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What do Apple Watches and Poker Machines have in common?

Despite serving very different purposes, Apple watches and the Pokies have obtained similar IP protection for their Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs). 

GUIs refer to the point of human-computer interaction and communication, usually taking the form of a button appearing on a screen. Speaking of buttons, 

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A GUI can make or break a user’s experience. If a user has to click too many times to arrive at a page, or, if it is unclear where a user needs to click, the experience of the platform can be spoilt. There is clear value in protecting a clean and intuitive GUI.

The Aristocrat Decision – Aristocrat Technologies Australia Pty Limited [2016] APO 49 (22 July 2016)

Aristocrat filed for patent protection of their GUI that presented game information in a way that allowed a player to select the game and bet denomination by pressing only one button. The image on the left is from their patent application, however, the image on the right may be more familiar.

The examiner initially asserted that the invention was merely for a game with rules for the progress of game play and stated that the invention was not technical and therefore could not be the subject of a granted patent in Australia.

Aristocrat requested a hearing and argued that the invention was directed to a new and improved user interface for selecting both game and denomination in a single action.

It was held that there was a technical advantage of this GUI as it reduced the number of selections a user had to make to choose a game and bet denomination. In summary, the invention achieved “a practical and useful result” by “simplifying the use of the gaming machine.”  As a result, the invention was found to be patent eligible. 

The Apple Decision – Apple Inc. [2021] APO 18 (20 April 2021)

Apple sought patent protection for a changeable digital watch face that allowed editing of a feature of the watch face while displaying the modified watch face in real time.

The examiner initially alleged that improving the efficiency of human-machine interaction is not a technical problem and therefore cannot be the subject of a granted patent in Australia.

Apple applied to be heard and submitted that the invention solved a technical problem that involved a number of complex intermediate steps. These steps included:

  • Conceiving the idea of producing a selectable and editable clock face,
  • Determining how to provide the selectable and editable clock face,
  • Establishing how to make the user aware of the device’s clock face editing capabilities in a general sense, and
  • Determining how to step the user through an editing operation.

The patent office delegate was convinced by Apple’s arguments and likened the case to the earlier Aristocrat decision.

Ultimately, it was held that the GUI reduced user interactions and was therefore a technical improvement. The ability to achieve multiple actions with a single selection was also said to require less battery which is especially relevant with digital watches.

As a result of the above decisions, GUIs in Australia may be patent eligible where the user interface is simpler or more efficient to use than previously known interfaces, or, where the operation of the GUI indirectly provides for decreased battery usage.

GUIs in Europe and the United States

A European patent was recently granted for a body movement dependent GUI. This patent related to a coffee machine with an on/off button screen and an accelerometer. If a user reaches out to the screen quickly, it will automatically cease coffee pouring. However, if a user reaches out slowly, the coffee machine may introduce a new button to slow the pouring.  In this instance, the technical problem solved was how to provide an improved and more flexible user input interface for controlling a system.

In the United States, the Federal Circuit agreed that claims directed to methods and systems for displaying market information on a graphical user interface relating to and facilitating trading of a commodity on an electronic exchange is not an abstract idea and is therefore patentable.

These decisions highlight the importance of framing a problem solved by an invention in technical terms and then presenting claims that solve the problem. Kings  can help you navigate your GUI invention in Australia and overseas.

Protect Your Intellectual Property with the IP Lawyers and Patent Attorneys at Kings IP!

Your intellectual property portfolio is one of your most valuable assets. Whether you’re a sole inventor or a multinational corporation, your patents, trade marks and designs represent a major investment. For help with protecting and prosecuting your intellectual property, get in touch with our Trade Mark Attorney Brisbane wide team at Kings!

The Patent Law experts at Kings are independent patent and trade marks attorneys that work with clients all over Australia. With decades of industry experience and specialisations in mechanical engineering, life sciences, software, ICT and mining technologies, we are uniquely equipped to develop patent applications for some of Australia’s fastest moving industries. Contact us today for a confidential consultation reagrding to discuss your Registered Design Brisbane wide or IP strategy.

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