Integrated Circuit Layout Design Protection

Abstract

Intellectual Property has undoubtedly acquired a vital economic position in today’s world. The scope of IP is inclusively wider, which in turn emphasizes the importance of intellectual property rights protection system. In this digital era, the exchange of information occurs instantaneously as it can be stored readily on semiconductor integrated circuits or chips. Chips are also referred to as the ‘Crude oil of the information age’. This study is undertaken with a view of understanding what integrated circuits are and the basics relating to the law in India in relation to integrated circuit layout design protection. 

Integrated Circuits

Integrated circuits are also known as “chips” or “micro-chips”. WIPO defines Integrated circuits as electronic circuits in which all the components such as transistors, diodes, and resistors are assembled in a certain order on the surface of a thin semiconductor material which is usually silicon.[1]

Integrated circuits are essential for a wide range of electrical products, including daily use devices and sophisticated machines. And for the production of new and smarter devices, it is necessary to develop innovative layout designs of integrated circuits.

The creation of new and innovative layout designs requires a huge financial investment, but to copy these layout designs requires no huge amount. To prevent unauthorized copying, the layout designs are protected under a unique intellectual property system. Through the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act (SCPA), protection to the semiconductors was given for the first time in the US in 1984.[2]In India, for protection of the layout designs of integrated circuits, The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Designs Act, 2000 has been enacted in compliance with the TRIPS Agreement. The Act[3] defines ‘layout-design’ as a layout of transistors and other circuitry elements that includes lead wires connecting such elements and expressed in any manner in a semiconductor integrated circuit.[4]

Registrability of Layout-Design

To claim protection, registration of the layout design is mandated by the Act. There are certain layout-designs that are prohibited from registration under the Act. The Act states that a layout-design which isn’t original; or which has been commercially exploited anywhere in India or in a convention country; or which is inherently distinctive; or which is not inherently capable of being distinguishable from any other registered layout-design, shall not be registered as a layout-design.[5] The Act also states that no person shall be entitled to institute any proceeding to prevent or to recover damages for infringement of an unregistered layout-design.[6]

It is also stated that for the registration of a layout-design, any person claiming to be its creator who is desirous of registering it, shall apply to the Registrar in writing, in the prescribed manner.[7]The Registrar after scrutinizing, may either refuse or may accept the application absolutely or with modifications, as he may consider necessary. The Registrar has the power to withdraw the acceptance of any application if it is found that the layout-design is prohibited of registration according to the provisions of the Act.

Duration of registration

Per the Act, registration of a layout-design is valid for a period of ten years from the date of filing of the application for registration or from the date of first commercial exploitation anywhere in India or in any country, whichever is earlier.[8]

Registered Proprietor

In relation to a layout-design, a person entered in the register as proprietor of the layout-design is called a registered proprietor.[9] It is only the registered proprietor who is legally permitted to make use of the layout-design. Per the provisions of the Act, anybody who infringes the layout-design is liable to pay to the registered proprietor, the royalty that is determined by negotiations between them or by the Appellate Board. 

Registered User

A person other than the registered proprietor of a layout-design may be registered as a registered user thereof.[10]The registered proprietor and the person proposed to be registered user is required to make a joint application to the Registrar, in writing, in the prescribed manner.

Rights conferred by Registration

A registered proprietor has the exclusive right as to the use of the layout-design and also to obtain relief in respect of infringements. [11] A registered proprietor is entitled to immunity from infringements under the Act, and also has the exclusive right to reproduce the layout-design or any substantial part of it.[12] For the enforcement of the rights, the Act expressly provides for criminal remedies, but not the civil remedies as in case of other IP laws, although it does not bar them.

Registry &Registrar

There is a provision under the Act for establishing a registry for the purpose of registration of layout-design. A person, to be known as the Registrar of Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design, may be appointed by the Central Government by notification in the Official Gazette.[13]

Conclusion

For the protection of layout-designs and to rule on matters related thereto, The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Designs Act, 2000, has been enacted in India. The Act defines all the necessary aspects in relation to layout-designs and also provides for penalties in cases of infringement of the layout-designs. The Act encourages development and investment in the industry by providing for their protection. It also includes provisions for criminal remedies for infringements. The IP regime in India has been strengthened to a great extent because of this legislation.

References

  1.  Patent Expert Issues: Layout Designs (Topographies) of Intellectual Property, available at https://www.wipo.int/patents/en/topics/integrated_circuits.html.
  2.   How Technology Made A Copyright Law Obsolete, available athttps://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/how-technology-made-a-copyright-law-75048/.
  3. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, Act of Parliament, 2000.
  4. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 2(h).
  5. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 7(1).
  6. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 16.
  7. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 8.
  8. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 15.
  9. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 2(o).
  10. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 24.
  11. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 17.
  12. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 18(a).
  13. The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 3.

[1]Patent Expert Issues: Layout Designs (Topographies) of Intellectual Property, available at https://www.wipo.int/patents/en/topics/integrated_circuits.html.

[2]How Technology Made A Copyright Law Obsolete, available athttps://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/how-technology-made-a-copyright-law-75048/.

[3]The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, Act of Parliament, 2000.

[4]The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 2(h).

[5] The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 7(1).

[6]The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 16.

[7] The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 8.

[8] The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 15.

[9] The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 2(o).

[10]The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 24.

[11]The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 17.

[12]The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 17 and 18(a).

[13] The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout-Design Act, 37 of 2000, § 3.

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