IP rights around the world.

The following are excerpts of laws protecting semiconductor patterns and intellectual property relevant to the semiconductor industry

A number of somewhat similar laws exist in most countries to protect Intellectual Property related to semiconductor work. Some representative laws and agreements are shown below for your reference.

US Copyright Office Federal Statutory Protection for Mask Works

Title 17 - US Code, Chapter 9 - Protection of Semiconductor Chip Products. Section 901 to 917

World Trade Organization Layout- Designs (Topographies) of Integrated Circuits.

NAFTA Article 1710: Layout Designs of Semiconductor Integrated Circuits

Council of the European Communities - Council Directive 87/54/EEC of 16 December 1986 on the legal protection of topographies of semiconductor products

The following paragraphs are representative of the laws listed above.

Agreements on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights

Standards concerning the availability, scope and use of Intellectual Property Rights


Article 35

Relation to the IPIC Treaty

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.

Article 36

Scope of the Protection

Subject to the provisions of paragraph 1 of Article 37, Members shall consider unlawful the following acts if performed without the authorization of the right holder: (9) importing, selling, or otherwise distributing for commercial purposes a protected layout-design, an integrated circuit in which a protected layout-design is incorporated, or an article incorporating such an integrated circuit only in so far as it continues to contain an unlawfully reproduced layout-design.

Article 37

Acts Not Requiring the Authorization of the Right Holder

1. Notwithstanding Article 36, no Member shall consider unlawful the performance of any of the acts referred to in that Article in respect of an integrated circuit incorporating an unlawfully reproduced layout-design or any article incorporating such an integrated circuit where the person performing or ordering such acts did not know and had no reasonable ground to know, when acquiring the integrated circuit or article incorporating such an integrated circuit, that it incorporated an unlawfully reproduced layout-design. Members shall provide that, after the time that such person has received sufficient notice that the layout-design was unlawfully reproduced, that person may perform any of the acts with respect to the stock on hand or ordered before such time, but shall be liable to pay to the right holder a sum equivalent to a reasonable royalty such as would be payable under a freely negotiated licence in respect of such a layout-design.

2. The conditions set out in subparagraphs (a) through (k) of Article 31 shall apply mutatis mutandis in the event of any non-voluntary licensing of a layout-design or of its use by or for the government without the authorization of the right holder.

Article 38

Term of Protection

1. In Members requiring registration as a condition of protection, the term of protection of layout-designs shall not end before the expiration of a period of 10 years counted from the date of filing an application for registration or from the first commercial exploitation wherever in the world it occurs.

2. In Members not requiring registration as a condition for protection, layout-designs shall be protected for a term of no less than 10 years from the date of the first commercial exploitation wherever in the world it occurs.

3. Notwithstanding paragraphs 1 and 2, a Member may provide that protection shall lapse 15 years after the creation of the layout-design.


Title 17 - USC (United States Code)

Chapter 9 - Protection of semiconductor chip products.

National Origin Requirement: Any original mask work fixed in a semiconductor chip product by or under the authority of the mask work owner is eligible for protection if:

1. On the date the mask work is registered with the Copyright Office or the date the mask work is first commercially exploited anywhere in the world, whichever occurs first, the owner of the mask work is:

2. The mask work is first commercially exploited in the United States; or

3. The mask work comes within the scope of a Presidential proclamation extending protection to mask works of nationals and domiciliaries of a foreign country and to works first commercially exploited in that country, on the basis of a finding that mask works protected by the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act are also protected in the particular foreign country, either under the principle of reciprocity or under the principle of national treatment.

Registration of Mask Works: In order to secure protection, owners of mask works must apply for registration of their claims with the Copyright Office. Moreover, owners of mask works must register their works within 2 years after the date on which the mask work is first commercially exploited, or the opportunity to secure protection under the Act will be lost.

The effective date of registration of a claim to protection in a mask work will be the date on which an acceptable application, deposit of identifying material, and appropriate fee are received in the Copyright Office. The Act further provides that a certificate of registration for a mask work issued by the Copyright Office constitutes prima facie evidence of the facts stated in the certificate and that the applicant issued the certificate has met the requirements for protection. After a certificate has been issued by the Copyright Office, the owner of the mask work or the exclusive licensee of all rights in the mask work may institute a civil action for infringement occurring after the commencement of protection accorded by the Act.

During the term of protection, the owner of a mask work has the following exclusive rights:

1. To reproduce the mask work by optical, electronic, or any other means;

2. To import or distribute a semiconductor chip product in which the mask work is embodied;

3. To induce or knowingly to cause another person to do any of the acts described in number 1 and number 2.

The Act permits reverse engineering of a mask work solely for the purposes of teaching, analyzing, or evaluating the concepts or techniques embodied in the mask work or in the circuitry, logic flow, or organization of components used in the mask work. The person who performs legitimate reverse engineering may incorporate the results in an original mask work which is made to be distributed.

Purchasers also obtain a right arising from the first sale of semiconductor chips. The Act specifies that purchasers of semiconductor chip products have the right to use and resell them freely but not to reproduce them without the permission of the owner of the mask work embodied in the semiconductor chip product.

The Act allows the owner of the exclusive rights to transfer all of them or to license all or fewer than all the rights. A transfer or license must be in writing and signed by the owner of the rights or by a duly authorized agent of the owner. The Act also provides that the exclusive rights in a mask work may be transferred by operation of law or by terms of a will; or, the rights may pass as personal property under the applicable state law of intestate succession.

Protection for a mask work begins on the date the mask work is registered with the Copyright Office, or the date the mask work is first commercially exploited anywhere in the world, whichever occurs first. Protection lasts for 10 years (terminating at the end of the tenth calendar year after it began).


The owner of a mask work protected under the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act may affix a notice of ownership to mask works, to masks, and to semiconductor chip products embodying the mask work in a manner and location which gives reasonable notice of the claim to protection.

The Act requires the form of the notice to be:

1. The words mask work, the symbol *M* or the symbol (M in a circle); and

2. The name of the owner(s) of the rights in the mask work or an abbreviation by which the name is recognized or is generally known.

Affixation of such a notice is optional and is not a condition of protection but the notice does constitute prima facie evidence of notice of protection. The Register of Copyrights shall prescribe by regulation, as examples, specific methods of affixation and positions of the notice.