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The Patent Reexamination Board of the State Intellectual Property Office held a public hearing on Oct 28 for the nation's first case involving disputes about software graphic user interface designs.

Beijing-based anti-virus software developer Qihoo 360 Technology Co applied for design patents for three types of its GUI in 2014, which were approved by SIPO.

In April, the company sued its competitor Beijing Jiangmin New Science and Technology Co at the Beijing Intellectual Property Court, claiming the latter's software was developed using Qihoo 360's GUI design patents without authorization, and asked for compensation of 10 million yuan ($1.5 million).

The Beijing Intellectual Property Court heard the case on Sept 21.

Jiangmin filed six appeals with the reexamination board requesting to invalidate all the three involved patents from Qihoo. A panel of five experienced officials from the board were commissioned to handle the case.

The focus of the case is whether the involved patents are markedly different from existing designs. The evidence from both sides included saved web pages, patent documentation and other publications.

The concept of GUI was first proposed in the 1970s in the United States. In 1996, the US Patent and Trademark Office revised its Manual of Patent Examining Procedure to protect computer-generated icons as design patents.

Following that, the European Union unveiled Council Regulation on Community designs in 2001, and South Korea revised its standards of design examination in 2003 to provide legal support for GUI patents.

The GUI designs are protected as patents in China as of May 1, 2014, according to the revised Patent Examination Instruction. Qihoo filed the first patent application for GUI design on Aug 14 that year.

Experts said the case between Qihoo and Jiangmin, no matter the result, will have profound influence over the GUI design business in the nation.

"With no doubt, the internet industry will pay special attention to the result of the case and the thoughts of the court," said Cui Guobin, director of the intellectual property law research center at Tsinghua University.

Li Junhui, a researcher at the center for intellectual property rights studies of the China University of Political Science and Law, said the case is "of great importance to the regulation of Chinese companies' competition in electronic products and software GUI".

"China is probably going to witness a wave of GUI protection soon," said Li.

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