IP Law Update: Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) are now protectable in China with design patents

As of 1 May 2014, it is possible to obtain a Chinese design patent in respect of a Graphical User Interface (GUI), including dynamic (or animated) GUIs. This will no doubt be good news for many of our clients, particularly those in the electronics industry.

Davin Merritt, Partner
Davin Merritt, Partner

GUIs are a specific type of interface that allows a user to interact with an electronic device using icons and other visual indicators. In more recent years, the specific icons and visual indicators have come to distinguish competing electronics devices (for example, mobile phones) in the marketplace, and so they are now of very considerable importance in terms of providing valuable IP. It is for this reason that large numbers of design applications (or equivalent) are filed around the world in respect of GUIs.

There are several considerations to bear in mind when contemplating the filing of a Chinese design patent application for a GUI:

  • Protection is only available when the GUI is incorporated into a product (for example, a monitor or the display of a mobile phone. The GUI is not separately protectable.
  • The GUI must involve some form of interaction between the user and the machine. For example, wallpaper on an electronic display, and start-up and shut-down screens do not require any interaction and so are not protectable.
  • A design patent for a tablet with a GUI won’t provide the owner with any rights for the same GUI displayed on a mobile phone. Separate protection in respect of the tablet/GUI and mobile phone GUI would be necessary.
  • An application pertaining to a GUI must be accompanied by drawings and/or photographs of the whole product, and must include a brief explanation of the design, as well as an explanation of the user/machine interaction and the use of the GUI in the product.

It is also possible to obtain an Australian design registration for a GUI, although the format and requirements of such applications differ from that detailed above in respect of China.

If you would like further advice in regard to protecting GUIs in China, Australia, or elsewhere then please contact Davin Merritt on davin.merritt@pof.com.au