Integrated circuit layout design protection

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Layout designs (topographies) of integrated circuits are a field in the protection of intellectual property.

Integrated circuit electronic circuit manufactured by lithography; set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece (or "chip") of semiconductor material, normally silicon 639-1 ısoo

An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, cheaper, and faster than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs.

Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect. Intellectual property encompasses two types of rights; industrial property rights and copyright. It was not until the 19th century that the term "intellectual property" began to be used, and not until the late 20th century that it became commonplace in the majority of the world.

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In United States intellectual property law, a "mask work" is a two or three-dimensional layout or topography of an integrated circuit (IC or "chip"), i.e. the arrangement on a chip of semiconductor devices such as transistors and passive electronic components such as resistors and interconnections. The layout is called a mask work because, in photolithographic processes, the multiple etched layers within actual ICs are each created using a mask, called the photomask, to permit or block the light at specific locations, sometimes for hundreds of chips on a wafer simultaneously.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Semiconductor devices are electronic components that exploit the electronic properties of semiconductor material, principally silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide, as well as organic semiconductors. Semiconductor devices have replaced thermionic devices in most applications. They use electronic conduction in the solid state as opposed to the gaseous state or thermionic emission in a high vacuum.

Transistor semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and electrical power

A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power. It is composed of semiconductor material usually with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals controls the current through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output) power can be higher than the controlling (input) power, a transistor can amplify a signal. Today, some transistors are packaged individually, but many more are found embedded in integrated circuits.

Because of the functional nature of the mask geometry, the designs cannot be effectively protected under copyright law (except perhaps as decorative art). Similarly, because individual lithographic mask works are not clearly protectable subject matter; they also cannot be effectively protected under patent law, although any processes implemented in the work may be patentable. So since the 1990s, national governments have been granting copyright-like exclusive rights conferring time-limited exclusivity to reproduction of a particular layout. Term of integrated circuit rights are usually shorter than copyrights applicable on pictures.

Copyright is a legal right, existing in many countries, that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to determine whether, and under what conditions, this original work may be used by others. This is usually only for a limited time. Copyright is one of two types of intellectual property rights, the other is industrial property rights. The exclusive rights are not absolute but limited by limitations and exceptions to copyright law, including fair use. A major limitation on copyright on ideas is that copyright protects only the original expression of ideas, and not the underlying ideas themselves.

Patent set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee so that he has a temporary monopoly

A patent is a form of intellectual property. A patent gives its owner the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, and importing an invention for a limited period of time, usually twenty years. The patent rights are granted in exchange for an enabling public disclosure of the invention. In most countries patent rights fall under civil law and the patent holder needs to sue someone infringing the patent in order to enforce his or her rights. In some industries patents are an essential form of competitive advantage; in others they are irrelevant.

International law

A diplomatic conference was held at Washington, D.C., in 1989, which adopted a Treaty on Intellectual Property in Respect of Integrated Circuits, also called the Washington Treaty or IPIC Treaty. The Treaty, signed at Washington on May 26, 1989, is open to member states of the United Nations (UN) World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and to intergovernmental organizations meeting certain criteria. The Treaty has been incorporated by reference into the TRIPS Agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO), subject to the following modifications: the term of protection is at least 10 (rather than eight) years from the date of filing an application or of the first commercial exploitation in the world, but Members may provide a term of protection of 15 years from the creation of the layout-design; the exclusive right of the right-holder extends also to articles incorporating integrated circuits in which a protected layout-design is incorporated, in so far as it continues to contain an unlawfully reproduced layout-design; the circumstances in which layout-designs may be used without the consent of right-holders are more restricted; certain acts engaged in unknowingly will not constitute infringement. [1]

Washington, D.C. Capital of the United States

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington or D.C., is the capital of the United States. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, Washington was named after George Washington, first President of the United States and Founding Father. As the seat of the United States federal government and several international organizations, Washington is an important world political capital. The city is also one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually.

Member states of the United Nations Sovereign states that are members of the United Nations (UN) and have equal representation in the UN General Assembly

The United Nations member states are the 193 sovereign states that are members of the United Nations (UN) and have equal representation in the UN General Assembly. The UN is the world's largest intergovernmental organization.

United Nations Intergovernmental organization

The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization that was tasked to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international co-operation and be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. The headquarters of the UN is in Manhattan, New York City, and is subject to extraterritoriality. Further main offices are situated in Geneva, Nairobi, and Vienna. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states. Its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development and upholding international law. The UN is the largest, most familiar, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. In 24 October 1945, at the end of World War II, the organization was established with the aim of preventing future wars. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193. The UN is the successor of the ineffective League of Nations.

The IPIC Treaty is currently not in force, but was partially integrated into the TRIPS agreement.

Article 35 of TRIPS in Relation to the IPIC Treaty states:

Members agree to provide protection to the layout-designs (topographies) of integrated circuits (referred to in this Agreement as "layout-designs") in accordance with Articles 2 through 7 (other than paragraph 3 of Article 6), Article 12 and paragraph 3 of Article 16 of the Treaty on Intellectual Property in Respect of Integrated Circuits and, in addition, to comply with the following provisions.TRIPS Document

Article 2 of the IPIC Treaty gives the following definitions:

(i) 'integrated circuit' means a product, in its final form or an intermediate form, in which the elements, at least one of which is an active element, and some or all of the inter-connections are integrally formed in and/or on a piece of material and which is intended to perform an electronic function,

(ii) 'layout-design (topography)' means the three-dimensional disposition, however expressed, of the elements, at least one of which is an active element, and of some or all of the interconnections of an integrated circuit, or such a three-dimensional disposition prepared for an integrated circuit intended for manufacture ...

