American consumer technology company Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) files a great many patent applications at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office every year. In 2015, the company ranked 12th overall among companies receiving patent grants from the USPTO, earning 1,937 U.S. patents in that year. Through September 23rd, Apple had earned 1,878 patents from the USPTO during 2016, according to the patent portfolio analysis tools available through Innography. As the text cluster shows here, much of Apple’s recent research and development activities have focused on electronic devices, graphical user interface and mobile devices.
Along with its handheld computing devices, Apple is known for its line of retail stores which have a distinctive look with large glass windows and sleek interior design which evokes the appearance of Apple’s personal devices. As of 2015, there were 463 Apple Stores operating around the world, according to online statistics portal Statista. In late September, Apple opened a store in Mexico City, its first retail store to open in the entire country. In the District of Columbia, Apple is considering opening up shop in historic Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square. Over in England, Apple’s Birmingham store will open with a number of peculiar characteristics including interactive windows and a space for small business owners can work with Apple consultants.
Every once in awhile, Apple garners some attention when it files patent applications or receives patents related to its retail stores. Reports from late September in The Chicago Tribune focused on a patent application recently published by the USPTO for a retail shopping bag developed by Apple. U.S. Patent Application No. 20160264304, simply titled Bag, was filed to protect a retail paper bag formed from white paper with at least 60 percent post-consumer, or recycled, content. The paper bag also has a reinforcement insert adhered to the corners of the bag covering the bottom and a handle, 90 percent of which droops below the top edge of the bag when the handle isn’t being held. The use of the reinforcement insert increases the durability of the paper bag, allowing the paper to be constructed using a larger percentage of recycled material.
Apple has also patented lighting systems used in certain stores as is reflected by the issue of U.S. Patent No. 9217247, entitled Ceiling System. It protects a ceiling system for a room having a plurality of panels extending between opposite sides of a room in parallel and with troughs between adjacent panels. Within the troughs are elongated light fixtures which run along the length of the trough. This innovation is designed to better provide uniform lighting throughout a retail setting so that objects not positioned directly under a light aren’t poorly illuminated. This lighting system is being incorporated into retail builds in Brussels, Belgium as well as in Apple’s hometown of Cupertino, CA.
Apple’s innovative structural developments are often protected through design patents, as is the case with U.S. Patent No. D750275, which is titled Architectural Structure. It protects the design of a transparent cube which prominently features the Apple logo. According to a report from tech publication Ars Technica, the design patent protects aspects of the design at the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, especially the use of transparent glass panels.
Apple also files for U.S. design patents on structural designs developed for stores built in foreign countries. U.S. Patent No. D750274, issued under the title Building, claims the design for a two-story building space constructed from transparent panels. Online Apple tech review publication 9To5Mac reports that this design patent protects the design of the Apple Store in China’s Zhongjie Joy City, which has a suspended upper floor and ceiling-to-floor glass windows.
Even the display stands where customers at the Apple Store view electronics products are covered by utility and design patents held by Apple. U.S. Patent No. 9373236, entitled Systems and Methods for Securing Handheld Electronic Devices, discloses a security system for a handheld device including a coupler with a body and a terminal protruding from the body, the body having tabs configured to grip a portion of the device to prevent the device from moving relative to the body in any direction. The patent also covers a stand with a through hole and a cable extending from the terminal through the stand’s through hole. The invention is designed to provide a superior user experience for a customer exploring an electronic device while preventing that device from being stolen. Apple has also recently received design patents U.S. Patent No. D762648 and U.S. Patent No. D762649, both titled Display Stand and Electronic Device, which protect design elements of Apple Watch display stands.
2016 has been an important year for the development of the look of Apple Stores as well as the customer experience inside of them. On the same day that Apple unveiled a new store in San Francisco’s Union Square, senior vice president of retail and online stores Angela Ahrendts discussed a series of new features involved in the Union Square location. These new features include “The Avenue,” a retail section with interactive windows where customers can explore Apple products and services; “The Forum,” a gathering place situated in front of a video wall with 6K resolution where the store will offer workshops, game nights and other regular programs; the “Genius Grove,” where support staff help customers in an area lined with trees; “The Plaza,” a public space open 24 hours a day which offers Wi-Fi and live music performances during the day; and “The Boardroom,” the space offering business support for entrepreneurs which is also found in the new Birmingham build mentioned above. “We have a deep commitment to the cities we work in, and are aware of the importance that architecture plays in the community,” as Jonathan Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, is quoted in the San Francisco press release.
Along with live music programming featuring local artists, Apple Stores also offer various workshops which keep the customer engaged with products and services developed by the company. Apple provides free hour-long workshops focused on improving customer use of hardware like the Apple Watch or iPhone as well as apps like Photos, iMovie and Keynote for Mac. Parents with tech-savvy kids might be interested to check out Apple’s slate of free youth programming which includes Apple Camps for children aged 8 through 12 where they can learn basics in coding, robotics and multimedia creation.
Apple invests so much into the design and operation of its flagship stores that it actually lists the stores under risk factors reported in quarterly earnings releases. According to the company’s earnings report for 2016’s third quarter, the unique design elements of stores designed to be high-profile venues require substantial investment. A high cost structure associated with Apple Stores, a decline in sales or closures of even a single location could result in significant lease termination costs and equipment write-offs.