Before 1984, designing or making a chip that has identical design with existing chip did not require any legal permission from the owner in other words copying the layout of the chip was not illegal. But this led to huge loss for the companies who were really designing the chips like Intel .Intel along with  the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), took the lead in seeking remedial legislation—against chip piracy.During the hearings chip industry representatives asserted that a pirate could for $10,000 copy a chip design that had cost its original manufacturer upwards from $100,000 to design.

In 1984 the United States enacted the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984 (the SCPA) to protect the topography of semiconductor chips. The SCPA is found in title 17, U.S. Code, sections 901-914.

SCPA is neither a copy right nor a patent law, rather it’s a utility law or Sui generis law (“Latin for of its own kind, and used to describe a form of legal protection that exists outside typical legal protections — that is, something that is unique or different. In intellectual property law, for example, ship hull designs have achieved a unique category of protection and are “sui generis” within copyright law.”)

Registration of mask work Or Chip layout

Semiconductor chip layouts can be protected under SCPA. The design should be registered with US copyright officealong with sample dies and overlays or other acceptable identifying material. IT must be registered within two years of first commercial use.

Period of Registration

The mass work can be protected for ten years from the date of application or first commercial use , whatever comes first.

Exclusive Rights of the Owners of Semiconductor Chip Mask Works

The owner of the registered work can stop others from copying or using his work without his permission. The registered owner can assign or license the design to others.


The mass work is said to infringedIf any person without permission from the owner copies, uses, commercially distributes or imports the design in US.

Remedies for infringement

In case of infringement, the SCPA provides following reliefs

  • The owner can stop the manufacturing or selling of infringed chips with the help of court order.
  • The owner can seek financial compensation.
  • The infringer may have to pay penalty.
  • The court can order to destroy the infringed chips.

Exceptions to Infringement

SCPA allows reverse engineering; hence it cannot be termed as an act of infringement.



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