MPEP 1504.01(a)
Computer-Generated Icons

This is the Ninth Edition of the MPEP, Revision 08.2017, Last Revised in January 2018

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1504.01(a)    Computer-Generated Icons [R-07.2015]

To be directed to statutory subject matter, design applications for computer-generated icons must comply with the "article of manufacture" requirement of 35 U.S.C. 171.

I.    GUIDELINES FOR EXAMINATION OF DESIGN PATENT APPLICATIONS FOR COMPUTER-GENERATED ICONS

The following guidelines have been developed to assist USPTO personnel in determining whether design patent applications for computer-generated icons comply with the "article of manufacture" requirement of 35 U.S.C. 171.

A.    General Principle Governing Compliance With the "Article of Manufacture" Requirement

Computer-generated icons, such as full screen displays and individual icons, are 2-dimensional images which alone are surface ornamentation. See, e.g., Ex parte Strijland, 26 USPQ2d 1259 (Bd. Pat. App. & Int. 1992) (computer-generated icon alone is merely surface ornamentation). The USPTO considers designs for computer-generated icons embodied in articles of manufacture to be statutory subject matter eligible for design patent protection under 35 U.S.C. 171. Thus, if an application claims a computer-generated icon shown on a computer screen, monitor, other display panel, or a portion thereof, the claim complies with the "article of manufacture" requirement of 35 U.S.C. 171. Since a patentable design is inseparable from the object to which it is applied and cannot exist alone merely as a scheme of surface ornamentation, a computer-generated icon must be embodied in a computer screen, monitor, other display panel, or portion thereof, to satisfy 35 U.S.C. 171. See MPEP § 1502.

"We do not see that the dependence of the existence of a design on something outside itself is a reason for holding it is not a design ‘for an article of manufacture.’" See In re Hruby, 373 F.2d 997, 1001, 153 USPQ 61, 66 (CCPA 1967) (design of water fountain patentable design for an article of manufacture). The dependence of a computer-generated icon on a central processing unit and computer program for its existence itself is not a reason for holding that the design is not for an article of manufacture.

B.    Procedures for Evaluating Whether Design Patent Applications Drawn to Computer-Generated Icons Comply With the "Article of Manufacture" Requirement

USPTO personnel shall adhere to the following procedures when reviewing design patent applications drawn to computer-generated icons for compliance with the "article of manufacture" requirement of 35 U.S.C. 171.

  • (A) Read the entire disclosure to determine what the applicant claims as the design and to determine whether the design is embodied in an article of manufacture.

    Since the claim must be in formal terms to the design "as shown, or as shown and described," the drawing provides the best description of the claim. 37 CFR 1.153 or 1.1025.

    • (1) Review the drawing to determine whether a computer screen, monitor, other display panel, or a portion of any of those articles, is shown.

      Although a computer-generated icon may be embodied in only a portion of a computer screen, monitor, or other display panel, the drawing must contain a sufficient number of views to constitute a complete disclosure of the appearance of the article.

    • (2) Review the title to determine whether it clearly refers to the claimed subject matter. 37 CFR 1.153 or 1.1067.

      The following titles do not adequately describe a design for an article of manufacture under 35 U.S.C. 171: "computer icon"; or "icon." On the other hand, the following titles do adequately describe a design for an article of manufacture under 35 U.S.C. 171: "computer screen with an icon"; "display panel with a computer icon"; "portion of a computer screen with an icon image"; "portion of a display panel with a computer icon image"; or "portion of a monitor displayed with a computer icon image."

    • (3) Review the specification to determine whether a characteristic feature statement is present. If a characteristic feature statement is present, determine whether it describes the claimed subject matter as a computer-generated icon embodied in a computer screen, monitor, other display panel, or portion thereof. See McGrady v. Aspenglas Corp., 487 F.2d 859, 208 USPQ 242 (S.D.N.Y. 1980) (descriptive statement in design patent application narrows claim scope).
  • (B) If the drawing does not depict a computer-generated icon embodied in a computer screen, monitor, other display panel, or a portion thereof, in either solid or broken lines, reject the claimed design under 35 U.S.C. 171 for failing to comply with the article of manufacture requirement.
    • (1) If the disclosure as a whole does not suggest or describe the claimed subject matter as a computer-generated icon embodied in a computer screen, monitor, other display panel, or portion thereof, indicate that:
      • (a) The claim is fatally defective under 35 U.S.C. 171; and
      • (b) Amendments to the written description, drawings and/or claim attempting to overcome the rejection will ordinarily be entered, however, any new matter will be required to be canceled from the written description, drawings and/or claims. If new matter is added, the claim should be rejected under 35 U.S.C. 112(a).
    • (2) If the disclosure as a whole suggests or describes the claimed subject matter as a computer-generated icon embodied in a computer screen, monitor, other display panel, or portion thereof, indicate that the drawing may be amended to overcome the rejection under 35 U.S.C. 171. Suggest amendments which would bring the claim into compliance with 35 U.S.C. 171.
  • (C) Indicate all objections to the disclosure for failure to comply with the requirements of the Rules of Practice in Patent Cases. See e.g. 37 CFR 1.71, 1.81 -1.85, and 1.152 -1.154. Suggest amendments which would bring the disclosure into compliance with the requirements of the Rules of Practice in Patent Cases.
  • (D) Upon reply by applicant:
    • (1) Enter any amendments; and
    • (2) Review all arguments and the entire record, including any amendments, to determine whether the drawing, title, and specification clearly disclose a computer-generated icon embodied in a computer screen, monitor, other display panel, or portion thereof.
  • (E) If, by a preponderance of the evidence (see In re Oetiker, 977 F.2d 1443, 1445, 24 USPQ2d 1443, 1444 (Fed. Cir. 1992)) ("After evidence or argument is submitted by the applicant in response, patentability is determined on the totality of the record, by a preponderance of evidence with due consideration to persuasiveness of argument."), the applicant has established that the computer-generated icon is embodied in a computer screen, monitor, other display panel, or portion thereof, withdraw the rejection under 35 U.S.C. 171.

II.    EFFECT OF THE GUIDELINES ON PENDING DESIGN APPLICATIONS DRAWN TO COMPUTER-GENERATED ICONS

USPTO personnel shall follow the procedures set forth above when examining design patent applications for computer-generated icons pending in the USPTO as of April 19, 1996.

III.    TREATMENT OF TYPE FONTS

Traditionally, type fonts have been generated by solid blocks from which each letter or symbol was produced. Consequently, the USPTO has historically granted design patents drawn to type fonts. USPTO personnel should not reject claims for type fonts under 35 U.S.C. 171 for failure to comply with the "article of manufacture" requirement on the basis that more modern methods of typesetting, including computer-generation, do not require solid printing blocks.

IV.    CHANGEABLE COMPUTER GENERATED ICONS

Computer generated icons including images that change in appearance during viewing may be the subject of a design claim. Such a claim may be shown in two or more views. The images are understood as viewed sequentially, no ornamental aspects are attributed to the process or period in which one image changes into another. A descriptive statement must be included in the specification describing the transitional nature of the design and making it clear that the scope of the claim does not include anything that is not shown. Examples of such a descriptive statement are as follows:

"The subject matter in this patent includes a process or period in which an image changes into another image. This process or period forms no part of the claimed design;" or

"The appearance of the transitional image sequentially transitions between the images shown in Figs. 1-8. The process or period in which one image transitions to another image forms no part of the claimed design;" or

"The appearance of the transitional image sequentially transitions between the images shown in Figs. 1-8. No ornamental aspects are associated with the process or period in which one image transitions to another image."