Design protection for graphical user interfaces


Stephen Yang

On March 12, 2014, the State Intellectual Property Office of China announced amendments to the Guidelines for Examination, which give design protection to graphical user interfaces. The amendments will take effect on May 1, 2014.

With the fast growth of the IT industry, SIPO recognised that there is a need to protect the creative work involved in designing GUIs for products such as mobile phones, computers and digital cameras. However, Section 7.4(11) Chapter 3 of Part I of the guidelines specifically prescribes that “the patterns shown when the product is electrified, such as the pattern on an electronic watch dial, the pattern on the screen of a mobile phone, software interface, and so on” are not the subject matter of a design patent.

Section 7.2 Chapter 3 of Part I prescribes that “the pattern of a product shall be permanent and visible, and not flickering and visible only under specific conditions”. These sections exclude the possibility of protecting GUIs with design patents. In order to allow GUIs to be protected by design patents, these sections have been deleted.

However, this does not mean that any pattern displayed when a device is switched on can be protected with a design patent. The new guidelines exclude “game interfaces, and patterns displayed by the displaying device of a product, which patterns are not relevant to human-computer interaction or to the realisation of the function of this product, such as wallpaper on an electronic screen, patterns shown during the start or shutdown of the device, or the layout of drawings and texts on web pages of websites” from the subject matter protected by design.

SIPO, design protection, GUI, design patent