GUI design registration in India – Challenges and opportunities

Graphical User Interface aka GUI (pronounced “gooey”) revolutionized the way people interact with machines. Invented in 1970s by Xerox engineers, it was popularised by the Apple and Microsoft computers in the early 90s. It visually displays information for commands, breaking down the human-machine barrier and enabling innovation and development across industries- from smartwatches to cars and airplanes, and introducing new technologies like virtual and augmented reality. 

For such innovation to thrive, intellectual Property (IP) protection is crucial to safeguard against infringement and duplication and to promote long-term growth.  

GUI protection in India 

India’s tech and software development has made noteworthy progress, with GUI playing a crucial role bridging the user and technology. However, GUI protection under India Designs Act, 2000 (the Act) is currently limited, despite protection from various other forms of IP rights including copyright, and patent. This gap in GUI protection could potentially hinder India’s technological progress. 

This article discusses factors contributing to the non-registrability of GUI under the Act and suggests ways to make the legislation more holistic for GUI protection. 

Registration of GUIs across leading countries  

United States of America  

In the United States, two-dimensional computer-generated icons can be registered as a ‘design patent’, if they’re shown in a hardware configuration, such as a computer screen, a monitor, or any other display panel that can display the GUI. Animated GUIs like 3D animations; and dynamic GUI screens are also protectable, wherein the sequence of illustrations is provided in the design specification. In the case of animated GUIs, a brief descriptive statement should be included in the design specification to explain the sequence of illustrations of the GUI. 


As per China’s revised patent law in 2021, applicants can file GUI design applications for a product or hardware by submitting only views regarding the GUI, without the product. The only prerequisite is that the name of the product or hardware should be included in the title of the application. For example, “a navigation GUI for electronic devices”. In continuation, when applying for a “design patent” for a part of the GUI, the product name should also indicate the claimed part, such as a navigation bar of a GUI of an electronic device. 


The Australian Designs Office does not consider GUIs as protectable. This approach manifests in two ways: GUI is not a product by itself, and where a virtual design is related to a physical product, such as a display screen displaying a GUI, that product must be considered in a resting state (power-off state) and not in a power-ON state. 

European Union 

The European Union (EU) provides protection for GUIs under the Community Design Regulation. Designs of screen displays, icons, and other visible elements of a computer program are eligible for registration. However, it excludes protection for computer programs under design registration.  


Previously, in Japan, GUI design can be registered as a part of a specific device. Therefore, like in China, a GUI design application must specify the name of the device on which the GUI is displayed, for example, “GUI on a computer” and submit additional views showing an outline of the device. 

However, after the amendments to design laws in 2020, GUIs are protected independently of the devices in which they are used. Various forms of GUI protection are as follows: 

1. Images displayed on screens of digital cameras or smartphone applications.

 2. Web application images/images on the internet which are recorded on a server or cloud storage and then transmitted to a terminal of the client.

3.  GUIs that are projected, except on an apparatus, such as a wall or human body.


In India, the classification of designs as per the Act does seem to recognize GUI as a registerable subject matter, but the framework lacks clarity.  Due to this ambiguity, the Designs Act sporadically protects GUI designs, unlike other countries where GUIs are mostly protected under Design Laws. The Design Rules included  

India’s design rights are governed by the Act and Design Rules, 2001. Class 14 for “Screen Displays and Icons” was included in the Design Rules in 2008 to align with the provisions of the Locarno Classification. Even before Class 14, icons and displays of Microsoft and a few other parties were registered. Despite these precedents by the Indian Designs Office (Office) rejected Amazon’s GUI application for providing supplemental information of a digital work to a display screen in 2014. The Office’s reasons for rejection were that Amazon’s GUI was only operative when hardware was switched on, and it does not provide “consistent eye appeal”. Moreover, the Office held that GUI does not qualify as an article of manufacture, nor is it physically accessible. The Office also held that GUI is not an integral part of the article but is purely functional and that the article doesn’t take shape of the design and the GUI cannot be sold separately as a commodity in the market. 

 Based on this interpretation, the fate of design protection for GUIs in India has remained uncertain.  

A ray of hope or opportunity lost. 

Designs (Amendment) Rules 2021, introduced in 2021, incorporate “International Classification for Industrial Designs (Locarno Classification)”. Locarno’s Class 14-04 provides protection to “Screen Displays and Icons” which includes GUI and Class 32 provides protection for Graphic symbols and logos, surface patterns, and ornamentation. However, the amendments have not explicitly changed its position on GUI registration and therefore, the Office still expects all GUIs to satisfy the requirements set out in Sections 2(a) and 2(d) of the Act.  

 As the world becomes increasingly digital, India’s reluctance to protect GUI hinders her chances to join the growth. GUI protection is essential for inventions in wide-ranging industries – from gaming to smartphones, manufacturing, automotive, and healthcare. However, due to the lack of clarity under the Indian Design Act and by the Office, many deserving applications are being denied protection. This may result in rampant copying by competing brands, and reluctance by brands to introduce premium products and services in India, among other challenges.  

 The situation is reflected in the stagnant design registration numbers despite a growing number of innovations in GUI. This presents a disconnect between the development of cutting-edge technologies and the protection of their underlying designs. Jurisdictions such as the USA, China, Japan, and Europe recognize and protect GUI under design registration. If India wants to join the upper echelons of technological innovations, providing comprehensive design protection to GUIs is imperative. To this effect, the Office must provide clarity and possibly make amendments to the definitions in the Indian Designs Act to cover GUI designs. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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