successfully argued that even if the sales had taken place at only one retail location featuring Apple’s mark, such high sales volume would be more than adequate to establish the secondary meaning in the mark.

The take-away for business owners? A “trademarked look” is not just a popular saying. Developing and consistently using a distinctive look and lay-out for products and services, including retail stores, is a protectable form of intellectual property and a great way for customers to remember exactly who you are.