Graphical User Interface: Nemesis of the Indian Designs Office

The goal of graphical user interface design is to make the user’s interaction as simple and efficient to accomplish user goals i.e. user-centered design. A design is intuitive when people just know what to do and they don‟t have to go through any training. 1 A graphical user interface is a type of interface that allows users to interact with web portals through graphical icons and visual indicators. A mental model is just for “the picture I have in my head of how I expect this thing to work”. GUI is the way the designer of the system intends for it to work. It important to recognize that designer designs GUI in well manner but people will end up forming their own picture in their heads of how they think it works and that can differ from what a designer had intended. GUI is typically provided across all of the devices produced by a particular manufacturer, so that the consumer becomes familiar with the particular look and feel of a family of products. For example, Apple’s iPad, iPhone and iPod adopt the same GUI. Investment in the GUI should be protected by intellectual property rights to ensure that the look and feel of the products remains distinctive and exclusively associated with the company’s products, preventing third party copying. However, in today‟s day and age, GUI‟s present some legal difficulties with respect to its applicability in the current Indian legal regime. To be sure, GUIs include creative design elements as well, but there is no clear dividing line between creativity and functionality in the current scenario. Indeed, few courts or commentators have specifically weighed in on how design registration of a particular product should apply to the mélange of functional and ornamental features of GUIs. What about the overall design of the user screen? These and other relevant questions have received little attention to date. In many cases, courts leave the determination up to the policy makers with little guidance.

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. 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.2 There is lot of ambiguity as far as design protection of GUIs is concerned and therefore it is highly desirable that the Indian Design Office formulate clear guidelines for the examination and protection of GUIs as designs. With the advancement of technology and new methods of communication, the practice of the Indian Design Office along with corresponding provisions of the law need to be examined and streamlined keeping in mind the prevalent industry requirements.

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