A semiconductor product is the final or intermediate form of an incorporated circuit in a chip. It has an electronic function.
The topography is the design of the layout, that is, the three-dimensional location of elements and interconnections of an integrated circuit. Whereas the industrial design determines the external appearance of the device, the topography determines the exact location of each element with an electronic function within the integrated circuit.
The rights granted by this legal title are similar to those for patents, trademarks, industrial designs, copyright and neighbouring rights.
The owner has an exclusive right of exploitation as well as the right to prevent third parties from reproducing, selling or importing parts or the entirety of the protected topography.
This exclusive right of exploitation usually expires:
- 10 years after the first commercial exploitation anywhere in the world, or
- 10 years after the registration was filed with the competent authority, generally the Patent and Trademark Office
Why protect the topography of a semiconductor product?
The topography of an integrated circuit is the result of a huge investment in terms of both finance and know-how. This is also a field in which there is constant need for improvement, such as reducing the dimensions of integrated circuits. For these reasons, government offices reward these creations of the mind by granting monopoly right of exploitation to the creator.
Topographies of semiconductor products also have considerable commercial value as they can be utilised in a wide range of products. A copy of the design could be done easily by photographing the layers of the integrated circuit. This is why legislation to protect layout designs has been introduced.
Grounds for the request
According to the conditions defined by EEC Council Directive 87/54 of 16 December 1986 on the legal protection of topographies of semiconductor products, the semiconductor product must:
- be the creator’s own intellectual effort
- be unknown in the semiconductor industry
- meet the above-mentioned conditions if made of a combination of commonplace elements