Protection of the visual aspects of MMIs

1. What is an MMI?


DefinitionMan Machine Interface

In practice, these are icons (1), the visual appearance of screens (2), the various visible, active elements that appear on a computer screen, a cell phone (3), a tablet (4) etc., used to interact with the machine.






Visuels IHM _ LAVOIX Visuels IHM _ LAVOIX Visuels IHM _ LAVOIX


2 - What kind of protection?

2.1 - Copyright protection

In France, this protection does not require the fulfilment of a registration formality subject to originality.

In light of the difficulties inherent in proving originality (the Courts are increasingly strict in the field of "industrial design"), Design and/or Trade Mark protection is recommended. 

2.2 - Design protection


This protection is acquired by way of a registration application, subject to novelty and the specific/individual nature (a design that produces an overall visual impression that is distinct from prior art).


  • What should be filed?


All of the graphic elements of an MMI (such as icons, tables, decorative items, physical arrangement of the interface elements, etc.).


  • How can I apply?


The principle: only the items seen on the representations are protected.

→ Therefore specific care must be given to the preparation and selection of views.

For example: Protection of the rosette alone


Visuels IHM _ LAVOIX

Protection of the rosette within a screen, the elements of which are already known


Visuels IHM _ LAVOIX

For example: Protection of an animated or moving MMI: the different stages of the movement must be represented


Visuels IHM _ LAVOIX


→ Use of Disclaimers (waiver of rights represented by dotted lines) to outline the impact of the protection within a set when:

- The other elements cannot claim protection,
- They do not constitute secondary elements for which protection is not sought.


For example :


Visuels IHM _ LAVOIX


2.3 - Trade mark protection


This protection is acquired by way of a registration application, subject to its distinctive character: the sign must be an indicator of the origin of the product.


What should be filed?


  • The trade mark is considered non-distinctive if its form or aspect:
  • is not very different from the one usually seen on the market: a trade mark that marks a significant departure from the norm or practices in the business sector may be registered,
  • is required due to the nature or function of the product: a trade mark that has all the essential characteristics of the technical function is considered functional.


Prefer this type of protection for distinctive elements such as icons.


Accepted trade mark - example :


Rejected trade mark - example:



How can I apply?

→ Fixed icons:

One view per icon, each icon registered separately. 

→ Moving icons

As is the case for designs, an animation may be protected by a mark (motion trade mark).


For example :



3 - Advantages and cumulative protection

3.1 - Advantages 

Design protection

- Protection can be claimed in the 28 Member States of the EU without any in-depth examination: Community Design,
A number of designs may be the subject of a single registration application (as long as they are in the same class),
- The filing of a registration application constitutes proof of the date of acquisition of the rights.
- Protection covering 25 years. 

Trade mark protection 

- Protection for an indefinite period subject to renewal of the trade mark at its term (10 years, renewable indefinitely) in the EU (28 Member States),

- No novelty or originality condition: may be filed at any time subject to the trade mark being distinctive and available on the date of filing,
- Icons and the other elements used on the interface, such as names, logos, motion trade marks and music opening an application, may be protected.

3.2 - Cumulative protection 

Designs/Trade Marks

Overlapping of trade mark and design and patent rights allowed by the two Regulations and the Directive (Art 3 Community Design Regulation; Art 4 CTM Regulation; Art 16 and 17 Directive 98/71 D) and confirmed by case law, "It is a set principle that the fact that a registered trade mark is the subject of a patent does not constitute in and of itself an obstacle to it being registered as a Community trade mark".

Example of an icon with double protection:


Trademarks : 011693538 

Designs : 002198549-0005



Recommendation: The design and trade mark must be registered prior to any disclosure in order to avoid the destruction of the design's novelty and also to avoid the sign becoming customary. 

Designs and Trade Marks/Patents 

Cumulative protection with patents is possible for the technical aspect, and with trade marks and/or designs for the aesthetic aspects.

To avoid destroying the patent's novelty by publishing the trade mark or design (which occurs rapidly after registration), the patent should be filed first.


The chronology below must be followed for filings:


Visuels IHM_LAVOIX  

We remain at your disposal for any information you may require.

Contacts : Valérie SAMSON / Philippe LODS

Back to list

the experts

  • Palmarès du Droit
  • Le Point et Statista
  • Managing IP
  • Managing IP
  • WTR 1000
  • Décideurs
  • Legal 500
  • IAM Patent 1000
Logo ISO UKASCertification ISO 9001:2015 applicable to all the IP attorney activities and for all its offices.