To comply with the TRIPS Agreement, India passed the Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout Design Act, 2000 more than 20 years ago. The TRIPS Agreement established rules for the protection of integrated circuit layout designs and semiconductors. The SICLD Act was created to adhere to TRIPS Agreement Section 6, which established rules for the protection of integrated circuit layout designs.
The Semiconductor Integrated Circuits Layout Design Act, 2000 safeguards the layout designs of semiconductor chips and integrated circuits, which are widely used in a range of electronic products, from computers to automobiles. The three-dimensional designs of integrated circuits, including the positioning of the electronic components, are protected by intellectual property rights.
It is important to start by mentioning the legal definitions, which will help you understand the idea behind this intellectual property right.
A “Semiconductor integrated circuit” is defined in the Act as a product having transistors or other circuitry elements, which are inseparably formed on a semiconductor material or an insulating material or inside the semiconductor material and designed to perform an electronic circuitry function.
A “Layout-design” is defined in the a layout of transistors, and other circuitry elements and includes lead wires connecting such elements and expressed in any manner in a semiconductor integrated circuit.
What is protected by the SICLD Act, 2000?
Instead of requiring the design’s incorporation in a physical semiconductor chip, the SICLD Act,2000 offers protection to the layout design itself. This IP right, therefore, does away with the requirement of the incorporation of the subject matter under protection into an actual article. Section 17 of the SICLDA makes this explicitly clear. A 3D representation of the layout design is required for registration, and the layout design is registered after meeting all other statutory requirements.
Why do these designs need IPR protection?
The fact that integrated circuits are a creation of the human mind and have a tremendous economic worth, necessitates the existence of a protective legal framework. IC layout designs are multi-layered complex pieces of technology. They include a semiconductor wafer, a silicon oxide coating, electronic components like transistors, and an aluminium coating that helps shield the connections between the electrical components in the layers before it. It takes a significant amount of time and money to develop these chips as well as to come up with newer, more efficient designs. It is therefore crucial to protect these technologies and products, with the help of a stringent IPR law which is specially tailored for such a complex design.
Why can’t Patents protect Semiconductor Integrated Circuit Layout Designs?
Since chips are made up of various parts, some of which may be novel in and of themselves, numerous patent applications would have to be filed for each of the novel components, and materials used, and then another application would have to be filed to obtain a patent for the chip, after all of the patents of the composite materials and parts had been granted. This method is time-consuming and unsuitable for modern technologies like semiconductor integrated circuits. Furthermore, patents must be original, distinct, and non-obvious. Because they are typically upgrades from earlier versions, newer layout designs frequently fail to meet the standards for patentability. Most chips would be excluded from the scope of patent law since the layout designs are developmental rather than creative in nature. Therefore, the SICLDA 2000 provides for sui generis protection.
With the emergence of newer technologies and more efficient means of computing, it is crucial to protect such layout designs. Although registrations under this Act have been low so far, the National IPR Policy 2016 has brought in some changes to improve the same. With the Indian Semiconductor Mission 2021 coming into force, semiconductor and layout design registrations in India are set for a transformative growth phase.
The views are that of author’s own and not necessarily the views of IPTSE Academy. This blog is a platform for academic discussions and hence authors have been given flexibility to convey their thought process.
Student, Faculty of Law
University of Delhi