Under the IPIC Treaty, each Contracting Party is obliged to secure, throughout its territory, exclusive rights in layout-designs (topographies) of integrated circuits, whether or not the integrated circuit concerned is incorporated in an article. Such obligation applies to layout-designs that are original in the sense that they are the result of their creators' own intellectual effort and are not commonplace among creators of layout designs and manufacturers of integrated circuits at the time of their creation.

The Contracting Parties must, as a minimum, consider the following acts to be unlawful if performed without the authorization of the holder of the right: the reproduction of the lay-out design, and the importation, sale or other distribution for commercial purposes of the layout-design or an integrated circuit in which the layout-design is incorporated. However, certain acts may be freely performed for private purposes or for the sole purpose of evaluation, analysis, research or teaching.

National laws

United States

The United States Code (USC) defines a mask work as "a series of related images, however fixed or encoded, having or representing the predetermined, three-dimensional pattern of metallic, insulating, or semiconductor material present or removed from the layers of a semiconductor chip product, and in which the relation of the images to one another is such that each image has the pattern of the surface of one form of the semiconductor chip product" [(17 U.S.C. § 901(a)(2))]. Mask work exclusive rights were first granted in the US by the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984.

Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984 United States intellectual property law

The Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984 is an act of the US Congress that makes the layouts of integrated circuits legally protected upon registration, and hence illegal to copy without permission. It is an integrated circuit layout design protection law.

According to 17 U.S.C.   § 904, rights in semiconductor mask works last 10 years. This contrasts with a term of 95 years for modern copyrighted works with a corporate authorship; alleged infringement of mask work rights are also not protected by a statutory fair use defense, nor by the typical backup copy exemptions that 17 U.S.C.   § 117 provides for computer software. Nevertheless, as fair use in copyrighted works was originally recognized by the judiciary over a century before being codified in the Copyright Act of 1976, it is possible that the courts might likewise find a similar defense applies to mask work.

The non-obligatory symbol used in a mask work protection notice is Ⓜ (M enclosed in a circle; Unicode code point U+24C2 or HTML numeric character entity Ⓜ) or *M*.

The exclusive rights in a mask work are somewhat like those of copyright: the right to reproduce the mask work or (initially) distribute an IC made using the mask work. Like the first sale doctrine, a lawful owner of an authorized IC containing a mask work may freely import, distribute or use, but not reproduce the chip (or the mask). Mask work protection is characterized as a sui generis right, i.e., one created to protect specific rights where other (more general) laws were inadequate or inappropriate.

Note that the exclusive rights granted to mask work owners are more limited than those granted to copyright or patent holders. For instance, modification (derivative works) is not an exclusive right of mask work owners. Similarly, the exclusive right of a patentee to "use" an invention would not prohibit an independently created mask work of identical geometry. Furthermore, reproduction for reverse engineering of a mask work is specifically permitted by the law. As with copyright, mask work rights exist when they are created, regardless of registration, unlike patents, which only confer rights after application, examination and issuance.

Mask work rights have more in common with copyrights than with other exclusive rights such as patents or trademarks. On the other hand, they are used alongside copyright to protect a read-only memory (ROM) component that is encoded to contain computer software.

The publisher of software for a cartridge-based video game console may seek simultaneous protection of its property under several legal constructs:

Ordinary copyright law applies to the underlying software (source, binary) and original characters and art. But the expiration date for the term of additional exclusive rights in a work distributed in the form of a mask ROM would depend on an as yet untested interpretation of the originality requirement of § 902(b):

(b) Protection under this chapter (i.e., as a mask work) shall not be available for a mask work that—

(1) is not original; or
(2) consists of designs that are staple, commonplace, or familiar in the semiconductor industry, or variations of such designs, combined in a way that, considered as a whole, is not original

(17 U.S.C.   § 902, as of November 2010).

Under one interpretation, a mask work containing a given game title is either entirely unoriginal, as mask ROM in general is likely a familiar design, or a minor variation of the mask work for any of the first titles released for the console in the region.

Other countries

Equivalent legislation exists in Australia, India and Hong Kong.

Australian law refers to mask works as "eligible layouts" or ELs. [2]

In Canada these rights are protected under the [Integrated Circuit Topography Act (1990, c. 37)].

In the European Union, a sui generis design right protecting the design of materials was introduced by the Directive 87/54/EEC which is transposed in all member states.

India has the Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout Design Act, 2000 for the similar protection.

Japan relies on "The Act Concerning the Circuit Layout of a Semiconductor Integrated Circuit".

Brazil has enacted Law No. 11484, of 2007, to regulate the protection and registration of integrated circuit topography.

See also

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Industrial property is one of two subsets of intellectual property, it takes a range of forms, including patents for inventions, industrial designs, trademarks, service marks, layout-designs of integrated circuits, commercial names and designations, geographical indications and protection against unfair competition. In some cases, aspects of an intellectual creation, although present, are less clearly defined. The object of industrial property consists of signs conveying information, in particular to consumers, regarding products and services offered on the market. Protection is directed against unauthorized use of such signs that could mislead consumers, and against misleading practices in general.

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Chip art microscopic artwork built into integrated circuits

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References

  1. TRIPS Articles; Part II — Standards concerning the availability, scope and use of Intellectual Property Rights; World Trade Organization
  2. Re Centronics Systems Pty Ltd; Maurice Latin; Tiberio Salice and Fabrizio Latin v Nintendo Company Ltd [1992] FCA 584 , (1992) 39 FCR 147(1 December 1992), Federal Court (Full Court) (Australia).