Recent decisions in EU have confirmed that user interface features meet the patentability requirements of the EPO, ruling Apple’s slide to unlock user interface solves a technical problem using a technical feature that has a technical effect.
Apple has succeeded in the German courts, enforcing a patent for a user interface feature for its mobile devices. The ruling demonstrates the value of European patents for "software" inventions where a "technical" effect can be demonstrated. The claims in the granted patents and the problems that they solve provide insight about what features of a user interface might be regarded as "technical" by the EPO. The advantages to a software developer of being able to patent innovative interface features that are important to the "look and feel" of the device and the software running on it are self-evident. (Full article – here)
Where the technical effect or technical nature of the feature of your user interface is a more difficult question, design patents may provide some protection. Design patents can also support a protection strategy that involves both utility and design filings. Involving both utility and design filings can help insure a minimum level of protection especially where it is difficult to make out an argument for a specific technical feature having a technical effect.