Integrated Circuits

Information to know about Layout Designs (Topographies) of Integrated Circuits

What is an Integrated Circuit?

An integrated circuit is a miniature electrical circuit containing electronic devices, some or all of the devices and interconnections of which are embedded in or on a piece of material, usually a semi-conductor material e.g. silicon.

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What are Integrated Circuits used for?

Integrated circuits are used as computer memory circuits and microprocessors. They are used in the equipment used by manufacturers and processors to improve production efficiency. They are also used in many familiar and household items and products like aircraft, cars, washing machines, radios and cellular telephones.

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What are Layout Designs of Integrated Circuits?

Layout designs, sometimes called topographies, of integrated circuits are the three-dimensional placement of some or all of the elements and interconnections that make up an integrated circuit.

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Why is the Layout Design of an Integrated Circuit important?

New layout designs of integrated circuits aim mainly at improving the performance efficiency of the circuitry within the limits of the materials and technologies being used. This should result in more functions being carried out with lower power consumption on the same amount of semi-conductor material. For consumers this means products that are better value for money.

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How can the Layout Design of an Integrated Circuit be protected?

Patents can protect integrated circuits themselves. In fact the first integrated circuit patent was given to Robert Noyce of Fairfield Electronics by the United States patent office on April 25, 1961. But the layout design is unlikely to meet the criteria required for a patent.

The importance of layout designs, the cost of research to develop a new and useful design, and particularly the ease with which a new design can be copied, prompted the development of its own form of legal protection as an intellectual property right.

In Trinidad and Tobago this right is given under the Layout Designs (Topographies) of Integrated Circuits Act (Act No. 19 of 1996) proclaimed on 1 December, 1997. To qualify for protection a layout design must be original and must not have been exploited anywhere in the world more than two years before the date of the application for protection.

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When is a Layout Design considered to be original?

A layout design is considered original if it is the result of the creators own intellectual effort and if it is not commonplace among creators of layout designs and manufacturers of integrated circuits at the time of its creation.

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Can a combination of existing Layout Designs be protected?

Yes. As long as the combination of elements and interconnections taken as a whole can be considered original, the design can be protected.

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What is the effect of protection of a Layout Design?

A layout-design protected in Trinidad and Tobago, an integrated circuit in which the protected layout-design is incorporated or an article incorporating such an integrated circuit or layout-design may not be reproduced, imported, sold or otherwise distributed for commercial purposes in Trinidad and Tobago without the authorization of the right holder.

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Are there exceptions?

Yes, several. For example, the effect of protection does not extend to reproduction of the protected layout-design for private purposes, evaluation, analysis, research or teaching.

It also does not apply if the person carrying out the unauthorized act did not know, and had no reasonable grounds to know, that the integrated circuit or article concerned incorporated an unlawfully reproduced layout-design.

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How long does the protection of a Layout Design last?

The protection lasts until the end of the tenth calendar year after the commencement of protection. Protection begins on the date of the first commercial exploitation, anywhere in the world, of the layout-design by or with the consent of the right-holder, provided that the application has been submitted within two years of such exploitation.

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How to apply for protection for an original Layout Design?

Three things are usually needed to apply for protection of a layout-design:

  • A completed application form and fee
  • Proof of the right to apply; and
  • A drawing of the layout-design together with information defining the electronic function which the integrated circuit is intended to perform

The application form and the application fee are described in the Layout-Design Regulations, 1996.

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