Learning about chips rights

We can’t imagine a world without chips. A chip is an essential part of an electronic device and is programmed to perform a certain function. They are everywhere from computers, cars and domestic appliances to medical equipment. As the development of new semiconductors (electronic circuits on a chip) costs a lot of effort and investment, there’s a specific right to protect them, namely chips rights.

Discover more about chips rights in this guide.

Step 1/7 What are chips rights?

Chips rights are created to protect the specific design – the topography – of a chip. These rights protect you as the creator of a specific design (topography) for chips from unlawful reproduction, sale or other distribution for commercial purposes by third parties for a certain period of time.

Step 2/7 How do I obtain chips rights?

When you develop a chip, chips rights arise automatically as soon as the topography is coded or fixed. Two conditions have to be fulfilled in order to obtain chips rights:

  • your chip needs to be the product of your own intellectual effort (in other words it needs to be original)
  • the design (topography) cannot be generally known in the semiconductor industry. This means a logical and obvious combination of already existing designs cannot be protected.

In some countries, like Belgium, registration is not required to enforce these rights. In other counties, like the Netherlands, it is mandatory to file an application with the national intellectual property office. When filing your application, you must include drawings of the topography. These drawings must be clear enough for the topography to be identified.

Step 3/7 Are there any limitations or exceptions to your chips rights?

The following limitations and exceptions apply:

  • Reverse engineering: this is the deconstructing of a chip to get information from it for the sole purpose of evaluation, analysis, research or teaching. This does not require your consent as the rights holder.
  • Parallel creation: as the chips rights’ holder you may not invoke your rights against an identical chip design (topography) that was created independently by a third party.
  • Innocent infringement: the commercial distribution of an unlawfully copied design (either in a chip or a product incorporating such a chip) cannot be prevented, if the person was legitimately unaware that the chip was unlawfully reproduced.

Note that these limitations/exceptions may vary from one country to another.

Step 4/7 Where do you get protection?

Since registration is not always necessary, this has an impact on the international protection. In countries where registration is required, an application for registration has to be filed in each country in which protection is sought. In other countries, the first commercial exploitation anywhere in the world is sufficient for obtaining protection. This means international or worldwide protection is hard to obtain.

Step 5/7 How long does chips rights protection last?

Chips are protected for:

  • 10 years after registration OR
  • 10 years after the first time the rights were commercially exploited somewhere in the world. This period starts at the end of the year in which your chip is used commercially for the first time.

Whichever of the above is first, will be picked as the starting date.

This means that the protection can last up to 25 years. The following example illustrates protection of 24 years: the chip is created, but not commercially exploited, and only after 14 years commercial exploitation starts. This means that the 10 years of protection start at the end of that year, so 24 years of protection is given.

Your chips rights expire if the chip has not been commercially exploited somewhere in the world within a period of 15 years after creation.

Step 6/7 How much does chips rights protection cost?

The prices differ depending where you want protection.

In Belgium there are no formalities or registrations required to obtain chips rights, so there are no costs.

In the Netherlands there is a one-time fee of EUR 79 to be paid to the RVO, The Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

Note that maintenance fees are not required.

The cost of protection in other countries is different in each national system.

Step 7/7 What can I do if a competitor uses my chip?

If you are the lawful owner of chips rights, you have the exclusive right to reproduce the design and to commercialise it. This means you can prevent or stop third parties from using your protected designs (topographies) or a product incorporating such a design for commercial purposes. Your consent is required if someone wants to use the topography. If your design is used without your consent, you can enforce your rights against this infringement by taking legal action. Remedies can include injunctions, damage compensation and seizure of goods.

(In some countries even criminal sanctions can also be imposed.)

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