Patentability of User Interfaces

In the electronic age many technological developments deal with the special way information is presented to a user. Examples are user interfaces of cars, telephones, medical apparatuses etc. Generally presentation of information  in the sense of Art. 52(2)(d) EPC is excluded from patentability. However, this does not necessarily mean that user interfaces are not accessible to patent protection.

With the revised Guidlines for Examination the EPO provides a clarified approach for the assesment of patentability of User Interfaces: During the assessment of inventive step, features related to the presentation of information are analyzed to determine if, in the context of the invention, they contribute to producing a technical effect serving a technical purpose. If they do not, they are disregarded from the assessment of patentability.

A feature defining a presentation of information produces a technical effect if it “credibly” assists the user in performing a technical task by means of a continued and/or guided human-machine interaction process. Such a technical effect is considered “credibly achieved” if the assistance to the user in performing the technical task is objectively, reliably and causally linked to the feature. This would not be the case if the alleged effect depends on subjective interests or preferences of the user.

The EPO categorizes the presentation of information into two categories (i) the cognitive content of the information presented, i.e. defining "what" is presented and (ii) the manner in which the information is presented, i.e. defining "how" the information is presented.

If the cognitive content, i.e. the “what” of the information presented to the user relates to an internal state prevailing in a technical system and enables the user to properly operate this technical system, . i.e. in case the displayed information is “technical information” which credibly enables the user to properly operate the underlying technical system, it has a technical effect.

A feature regarding “how” information is presented typically specifies the form or arrangement in which, or the timing at which, information is conveyed to the user (e.g. on a screen). It has to be noted that features related to a visualization of information in a particular diagram or layout are normally not considered to make a technical contribution, even if the diagram or layout arguably conveys information in a way which a viewer may intuitively regard as particularly appealing, lucid or logical. Also, dealing with limited available screen space is part of designing presentations of information for human viewing and therefore not an indication of technicality per se.

When a manner of presenting information produces in the mind of the user an effect which does not depend on psychological or other subjective factors but on physical parameters which are based on human physiology and can be precisely defined, that effect may qualify as a technical effect.