A graphical user interface (GUI) is a type of user interface which permits users to interact with electronic devices. Such interactions take place through audio indicators, visual icons, or a combination thereof. GUIs exist in a wide range of technological devices. Some of these are gaming devices, computers, smartphones, and portable media players.
Any person who owns a GUI can have it protected through copyright registration. After an individual or a business receives copyright protection for an owned GUI, the GUI will be shielded from any unscrupulous figures seeking to violate intellectual property rights to use the GUI.
Copyright Protection and GUIs
GUIs may benefit from intellectual property rights if they are deemed eligible for them. For a GUI to be eligible for copyright protection, it must usually be an original expression of an author’s intellectual creation. Just like other copyrightable items, GUIs which are protected by a copyright may make use of this protection up to a given number of years after the author’s death.
Not all GUIs fulfill the necessary criteria to receive copyright protection. Certain GUIs which have specific component configurations or arrangement might not be eligible for this form of intellectual property protection. Many layouts and menus of GUIs are standardized. For this reason, it may sometimes be difficult to prove that a GUI is original and copyrightable.
All GUI components which are purely determined by a technical function are unable to be copyrighted. This is because the author would not have made any creative choices in formulating them. For such components, the form of intellectual property protection which is required is the patent.
GUIs as Literary and Artistic Works
GUIs may receive copyright protection because most copyright laws regard them as literary works, artistic works, or a combination of both. Many copyright laws regard computer programs such as GUIs to be literary works. This is because the underlying software code is deemed to be a form of literature if the code is original. The sequence, structure, and organization of an original GUI source code or object code can serve as evidence of its originality, allowing it to receive intellectual property protection.
GUIs may also be regarded as artistic works. Copyright protection for artistic elements of GUIs can be extended to graphics, icons, and screenshots. In order for a GUI to receive protection as an artistic work, there must be proof that the GUI is original. Additionally, in some countries, only items which display a certain “artistic level” may be protected as intellectual property.
Copyright Infringement and GUIs
There are several ways by which infringement of a GUI’s copyright protection may occur. Perhaps the most common example of such violations of intellectual property rights is the copying of an original GUI’s software code followed by the implementation of an identical code in the infringer’s own interface. Sometimes, visual elements of a GUI can be reproduced by use of completely different code. It is not always easy to determine if copyright infringement has occurred in such cases.
Not all intellectual property courts regard all allegations of copyright infringements related to GUIs in the same way. Some courts deem a GUI to be a compilation. Other intellectual property courts state that a GUI’s elements must first be dissected. Only after this dissection takes place can it be determined if the GUI is copyrightable and thus a possible victim of copyright infringement.
When only a portion of a GUI instead of the entire GUI is assessed by an intellectual property court, the copyrightability of only that particular portion will be determined. Even if the GUI as a whole can receive or has received this intellectual property protection, such protection will not count for anything if that part of the GUI is not copyrightable. Often, uncopyrightable GUI elements are regarded as methods of operation.
Limitations of Copyright Protection for GUIs
Due to the limitations of copyright protection for GUIs, many GUI owners use other forms of intellectual property protection in conjunction with copyrights to protect their GUIs. Copyright protection often protects GUIs from exact replicas but not slight variations. Therefore, infringers may sometimes evade intellectual property laws by producing immaterial variations of GUIs.
Copyrights do not protect a GUI’s interactive elements. They also do not provide any degree of protection for a GUI’s static elements or its overall style or image. Therefore, the owner of a GUI is advised to seek intellectual property protection for GUIs through design patents and trade dress protection in addition to copyrights. When these forms of intellectual property protection are put together, just about every element of a GUI will be protected from any infringements or unscrupulous acts.
This article is brought to you by Exy Intellectual Property Malaysia and Singapore.