The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) published a notice regarding supplemental guidance for PTO personnel examining design patent claims containing computer-generated images. 88 Fed. Reg. 80277 (Nov. 17, 2023).
The guidance clarifies how to satisfy the article of manufacture requirement under 35 U.S.C. 171 for ornamental designs relating to computer-generated icons shown on a display panel, as discussed in Section 1505.01(a)(I) of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP). According to the guidance, “the mere display of a computer-generated electronic image . . . on a display panel does not constitute statutory subject matter under 35 U.S.C. 171.” However, a computer icon or a graphical user interface (GUI) shown on a display panel (e.g., a computer screen, monitor, computer display system, mobile phone screen or virtual/augmented reality goggles) is more than a mere display of a picture on a screen because it constitutes an integral and active component in the operation that is embodied in and/or applied to a programmed computer displaying the computer icon or the GUI. Thus, if a computer icon or GUI is properly presented and claimed (e.g., the drawing fully discloses the design as embodied in the article of manufacture), it is eligible under 35 U.S.C. 171.
In addressing the foregoing distinctions, the guidance sets forth specific standards for PTO personnel, including consideration of the complete disclosure when evaluating whether a design claim containing a computer-generated electronic image complies with the article of manufacture requirement. For example, given that computer icons or GUIs are considered to be two-dimensional images, which standing alone are surface ornamentation (i.e., an ornament, impression, print or picture), the guidance stipulates that the title and the claim should not be for a computer icon or a GUI alone, but rather an article of manufacture, such as a “display panel with a computer icon.” The guidance further provides examples of acceptable claim language and specific examination scenarios for evaluation.