Protecting computer program user interfaces


Piotr Niezgódka

It is not always obvious which part of a computer program can be protected using intellectual property. Piotr Niezgódka takes a look.

The economic success of computer programs is directly linked to offering an attractive user interface, eg, an intuitive menu, toolbars, icons, interconnections between functionalities, special effects. Due to the wide scope of outlays necessary to design a user interface that meets market needs, one will inevitably face the question of how to protect the end product. This article aims to present legal solutions available in Poland—a significant European software market.

When seeking protection of any creative activity, copyright is the starting point. However, a question arises whether a graphical user interface (GUI) should be treated as a standard artistic work within the meaning of the Berne Convention, or as a computer program.

Intuitively, one tends to put an equals sign between a GUI and a computer program. However, based on such an assumption, software development contracts would not have to contain any clauses referring to the GUI as separately subject to copyright. As a result, could such a contract allow the assignee / licensee to lawfully exploit the GUI as a separate product, for example to use elements of the GUI in the process of development of different software?

Polish Industrial Property Law, GUI, technology