Understand the concept of Graphical User Interfaces (GUI)

The Graphical User Interface has a significant role to play in the digital era as through this the user can establish interaction with the electronic devices such as – home appliance, smart devices, vehicle, medical devices etc. All these are done through certain design elements, popularly known as icons and menus.

In other words, the GUI refers to the control of the windows, icons and menus which are used in an operating system. It refers to the method of the visual interaction of the user with a computer-based device.

As the strategic assets, the GUIs are experiencing an increase in their demand and it became necessary to protect the visual appearance of the GUIs by the design rights protection.

Is GUI offered protection as intellectual property?

Several countries such as the USA, China, Brazil, EU, South Africa etc. protect the GUIs through a certain form of design protection. Though the Designs Act 2002, recognises the protection of the GUIs in India it still does not provide the registration under the Industrial Design Protection.

The GUI does not be considered as an article of manufacture, therefore it is disqualified as a design under the Act. This theory was opposed by the Designs Rules 2001, as in the Third Schedule, which includes the provisions for the classification of designs and articles, allowed the registration of GUIs.

In 2008, the Third Schedule was amended for complying with the Locarno classification, which introduced class 14-04 for dedication to the articles in relevance to screen displays and icons.

The Indian Design Office, till 2009, registered for icons a d screen displays under miscellaneous category under class 14-99. However, the Design Office is pitting up the arguments against considering the GUI as a design under the definition of designs as per Sec. 2(a) and Sec. 2(d) of the Designs Act. Therefore they are not ready to agree with the provision of granting design protection under the existing law.

In a case, where Amazon Technologies, Inc. was a party, the controller issued a decision where the point of issue pertained to a “Graphic user interface for providing supplemental information of a digital work to a display screen”. To this, it was noted that the proposed design can not be considered as a design under the provisions of the Designs Act 2000.

The graphical user interface involved in the Apple case allowed the user to communicate easily with Apple’s Lisa and Macintosh computers. The graphical user interface, in this case, was based on a desktop metaphor that included icons, windows and pull-down menus to ensure the visibility of various items at the same time using a device called the mouse.

When Microsoft released Windows 2.03 and 3.0, Apple filed a claim that the new version has exceeded the permitted limit and amount to infringement.
In this matter, the Court held that as the vast portion of the user interface involves the visual display that was unable to constitute copied elements, therefore, there is no infringement, thus the GUI remains protected.

What are the legal provisions of the Designs Act 2000 related to GUIs?

The provision of Sec. 2(d) of the Act specifies under the definition of design only the features of shape, configuration, pattern, ornaments or composition of lines of colours.

The definition is clear that the definition of design is applicable only when it is applied to an article by the industrial process or means, that is tangible.

Moreover the sec. 2(a) of the Act defines it as an article that has been manufactured and any substance that is artificial or natural and such that any part of it can be made and sold separately.

Sec. 5(3) and Sec. 6 of the Act specified that the design can be registered is subject to the provisions of Rule 10 of the Designs Rule 2001.

The classification is made following the Third schedule.

Some instances of GUI being registered

Previously, the GUIs which were registered were classified under the Class 14-99 names as ‘miscellaneous items. However, the instance of Amazon pushed the requirements for granting the registrations by the Designs office.
In 2014, after the fight, Amazon was able to get the registration as a “graphical user interface for providing supplemental information of a digital work to a display screen”.

After that, there have been several cases where the GUIs were granted the protection of the design,

Was the decision in the Amazon case full-proof?

The decision taken in the Amazon matter is still not much encouraged, and not warranted on two primary counts. The controller might have assessed that the GUI itself satisfied the definition of the article as per the Designs Act 2000. This approach was a bit misleading as the provisions under Sec. 2(d) is that a design has to be applied to an article, and not necessarily to comply with all the features of an article.

The primary objectives against the GUI were that the consistent visual appeal and functionality in the Amazon order were unreasonable. Firstly regarding the functionality aspect, the GUI is deficient in the functional feature, as it is prescribed in the provision of sec. 2(d). The covering oversight of the GUI as design can not be considered right. Moreover, the objection on the visual appeal relies on the assumption that for claiming protection under the Designs Act the work requires to be visible consistently.

However, even though the visibility of the GUI is limited to a specific duration, when the device is in use, it can still be eligible for design protection.

Thinking rationally, the Supreme Court case in Bharat Glass Tube Limited vs. Gopal Glass Works Ltd. can be referred, where the Court considered the point highlighted by P. Narayanan in the Law of Copyright and Industrial Design that the registration of a design aims to protect the interest of the originator who has created a profitable design. The protection assured that unless the contrary has been implemented by the legislature, the provisions of the Act shall be protecting the efforts made by the originator or the proprietor of the profitable design.


It is important to note that the reformed application in respect of the designs la has its roots from the benefits they enjoy over other forms of intellectual property protection. this way a greater way is created where the functional features are attached to the GUI and elements for protection. The protection encourages better innovation, more creativity and impacts the probable infringement. This way it supports the improvements and the competitive atmosphere.

Within the software industry, it is relevant to note that with or without copyright protection the software industry managed to grow accelerated and uninterrupted. Moreover, copyright protection can prevent growth as improvement of the user interface will be revolutionary from the earlier ideas of another and them improves the user interfaces.
It can be concluded that while the user interface requires individual elements protection of copyright, even if there is no sufficient originality, the protection should not be proceeded with in such cases where the standardization is limited.

Moreover, the already existing Intellectual property regulations the protection is available for 14 years once registered.

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