In the last article, “The case for design patents in manufacturing and industrial technologies,” we explored the business case for pursuing design patents in industries that have not traditionally focused on design patents. In this article, we will explore another area of design patent law that is quickly growing and provides another opportunity for forward thinking companies to procure patents on subject matter that has traditionally been reserved for copyright, or has not been protected at all.
We interact with graphical user interfaces (GUIs) every day through phones, computers, gaming devices, ATMs, and other electronic devices. GUIs are simply the icons, screen layout, and visual cues that we utilize to control these devices. The use of GUIs is on the rise, spanning many areas of technology including home appliances, airline check-in kiosks, and office equipment, among others. Certainly, one of the reasons the popularity and focus on GUIs is heightened is due to the success of Apple and its laserlike focus on the user experience. Apple has long been known for sleek product design and usability, which has allowed the company to build a rampant following among users who boast about the intuitive Apple interfaces. It could be easily argued that the usability aspects of the Apple products are core elements to the Apple business and product lines. Protecting these critical aspects of the business has allowed Apple to maintain a consistent "look and feel" across the GUIs used in all of its product lines including the iPhone, iPad, and various MacBook computers.