Earlier this month, ten of the world’s largest companies were accused of infringing design patents claiming animated graphical user interfaces (GUIs). These claims were made in addition to at least ten other lawsuits filed since September 2021 asserting animated GUI design patents. Given the breadth of the claimed design patents, these cases potentially raise first impression issues related to the construction, infringement and functionality of the claims.
Two plaintiffs have claimed the animated GUI design patents referenced above. On March 8, 2022, Fintech Innovations Associates LLC filed five lawsuits in the Northern District of Illinois alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. D945,453, entitled “DISPLAY SCREEN PORTION WITH ANIMATED GRAPHICAL USER INTERFACE”. Between September 23, 2021 and March 2, 2022, Wepay Global Payments LLC filed four lawsuits in the Western District of Texas and six lawsuits in the Northern District of Illinois alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. D930,702, also titled “PORTION OF DISPLAY SCREEN WITH ANIMATED GRAPHIC USER INTERFACE. The plaintiffs accused the defendants of infringing the design patents using their various mobile devices, operating systems and mobile payment applications. Examples of accused products include Apple’s iOS 15 and Samsung’s Galaxy.
Both patents claim display screen portions with animated GUIs. GUI design patents can capture static and still icons or display screens (that is to saythose that can be represented by a single digit), or animated icons or displays (that is to say, those shown moving or changing via a sequence of numbers). As explained in the MPEP, the images in the animated GUI claims are understood to be viewed sequentially, and no ornamental aspect is attributed to the process or period in which one image transitions into another. The two claimed design patents describe sequential transitions and indicate that the process or period during which one frame transitions to another frame is not part of the claimed design.
The D’453 patent includes an embodiment, which sets forth the sequence of images in Figs. 1–4, shown below.
As shown in the figures, the claims use dashed lines for the unclaimed portion of the display screen and have few solid lines other than the four-sided objects of Figs. 1–3 and the word “Amount” in Fig. 4.
The D’702 patent includes two sequence embodiments which also aim to display portions of the screen. The second embodiment is shown below.
Like the D’453 patent, the D’702 patent uses substantial broken lines to expand the claimed design. The only aspects shown in solid lines – and therefore forming part of the claim – are square objects in FIG. 3, which appear to be position detection markers for a QR code, and “$0.00” in Fig. 5. The image of FIG. 4 is shown entirely in dashed lines.
Plaintiff’s allegations of infringement demonstrate the potential breadth of these claims. For example, Fintech’s assertion of the D’453 patent against a defendant includes infringement claims based on 55 different sequences. Fintech seems to interpret four-sided objects to read them on almost all four-sided elements included in the app, including images, text boxes, and drop-down menus. Fintech also seems to be interpreting Fig. 4 to read any use of the word “amount” in any font or capitalization.
As another example, Wepay’s allegations against a defendant appear to be based on the use of a QR code in an app. An example of a claim is shown below.
These allegations raise interesting first impression questions for federal courts. When interpreting the claims, courts will need to consider how to define the scope of the sequence, including the scope of statements that “the process or period during which one image transitions to another image is not part of the claimed design”. Courts will also need to consider the relevance of the spatial relationships of the objects in the claimed design and whether similar objects in different positions on the display fall within the scope of the claims given that the displays are claimed entirely in broken lines. Courts will also need to consider the potential functionality of four-sided shapes in graphical interfaces, including those used for QR codes.
The defendants have already raised some of these issues in motions to dismiss. For example, a defendant sought to dismiss the claims of the D’702 patent on the basis of lack of ornamentation. This defendant argued that the QR code positioning detection markers and monetary amount are purely functional. Another defendant moved to dismiss the infringement claims, arguing that it does not infringe the claims because its application has a different spatial relationship than the claimed designs.
While it’s interesting to see how these issues are resolved, these claims demonstrate the potential value of protecting animated GUI designs. Companies that invest resources in developing software products can and should consider using design patents to protect new interface designs and display sequences. Not only can these design patents be asserted offensively, but they can also establish prior art that can be used defensively to invalidate broad motion GUI design patents if a company is accused of having infringes such a patent.
 Although the two applicants appear to be different entities, William Grecia is the named inventor of both patents. Mr. Grecia has been involved in numerous intellectual property infringement actions.