I have an app whose purpose isn't novel, but the way the GUI helps serve that purpose is. There are many apps built for this same purpose, but not a single one of them have a GUI similar to mine. I'm worried about the value of my app after publishing it because as much time that goes into creating a unique GUI it can be copied in an instant. What I'd like to know are my options for protecting my app's UI, and how effectively utilizing these options affects the date I can publish my app.

Ideally, I'd like to publish right now, but I'm postponing until I either secure my app's uniqueness legally or I discover that it is impossible to do so.

5 Answers 5


Although design patents might be a good way to go, you may be able to gain some measure of protection for your gui with copyright. The pdf found here provides more information than I can provide in this answer.

  • 2
    Copyright is the quickest method to gain some protection. (It is immediately actionable, as opposed to a "patent pending".) It is also the least expensive method by far. The downside is copyright isn't intended to cover functions or processes, so the protection afforded will likely be only partial.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 20:49
  • 2
    Isn't copyright kinda intrinsic and applies immediatly on everything eligible for copyright? So opposed to a patent and a registered copyright you don't have to do anything?
    – user18033
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 21:10
  • 1
    Yes, but I think you can also register a copyright and gain some additional benefits.
    – Eric S
    Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 21:53
  • 2
    As far as I can tell, with a registered copyright you can sue an infringement for both actual and punitive damages.
    – Eric S
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 12:42

Others have mentioned design patents and copyright. Those are worth considering. Remember that your published work is automatically protected by copyright, but registering the copyright simplifies any litigation and in some circumstances may increase your damages.

If you’re considering a patent, remember that the cost of actually obtaining the patent is a minuscule fraction of the amount to enforce that patent in litigation. You might spend 20K to get a patent and 2 million to prove infringement and defend an (almost) inevitable invalidity counter suit.

Also be aware that foreign app developers may simply ignore your intellectual property protection and willfully infringe. And if you only get a US patent, they may legally infringe outside the US. In my experience, localized mobile apps may see 60-70% of their sales outside the US, so if you patent US only, you could lose significant sales to legal foreign copycats.

Another approach is to leverage your first mover advantage and build a strong brand around your new design. When people think of that design you want them to think of you first.


There are three types of protection you should consider in your case (four if you consider secrecy, but keeping a gui secret ... well... lets say three):


Since 1989 you do not have to register your copyright, you get it automatically. Registering it might help with protecting it though as it serves as proof. It's not that easy to define what falls under copyright, the most basic description would be "intellectual work". The exact scope gets important when somebody copies your work, but then you should contact an attorney anyways. Plus, google will give you lots of articles explaining it very detailed and more or less understandable.

You do not have to pay for your gui to be protected by copyright - to the extent copyright protection applies. Registering it probably has some minor fee.

To get copyright protection, publishing your GUI asap is essential as you need proof that you had it first. Consider sending yourself a dated - unopened - letter with a printed copy and as much information as possible. Keep it unopened until needed (and then open it in court or with professional help only - so make a copy for yourself, else you will forget what it says inside).

Design patent

Protects novel designs for known stuff. Wikipedia says its a protection for the "ornamental design of a functional item" and includes computer symbols namely. This costs some money but offers more protection than pure copyright and can be applied to the whole GUI including some basic variations. Writing the application on your own is cheaper, but the result will be cheaper, too. (Consider a patent attorney something like a programmer, would you programm you security features yourself if you had no idea how to do that?)

If you want a design patent, keep the design secret until the application was submitted to the uspto.

Utility patent

This is issued for novel and inventive "inventions". Software patents are complicated. The short version is, you might be eligible to get this if your gui has some inventive (and novel) functionality or a novel and inventive combination of priorly known functionality with some new and unexpected result. (Inventive means it's not obvious for somebody skilled in the art, eg. a programmer with much experience - this is regularly fought over, so no exact definition concerning any specific case is possible).

This is the version that costs most money. I'd strongly advise consulting a patent attorney as utility patents, especially software patents, are difficult to write and prone to errors that you can't foresee without many years of experience. Plus, you might pay good money for a bad patent and notice only years later when you try to enforce it and it gets shred apart.

(Without knowing to much, but your question sounds like you are not getting this as you might be missing inventiveness.)

Also, if you want this, keep everything remotely interesting secret until the application is at the uspto.

With professional help, the application for a design or utility patent can be done in a few weeks (days even), but it can take longer too. That basically depends on your patent attorney, his schedule and might depend on your willingness to pay him to reserve you more time on his schedule.


The simple answer is Design Patents. Much less expensive than utility patents, these can be used to protect design elements of your product.


It's also important to note that the novelty of purpose of the app is irrelevant—if the method to achieve the purpose is novel, then it may be patent eligible in the form of a software implementation.

  • how does applying for a design patent affect time-to-market? for it to be effective would i have to wait until the design patent is approved?
    – shoe
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 21:46
  • Like a utility patent, you get the right to use "patent pending" once you file, and will have the right to retroactively sue for infringement when the design patent is granted. (Also, the patent review time-frame is shorter than the 3 year average for utility patents. It's typically 12 months or less for design patents )
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 21:54

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https://patents.google.com/patent/USD829747S1/en?type=DESIGN above is one example of a design patent on GUI, you can also get protection on GUI using Desing patents.

As suggested by Eric please see below

There are specific requirements for drawings for design patents:

Required views: front, rear, right, left, top, bottom. It’s a good idea to include perspective views – they can make it easier to visualize the appearance and shape of the design. Shading: USPTO rules mandate shading in patent drawings to properly depict the contours of three-dimensional surfaces. There are specific rules for the shading – when to use lines versus stippling, it should look like the light is coming from the upper left, etc. Broken or dashed lines indicate design elements not included in the patent

The views, other information is related to design patents in general and not specific to GUI related design patents. For specific inputs please contact your patent attorney.

you can find more information at Successful Patent Drawings for Design Patents Link provided is from a commercial company that is an expert in providing patent drawings (both Utility and Desing patent) and I work for this company.

  • Literally every other answer mentions design patents. You should strive for communicating something new beyond the existing answers or else not answer at all.
    – Eric S
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 19:33
  • everyone has commented but not showed how it will look like. I have shown an example. I am here to add value to the community and not to one person. What I should write or not write is my choice and not yours. The community will decide if it is adding value or not.
    – Tara Reddy
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 15:48
  • This could be a useful answer if you were to expand it. Perhaps explaining how the drawing works on design patents (solid vs. dashed lines).
    – Eric S
    Commented Sep 18, 2020 at 13:48
  • You could improve your answer by mentioning that the link is to your company.
    – George White
    Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 18:07
  • And that a GUI design patent application would not need a top bottom, left and right.
    – George White
    Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 20:49

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