On 12 March 2014, the State Intellectual Property Office released revisions to the current Patent Examination Guidelines, which will take effect on 1 May 2014.
Graphic user interface (GUI) designs are not patentable under the current Patent Examination Guidelines (2010 version, hereinafter the “Guidelines”) under which the subject matters ineligible for patent protection include “the pattern shown when the product is electrified, such as the pattern on the electronic watch dial, the pattern on the screen of the mobile phone, software interface, and so on.” However, GUI designs have become increasingly important for designs of mobile terminals and intelligent appliances. The exclusion of product designs comprising GUI from patent protection is not conducive to prompting creative design and innovation.
To solve this problem, the recent amendments to the Guidelines expressly include GUI into the subject matters applicable to design patents. To be specific,
First, the sentence “The pattern of a product shall be permanent and visible, and not flickering or visible only under specific conditions” is deleted to remove barriers to protecting designs for products comprising GUI.
Second, the previous paragraph on subject matters not patentable is amended to read, “User interface for games and patterns shown on display devices independent or unrelated to human- computer interaction or to achieving product functions”, expressly excluding other forms of graphics or patterns from patentable subject matters.
Third, provisions regarding the drawings, pictures, photos and the brief description are also modified accordingly to accommodate the above two changes, Further, GUI has become one of the factors in determining whether a design distinctly differs from prior designs in the invalidation procedure.
Therefore, we expect the following trends in patent application for designs of products comprising GUI:
Display devices having GUI may be required to be related to not only human-computer interaction but also to the performance of product functions as well;
Some types of APPs may be patentable for designs together with the electronic equipment carry them; and
The brief description of a design becomes even more important than before.
There will be further interpretations and corresponding strategies relating to the new Guidelines and they are worth expecting.