Since 1 May 2014, a number of changes have come into effect in the regulations for patent assessment in China. One of the most important changes relates to graphical user interface inventions (GUIs).
These are no longer excluded from patenting in China. GUIs are used in numerous areas of our day-to-day lives. This varies from check-in machines at airports to the touch screens on our smartphones. It was already possible to patent GUIs in Europe, the US and Japan. China has also become increasingly more aware of the importance of protecting this technology. This prompted the country to modify its regulations on patent assessment to make it possible to patent GUIs too. Under the revised regulations, GUIs are eligible for design protection (under a design patent).
Under the revised regulations, it is possible to submit a design application for a GUI, provided that it relates to the interaction between a human and a computer with the object of initiating a certain action. This means that a computer screen wallpaper, shut-down and start-up screens for a piece of electronic equipment, the context for a web page, etc. are still not eligible for patenting under the new regulations.
Another condition for patenting is that the GUI design of a product can be separated from other components in the product in question and, as such, does not function solely or is not sold solely in combination with these other components. For example, a smartphone screen will not be eligible for design protection because it cannot be used or sold independently. In any event, the revised regulations offer scope for the protection of GUIs to a greater extent than was possible in the past. It also takes less time to obtain design protection than it would to obtain a patent of invention and the former can be granted quite easily because no substantive examination is necessary. However, a design for which protection has been obtained for a period of 10 years does not enjoy the same protection as that extended to a patent of invention, which lasts for 20 years.