GUI (Graphical User Interface) is the interactive and visual component for computers and electronic devices. A GUI dictates and facilitates the use of icons, menus, windows, drop-downs, screen-layouts and many other types of interactive components of an operating system. GUIs evolved in the era of complex technology to meet the demands of the user for making the process of interaction with computer systems or any other electronic devices easier. GUI applications have gained popularity and correct response by the public in general with respect to its appearance, flexible working and fluency in operation.
IP Protection to GUI
GUI is a composition of wide number of elements and different aspects demands different type of protection. Patents protect the utility and functional areas of user interface with novel and industrial applications, Copyright protects the subject code and object code of the computer program i.e. algorithms and programming languages which allows user to interact with the system. Industrial Design rights protect the aesthetic and ornamental aspects of the user interface which is the positioning and structuring different elements in the display screen with the balanced form of colours, style and pattern. However, in India, the scope of Design protection for the aesthetic elements of the GUI remains largely vague and under developed.
Design protection to GUI in India
In India, design protection is granted to the ornamental or aesthetic features of an article, which have no functional purpose to achieve and appeal solely to the eye. Section 2(d) of the Designs Act, 2000 (“the Act”) defines a design as,
“design means only the features of shape, configuration, pattern, ornament or composition of lines or colours applied to any article whether in two dimensional or three dimensional or in both forms, by any industrial process or means, whether manual, mechanical or chemical, separate or combined, which in the finished article appeal to and are judged solely by the eye…….”
Thus, as per this definition, design is a ‘feature’ which must be applied to an article of manufacture. This led to the Indian Design Office rejecting Amazon’s application for Design registration for a ‘Graphic user interface for providing supplemental information of a digital work to a display screen.’ The Office reasoned that a GUI did not fall under the definition of ‘design’ or ‘article’ as per the Design Act. A GUI is merely a function of a computer screen that is visible only when the computer turns on and thus lacks constant eye appeal. Further, the design is not an integral part of the article but is purely functional or application based. The office added that GUIs not being physically accessible cannot be sold separately as a commodity in the market.
Although India has adopted the Locarno classification for Designs , wherein the 2008 amendment included a class 14-04 , which protects screen displays and icons. However, the available data shows that the Indian Design Office has hardly registered any design under this category and whatever designs for screen icons and displays have been registered are under class 14-99, titled miscellaneous.
Legal Drawbacks in the Indian Design Act.
- Interconnection of Article and its Design
Mostly jurisdictions have favoured the protection of design on the condition of it being attached to some article, and India has adopted the same. The physical relation must be established for grant of protection. EU does not follow this condition and allow design protection without representing the article. The smart devices are just a useless articles in the absence of user interface. GUI is the essence of any smart devices as its working, functionality and identity is dependent on it. The display screen of online games, websites, operations of our smartphones, etc. everything is directly linked with UI. GUI is an undetachable component of the smart devices and so eligible subject matter. The dependence of the existence of a design on something outside itself should not be a reason for holding it not a design for an article of manufacture.
- Finished Article
The concept of finished article under designs law determines the overall end appearance of the article after the design is embedded in it. The aesthetic and ornamentality of the article must be appealing to the eye for the customers. Indian designs office concludes that the display screen with user interface do not form a part of finished article and hence not subjected to design protection. But the judging criteria must be amended when dealing with digital designs where the aesthetics of a display screen is dependent on the design of a user interface.
- Features of Shape, Pattern, Configuration, Colour
User interface is a blend of graphical patterns, colours, style, artistic software windows having different 2 dimensional shapes. All these properties and features of computer generated designs must be acknowledged and must be provided design protection as the look and feel of display screen is directly proportional to the inclination of customers to the smart devices.
Thus it seems that the Design Office has taken a very strict interpretation of the terms ‘article’ and ‘design’ as defined under the Act in the case of Amazon, which has set a negative precedent. Unless an amendment to the Indian Design law does not recognize the protectability of GUI’s under the Act, the purpose of adopting the class 14-04 under the Locarno classification would not be fulfilled.