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Topography of semiconductor products
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The Act on protection of topographies of semiconductor products introduced in the system of industrial law another subject - the topography of semiconductor products, and it laid down three possible subjects of protection.

- proper semiconductor product, including a topography, which is the result of the originatoris creative activity and is not usual in the industry of semiconductor products

- independently utilizable parts of the topography

- representation for production of topographies

The proper semiconductor product including a topography is the first subject. One can have a good conception about the real importance of this legal arrangement by explaining two basic concepts, i.e. "topography" and "semiconductor product".

Under the concept topography, there are understood the series of representations fixed or coded in any way and mutually related, representing a three-dimensional permanent arrangement of layers of which the semiconductor product consists, and every representation shows a model of one layer of the semiconductor product or its part, eventually of the surface of the semiconductor product in individual stages of production, or of its parts.

According to the meaning of the law, the semiconductor product is characterized by the final or provisional form of a microelectronic product, designed for performing an electronic function, which consists of the basic body comprising a layer of a semiconductor material and provided with at least one layer of conductive, insulating or semiconductor material in an arrangement determined in advance.

It is evident from the above mentioned, that the law does not provide the protection to any integrated circuit, but only to such circuits which comply with the features of the legal definitions of the "topography" and "semiconductor product". The production relates only to topographies which are the result of the originatoris creative activity and which are not usual in the industry of the semiconductor products. The fact that the topography was developed by means of a computer should not be an impediment for the protection.

The second subject of protection, viz. independently utilizable parts of the topography, is related to those parts which may be utilized independently of the whole topography. It concerns certain analogy with so called "general inventive idea", pursuant to which there are protected even individual parts of a combination invention, as far as they are individually patentable.

Representations for production of topographies are the third subject of protection. The concept of "representation" is to be taken in a wide range (not only as a visual representation) and that is why the method and carriers of said representation are not essential. It may concern a tape record, floppy disk, and the like. It is comprehensible that said representation must be qualified for protection, as far as the resulting product, i.e. the semiconductor product is to be qualified for protection as well.

The law also defines the subject of protection in a negative way, viz. by laying down that the protection relates neither to the technology used for performing the topography or production of the semiconductor product, nor to information included in this product. If, e.g. a chip is provided with a certain program, the protection does not relate to said program. But it may be protected e.g. by means of the authoris law, provided that it is an authoris work, i.e. it is characterized by uniqueness.

The right to protection belongs first of all to that person which formed the topography, i.e. to its originator or his legal successor. It is supposed that the topography, as a very expensive matter, arises exclusively within the scope of an employment relation and not spontaneously.

An unusual provision of the law resides in the extinction of rights to the protection of topographies after 15 years from its forming, as far as it was utilized in a hidden business way only, or if an application for its protection was not filed at the Office.

The right of the applicant to indicate some of the documents presented in the application of the topography as comprising a business secret or production one, is another unusual provision.

In distinction from the patent protection, the topography protection can arise in two ways:

  • to the date of the first, but not hidden business utilization of the topography, if said topography was the subject of a due application at the Office within the period of two years from said utilization,

  • to the filing date of the due application, as far as the topography was not formerly utilized in a business way, eventually if it was utilized in a hidden way only.

The protection provided to the topography is first of all a protection against an unauthorized copying. That is why according to the provision of the law it is not allowed, without an approval of the owner of the topography ( i.e. topography protected in the sense of the law) to perform the following activities:

  1. to reproduce the topography or its independently utilizable parts and to produce representations of the topography for production surfaces,

  2. to produce a semiconductor product, in which the protected topography is included,

  3. to utilize, in a business way, the topography or the semiconductor product which comprises the protected topography or its independently utilizable parts, as well as the representation of a topography serving for production.

Effects of protection does not relate to so called reverse engineering. According to said exception, everybody has the right to analyse and to evaluate the chip, eventually to utilize it for education purposes. Said exception itself would not have a great importance, if the law would not lay down at the same time, that the topography arisen on the basis of this analysis may be utilized in the business way.

The second considerable limitation of the protection forms so called "unaffected utilization" - effects of the law does not relate to a person who/which in good faith obtains a semiconductor product comprising the protected topography, introduced in circulation without the approval of the owner of the topography. The reason of said exception resides in the fact that a usual businessman (buyer) has no adequate possibility to find out, whether the chip bought by him/it is a chip bought in a piratical way, which interfers the protection of any third person.

At the protection of topographies in foreign countries, it is necessary to proceed pursuant to individual national legal arrangements. The protection of topographies of semiconductor products is introduced only in a limited circle of countries, particularly European ones. A potential applicant must, first of all, get acquainted with the systém of protection of topographies in the respective state, where he/it intends to exercise the protection.

Sources of law

  • 529/1991 - Coll., Act on protection of topographies of semiconductor products
  • 527/1990 - Coll., Act on inventions, industrial designs and rationalization improvements



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