Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) can be patented, and because GUIs are the easiest place to look for infringement, GUI patents are a vital part of a software patent strategy. The design of a GUI can be protected with a design patent while functional elements can be protected with a utility patent.
The key to broad GUI utility patent protection is focusing on the technical problems that are solved by the GUI, rather than its interface with a person. In particular, I focus on the calculations and data management that make the GUI useful.
The Trading Technologies v. CQG decision on trading GUIs emphasized the importance of technical solutions in patent eligibility. The court noted that patent ineligible claims "lack steps or limitations specific to solution of a problem, or improvement in the functioning of technology" while patent eligible claims are "an improvement to the capability of the system as a whole."
A design patent can protect the icons or animation sequences of your GUI. A design patent is also generally much less expensive than a utility patent.