Can designs law protect graphical user interface?

By Omesh Puri, LexOrbis

Protecting graphical user interface (GUI) through design registration is still a grey area in India. Although the Indian Design Office follows the classification which has class 14-04 for screen displays or icons, the office has issued most registrations to icons in class 14-99. These are all old registrations granted to Microsoft, for which applications were filed in 2006. Since Microsoft’s design registrations, the office has not granted registrations for icons.

Omesh PuriAssociate partnerLexOrbis
Omesh Puri
Associate partner

In 2014, the office also rejected a GUI application filed by Amazon and subsequently has raised objections to all GUI applications. The controller refused Amazon’s design application for “graphical user interface for providing supplemental information of a digital work to a display screen” under class 14-02, holding that a design had to satisfy the definition under sections 2(a) and 2(d) of the Designs Act, 2000, and would not be registered simply based on the class number as prescribed in the rules. The controller held that a GUI is merely a function or application based on software connected to a computing device in switched-on condition. A GUI does not have consistent eye appeal as per section 2(d) of the act and cannot be considered as an article of manufacture as per section 2(a). It was also held that a GUI cannot be considered as a finished article and does not contain the features of shape or configuration and other design parameters.

Despite the refusal of Amazon’s application for registration, some GUIs have been protected in India. In one such instance, the GUI was registered in India in class 14-02, claiming priority from an international design application which was filed in class 14-04. In this case, to obtain protection of the GUI in India, the applicant filed the design application in class 14-02, in relation to a touch screen. Recently, a “graphical user interface for an account identifier” was registered in class 99-01 in the name of Visa International Service Association, claiming priority from a US design application. In this case, the class number for the Indian design application was amended to 99-01, which covers miscellaneous items, and the drawings were amended to show a touch/mobile screen.

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Omesh Puri is an associate partner at LexOrbis.

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