What is a semiconductor? How is it protected by intellectual property?
Semiconductors, or "integrated circuits", or "chips", are essential components of any electronic device. It is in these integrated circuits that the functions of electronic devices take place.
It prove necessary to protect the investment made in developing chips in order to make the economic activity profitable. The legislator introduced a specific legal protection.
The protection described below only applies to the specific design – "the topography" – of a chip, i.e. the three-dimensional model that is obtained by superimposing different layers.
Which rights are conferred?
The creator of a topography has the exclusive right to reproduce or commercialize it, and to prohibit any other person from doing so without his authorisation.
What are the conditions for protection?
In order to be protected, the topography must be the result of its creator's intellectual effort and not be commonplace in the semiconductor sector.
Protection is effective as soon as the topography is coded or fixed.
No formalities or registration are required.
Term of protection
Topographies of integrated circuits are protected for 10 years from the end of the calendar year during which they were first commercially exploited anywhere in the world. However, the topography must be exploited within 15 years after the date on which it was fixed or coded.
Who owns the rights to semiconductor topographies?
The creator of the topography enjoys the exclusive right to its reproduction and commercial exploitation. If the topography was created in the course of an employment contract or statute, the rights belong to the employer, unless a contract assigns the rights to the employee.
The same applies to the creation of a topography in the course of a commission contract; in this case the rights will be owned by the client, unless an agreement is in place that assigns the rights to the creator.
What if the rights to semiconductor topographies are infringed?
The legal remedies available to the rights-holder of the topography are identical to those available to patent holders.
Only the enterprise courts that are established at the seat of the courts of appeal have jurisdiction to rule on disputes relating to topographies of integrated circuits.
In addition to the specific protection for semiconductor topographies, topographies and/or their components can also be protected by copyright, if the conditions for copyright protection are met. In this case, the courts of first instance could also have jurisdiction (see jurisdiction for copyright disputes).