Microchips or silicon chips are common names for what are more technically known as integrated circuits. These chips are essential to the computer and information technology industries as, quite simply, without them there would be no industries. Microchips are also found in numerous other devices, including refrigerators, mobile phones, microwave ovens and pacemakers. The chips are basically electric circuits, and the patterns of these circuits are the circuit designs. Patent law protects the processes used in making these chips, including new designs and new manufacturing processes. This article will look at the law surrounding semiconductor design rights in more detail.
The semiconductor design right
An amended version of Part III of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 gives protection to what is known as the semiconductor design right. The right was introduced by the Design Right (Semiconductor Topographies) Regulations 1989. Specifically, the topography of a semiconductor is protected, which under Regulation 2 is a design which is either:
the pattern fixed, or intended to be fixed, in or upon—
(i) a layer of a semiconductor product, or
(ii) a layer of material in the course of and for the purpose of the manufacture of a semiconductor product, or
the arrangement of the patterns fixed, or intended to be fixed, in or upon the layers of a semiconductor product in relation to one another.
A semiconductor product is defined as ‘an article the purpose, or one of the purposes, of which is the performance of an electronic function and which consists of two or more layers, at least one of which is composed of semiconducting material and in or upon one or more of which is fixed a pattern appertaining to that or another function.’
This basically means that all original integrated circuits are protected by the Regulations. As long as the circuit has at least two layers, and one layer is made of a semiconducting material which has a pattern fixed on it for the purpose of performing an electronic function, the definition is satisfied.
Subsistence and ownership of the right
The semiconductor topography must be original in order to be afforded protection. Under s213 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 originality means not commonplace in the relevant field of design at the time of creation. Under Article 2(2) of Directive 87/54/EEC on the legal protection of topographies of semiconductor products, a topography which has commonplace elements may still be afforded protection if, taken as a whole, it is the result of its creator’s own intellectual effort and is not commonplace.
For more information on:
- Duration of the right
- Licences of the right
- Infringement of the right