From December 19th-20th, 2013, the U.S. and China conducted the 24th U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in Beijing, China. One notable outcome from the meetings was that China agreed to increase its efforts “to advance innovation in the fast growing information and communications technologies sector by publishing draft Guidelines for public comment to extend design-patent protection to graphical user interfaces.”

Presently, China does not afford design patent protection for Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) or computer-generated icons. However, on October 22, 2013, the State Intellectual Property Office of the People’s Republic of China (SIPO) released a draft amended version of the Examination Guidelines for public opinion. Thus, it is likely that design patent protection for GUIs and computer-generated icons will finally be available in China in 2014.

Surprisingly, China’s patent system, probably now considered by most as a “major” patent system, has yet to provide design patent protection for GUIs and computer-generated icons. Indeed, just more than a year ago, Taiwan began providing such design patent protection, while design patent protection for GUIs and computer-generated icons has been available in Japan and the U.S. for more than twenty years.

According to a recent paper by Mark D. Janis and Jason Du Mont, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has already issued several thousand design patents for so-called virtual designs, and recent filings for such applications account for more than “nearly any other type of design subject matter.” So with the likely advent of design patent protection for GUIs in China and the already significant representation of such protection (and sought-after protection) in the U.S. and other jurisdictions abroad, the importance of design patent protection for GUIs and computer-generated icons cannot be understated and will no doubt play an increasing role in a sophisticated company’s world-wide patent portfolio.