Safeguarding Intellectual Property Rights For UI/UX Designs In India
UI/UX design is among several non-technical roles in the tech industry that do not necessitate any coding or programming expertise. As outlined by the Columbia School for Engineering and Applied Science, the major constituents of UI and UX design encompass various crucial aspects. UX design involves the formulation of effective strategies, the rigorous testing of concepts, and the meticulous implementation of these ideas, all while conducting in-depth analyses of the end products and services. It is an integral process that aims to enhance user satisfaction and optimize user interactions with the digital products.
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Conversely, UI designers primarily concern themselves with the visual aspects of a product or service. They curate an aesthetically pleasing appearance by carefully selecting suitable fonts, graphics, and other visual elements. Additionally, they ensure that each element harmonizes with the overall objectives of the product or service. The ultimate goal of the UI designer is to create an intuitive, user-friendly interface that facilitates seamless user experiences and aligns with the broader UX strategy. Moreover, the UI designers hold the responsibility for both the style and functionality of a product or service’s design.
What Is Intellectual Property In Ui/Ux?
Essential in UX/UI design is the Graphical User Interface (GUI), enabling users to interact with electronic devices using visual icons instead of text-based interfaces. Preserving the distinct “look and feel” of these elements, encompassing GUIs, icons, and visual indicators, becomes crucial to maintain your product’s uniqueness in the market. Safeguarding these UX/UI design components ensures their recognition and appeal among users and distinguishes your product from competitors.
Protection Of Guis
In India, Graphic User Interfaces (GUIs) can receive protection under both Copyright and Design Laws. The case of Maraekat Infotech Ltd. v. Naylesh V. Kothari, saw the Hon’ble Bombay High Court ruling that copyright extends to the ‘structure, sequence, and organization’ of computer programs, thus implying that the UI/UX associated with the program would also enjoy protection.
This position was further reinforced by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, affirming that “Copyright safeguards the form of expression and can be employed to protect the source code and object code of a computer program.” Moreover, computer programs are considered literary works under the Indian Copyright Act, making it possible for the visual appearance and user experience of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) to be safeguarded under copyright law In India, GUIs can be protected under Copyright as well as Design law.
In words of the Hon’ble Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology:
“Copyright protects the form of expression and can be used to protect source code and the object code of a computer programme. Furthermore, computer programmes are protected as a literary work by the Indian Copyright Act and hence, the look and feel of Graphical User Interface (GUI) can be protected under the Copyrights.”
Thus, The same can be protected as:
Copyright can safeguard original UX/UI design elements as they are considered artistic works. However, it has a limitation, as the accused infringer must have copied a significant part of the design element for the protection to apply. Competitors can also escape liability by making alterations or creating “design-arounds” to the copyrighted design. Although copyright offers certain benefits, these drawbacks have led to it being deemed less essential for companies operating in the UX/UI design field. Consequently, many companies prefer to seek protection under the Designs Act when registering GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces). Nevertheless, the Designs Act has faced controversies, notably after Amazon’s application was rejected. Despite this setback, it remains a popular choice for safeguarding UX/UI design innovations due to its more lenient requirements and broader scope of protection.
Trademark registrations serve as an effective means of safeguarding identifiable components of the User Experience (UX) that are unlikely to undergo significant changes. Take, for instance, Instagram’s unmistakable ‘Comment’ button. However, relying solely on trademarks may not be the most suitable approach for protecting the entire Graphical User Interface (GUI).
On the other hand, there is the concept of Trade Dress, which “refers to the characteristics of the visual appearance of a product or its packaging... that signify the source of the product to consumers.” This is particularly useful for safeguarding highly recognizable and widely known designs, such as the iconic shape of a Coke can. Nonetheless, obtaining trade dress protection can be challenging, and its relationship with copyright protection is intricate.
Notwithstanding its limitations, trade dress can complement UI copyright in specific scenarios or act alone if a UI element lacks the required level of originality for copyright protection. In cases where comprehensive protection of the overall appearance is necessary, trade dress proves more effective than copyright law, which mainly focuses on safeguarding individual UI elements.
While trademark registrations are well-suited for preserving specific and unchanging UX elements, trade dress offers a valuable avenue for shielding renowned and distinctive designs. Although trade dress has certain complexities, it can be a valuable tool in bolstering the protection of User Interfaces and ensuring their uniqueness in the marketplace.
C. PROTECTION AS DESIGNS
In India, the legal framework for safeguarding design rights is defined by the Designs Act of 2000 and the Design Rules of 2001. The protection of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) has been a matter of contention, with different interpretations arising from certain provisions within the law.
One perspective supporting GUI protection stems from Class 14 of the Third Schedule of the Design Rules. This class covers “Screen Displays and Icons,” suggesting that GUIs could potentially be eligible for protection. This specific point (Class 14-4) was introduced in 2008 through an amendment to align with the Locarno Classification, which is an international system for design classification. Prior to this amendment, Microsoft and a few other entities had already received design protection for their icons and screen displays under the “Miscellaneous” category (Class 14-99) within Class 14.
Despite the precedents set by Microsoft’s registrations and the 2008 amendments, there was a notable case where Amazon’s application (Application No. 240305) seeking protection for a “Graphic user interface for providing supplemental information of a digital work to a display screen” was denied by the Indian Design Office. The Controller argued that GUIs did not qualify as designs under Section 2(a) and (d) of the Designs Act, leading to ongoing disputes over this interpretation.
The Controller’s objections were based on several grounds: first, that GUIs were only functional when the computer was switched on, lacking “consistent eye appeal”; second, GUIs were not considered articles of manufacture; third, GUIs were not physically accessible; and fourth, GUI designs did not fall within the purview of the Designs Act.
Since the controversial decision by the Controller, uncertainty has clouded the fate of design protection for GUIs in India. However, despite these challenges, some GUIs have managed to secure registration in the Register of Designs.
As the legal discourse continues, the status of GUI protection remains unresolved, leaving innovators and businesses in a state of ambiguity regarding the safeguarding of their GUI creations under the Designs Act. Until further clarity is achieved, the eligibility of GUIs for design protection will continue to be a matter of significant interest and debate within the intellectual property landscape of India.
Thus, although Class 14 of the Third Schedule suggests GUIs could be eligible for protection, a controversial case involving Amazon’s application led to uncertainties surrounding GUI protection. The Controller’s objections raised various grounds, leaving the status of GUI protection unresolved.
Until further clarity is achieved, the eligibility of GUIs for design protection will continue to be a matter of significant interest and debate within India’s intellectual property landscape. Innovators and businesses in the UI/UX design field should closely monitor the legal developments in this area to ensure proper protection of their GUI creations.
In conclusion, protecting intellectual property in UI/UX design, particularly GUIs, is crucial for businesses to maintain their competitive edge and preserve their unique design elements in the market. Whether through copyright, trademarks, trade dress, or designs, businesses must carefully assess the most suitable approach to safeguard their UI/UX innovations and foster creativity in the tech industry.
Author :: Kaustubh Kumar is a fourth-year law student at the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi, in case of any query, contact us at Global Patent Filing or write back us via email at email@example.com.
What is UX Design? Differences Between UX and UI Design, THE COLUMBIA SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING AND APPLIED SCIENCE, https://bootcamp.cvn.columbia.edu/blog/what-is-ux-design/ (last visited Jul. 04, 2023).
The Designs Act, 2000; The Design Rules, 2001.