Protection of Integrated Circuits

Jan 132020

Filing for intellectual Property rights is increasing every day in the world keeping in mind the theft and infringements of ideas and products happening. People and businesses have become more aware and do not want to take any risk when it comes to their hard work, money and time. They want to be on the safer side so that they don’t have to regret later. A Patent Attorney in India is the authority to grant protection and gets millions of applications on a daily basis.Protection on Intellectual Property can be taken on almost any new invention. There are many forms of IP Protection and you can select one or many depending upon your needs.

Chips and micro-chips which are popularly known as Integrated Circuits or ICs can be IP protected as well by the law. They are a part of almost everything electronic equipment we use in household or elsewhere. From watches to Televisions and washing machines, no electronic part is complete with an Integrated Circuit.

What exactly can be protected in Integrated Circuits
You must be wondering that all integrated circuits look similar and only vary in shapes and sizes so what exactly can be protected in them. Looks obviously does not matter in ICs, what matters is their layout design. The design of integrated circuits are extremely complicated as many small components are placed and assembled on silicon (in most cases) in a certain order. Not only in terms of manufacturing, in terms of investments and technology, they are very important. A lot of money is invested in their making and huge thought process from experts is involved so protecting the layout design becomes vital. If infringements happen on these layouts, it is a huge loss for the manufacturer monetarily as well as in other forms.

What is a layout design
Layout designs with respect to integrated circuits are also called topography and also known as mask work of semiconductors. Layout design actually means a three dimensional deposition one of which must be an active element and the three dimensional elements are exclusively made for the integrated circuit and intended for manufacture. Intellectual Property rights can be obtained on layout designs of integrated circuits as they are extremely complicated and incur heavy costing for their manufacturing.

Now the question is, what kind of designs are eligible for IP protection. Well, if the manufacturer has created the layout design with his intellectual efforts at the time of designing, that will be considered as the original work and protection will be granted on that particular design on the application of the creator. Also, the layout design must be original and must not be inspired by any other design and that work must be registered official in law.

When it comes to the form of IP protection that can be granted for the layout designs of Integrated Circuits, in general, the protected design stops its commercial usage and anybody found guilty is dealt with strictly by the law. In other words, the original design cannot be used commercially by reproducing it fully or partly without the creator permitting it. Even an article incorporating the protected layout design cannot be sold for commercial purposes or the author will be penalised if found guilty.

Conditions involved in the layout design protection
Intellectual Property protection law is different in different countries as the harmonization still does not exist. The process of applying and acquiring IP rights on the layout design is different in all the countries and hence the cost and time involved are different too. Some countries require the topography of the integrated circuit to be registered in order to acquire protection rights. This generally does not require any examination. The registration involves a fee which is obviously different in different countries and regions.

In some countries, the application to acquire IP rights must be filed within 2 years of creation and the protection period starts only when the first commercial infringement happens. Since it is a design, while filing an application, the Patent Attorney in India will ask for a drawing with the information of the owner and the title of the design.

If a person files an infringement and says that his layout design has been exploited commercially or for other purposes which is prohibited in the IP protection law, he may be asked to submit the samples of the layout design along with the information of the working of the electronic function done by the integrated circuit.

As discussed earlier, the use of the layout design commercially is totally prohibited by the Intellectual Property protection law but if the design is used to research and training purposes, it does not require any permission from the creator or author who has taken protection on his created layout design. In other words, the protected layout designs can be used for training and research purposes.

What forms of IP protection can be applied on Integrated Circuits
As we know very well that IP protections has majorly three forms, patents, copyrights and Trade secrets. When it comes to Patents, Integrated Circuits are not considered as patentable inventions because there are no inventive steps involved in the making of the circuits so law does not allow you to file a patent on the layout design of the integrated circuit.

When it comes to copyright laws of IP protection, every country has a different law for it. If the country determines that the layout design for the integrated circuit does not come under copyright, you cannot file copyright on your layout design. There are different intellectual property protection for different aspects of layout design of the integrated circuit and in order to protect successfully, different forms of IP protections must be taken for different aspects.

Protecting the layout design is not an easy job as it is too general to be covered properly by any one particular form of IP protection but it is extremely important to protect its every aspect as a lot of time, money, efforts and expertise is involved in the creation of integrated circuit.

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Ketana Babaria Ms. Ketana Babaria, an advocate and registered patent Agent M. Sc. LL.B PGO-IBM, is of 20 years experience in the field of IPR, worked for generics and giants now leads a team, handling all aspects of patent and legal matters related to the pharmaceutical & non-pharmaceutical.