Integrated circuit layout design

1. Definition

Semiconductor integrated circuit is defined as a product, in its final form or an intermediate form, in which the elements, at least one of which is an active element, and some or all of the interconnections are integrally formed in or on a piece of semiconductor material and which is intended to perform an electronic function. “Integrated circuit” is synonymous with “IC”, “chip” and “microelectronic circuit”.

Layout-design of a semiconductor integrated circuit (hereinafter referred to as “layout-design”) is a three-dimensional disposition of circuitry elements and interconnections of such elements in a semiconductor integrated circuit.

2. Registrability

In order to be protected, a layout design must satisfy the following criteria :

– Originality;

– Commercial novel.

These criteria are further explained as follows :

2.1 Originality

A layout-design shall be considered as original if it meets the following conditions: (i) To result from its author’s own creative effort; (ii) Not to be widely known among creators of layout-designs or manufacturers of semiconductor integrated circuits at the time of its creation.

A layout-design that consists of combination of elements and interconnections that are commonplace shall be considered to be original only if the combination, taken as the whole, is original.

2.2 Commercial novelty

A layout-design shall be considered as commercially novel in case: (i) it has not been commercially exploited anywhere in the world prior to the filing date of the application for registration, (ii) the layout-design registration application is filed within 2 years from the date such layout-design was commercially exploited for the first time anywhere in the world by the person who has the right to registration or his or her licensee.

Commercial exploitation of a layout-design means any act of public distribution for commercial purposes of a semiconductor integrated circuit produced by incorporation of the layout-design, or an article incorporating such a semiconductor integrated circuit.

* The followings will not be protected under our law as layout design.

– Principles, processes, systems or methods operated by semiconductor integrated circuits.

– Information, software contained in the a semiconductor integrated circuit.

3. Right to file application

The following organizations, individuals has right to file application for integrated circuited layout design:

– Inventors who have created the invention by his/her own efforts and expenses.

– The organizations or individuals who have invested finance and material facilities to the inventors through employing or hiring in case an invention is created by the inventors during the course of employment or hire, unless otherwise agreed by the parties.

The right to file applications for inventions made by using the State budget belongs to the State.

In case more than one organizations or individuals have jointly created or invested in the creation of an invention, industrial design or layout-design, those organizations or individuals shall all have the right to registration and such right shall only be exercised with their consensus.

In addition, persons entitled to file an application may assign that right to other organizations or individuals through written contract or inheritance in accordance with the law.

4. Process of examination

Formality examination is conducted within 01 month from the filing date, to determine if the application meets the requirements of formality.

After the formality examination finishes and the application is accepted as to formality, A layout-design registration application shall be published by way of allowing direct access at the National Office of Intellectual Property provided that no reproduction is permissible; with regard to such confidential information contained in an application, such access shall be permitted only to authorities and parties related to the completion of procedures of cancellation of registration Certificate or completion of procedures of dealing with infringements of right.

Substantive examination is not required for application of layout design.

5. Right and obligations of the right holder

5.1 The rights of the right holder

A right holder of a layout design shall be granted the right to use or allow others to use the protected layout design.

The use of an invention means carrying out the following acts: Reproducing the layout-design or manufacturing a semi-conductor integrated circuit by incorporation of the protected layout-design; selling, leasing, advertising, offering or storing a copy of the protected layout-design, a semi-conductor integrated circuit manufactured by incorporation of the protected layout-design or an article incorporating such a semi-conductor integrated circuit; Importing a copy of the protected layout-design, a semi-conductor integrated circuit manufactured by incorporation of the protected layout-design or an article incorporating such a semi-conductor integrated circuit.

The layout design owner also has the right to prevent others from using the patented invention without his/her own authorization.

5.2 Obligations of the right holder

The right holder has obligation to pay remuneration to the inventor(s).

5.3 Limitations

The following shall not be regarded as layout design infringement:

– Using layout design for personal needs or non-commercial purposes, or for evaluations, analysis, research or teaching, testing, pilot production or for developing information to carry out procedures for license of production, importation or marketing of products.

–  Using the layout design when not knowing having no obligation to know the fact that it has been protected.

6. Term of protection

Validity of the Registration Certificate begins on the grant date and expires at the earliest date among the following

– The end of 10 years as from the filing date;

– The end of 10 years as from the date the layout-designs were first commercially exploited anywhere in the world by the person having the right to registration or his or her licensee;

– The end of 15 years as from the date of creation of the layout-designs.

7. Cancellation or Suspension of Registration Certificate

After a patent is granted, any party may file a written request at any time with the NOIP to wholly or partially cancel or suspend such patent:

7.1 Cancellation

The grounds for cancellation are as follows:

a)  the grantee was not entitled to apply for the Certificate, nor assigned that right from the entitled person; or
b)  the layout design did not meet the conditions for patentability at the time the grant of Certificate.

The Certificate shall be partly invalidated if the respective part of the subject matter failed to meet the conditions of protection.

7.2 Suspension

The ground for suspension are as follow:

(a) the grantee declares a disclaimer of the rights conferred by the Certificate; or

(b) the grantee no longer exists, and there is no lawful successor.

8. Infringement

The following acts shall be regarded as an infringement of the rights of the owner of layout design:

– Using the protected layout design or any original part of it, within the validity term of the Protection Title without permission of the owner;

– Using the layout design without paying compensation in accordance with the provisions on provisional right.