GUIs - first ruling affecting developers with designs on Chinese market

Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) became capable of protection in China via design patents back in 2014, however it has taken until now for the first case to be heard upon infringement of registered rights by the Chinese courts.

This decision is highly relevant to software developers and marketers, not least because China remains a key market both for development, and increasingly so, for sales given its continuing rapid expansion. This case tested the limits of the new law.

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The details

The case concerned the design patent registered for GUI for an anti virus software package, and its alleged infringement by a Beijing company. The registration covered a “computer with a GUI”. The key issue was whether this was infringed directly by the offering of software online, and also whether this constituted contributory infringement, contributing to the infringement constituted by those who downloaded and operated the software.

The court decided that there had been no direct infringement, as the subject matter of the design patent was a computer featuring a design. On the point concerning contributory infringement, the court determined that this ground was also not made out, as to infringe a design patent one had to manufacture, offer for sale, or sell the relevant products, and in this case users only downloaded. As such, there was no direct infringement, and therefore there could be no contributory infringement.

What does this mean for software developers?

This decision is notable, as it demonstrates potential issues for software developers looking to safeguard their position in relation to the Chinese market. It is strongly advised that developers take appropriate advice during the development stage, to ensure their position is as strong as possible come product release.

[see Beijing Qihu Technology Co., Ltd. v Beijing Jiangmin New Technology Co., Ltd., Beijing IP Court, 2016]

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