The Patent Station (sm)
Law Office of Marc D. Machtinger, Ltd.

Questions & Answers

Mr. Machtinger is an experienced Intellectual Property Attorney, providing the following professional services related to the protection of semiconductor chips:

  • Free initial telephone consultations.
  • Counseling, licensing, and legal advice regarding protection of semiconductor chips.
  • Preparation and filing of applications for registration of Mask Works.
  • Assistance with enforcement of rights.

Questions and Answers about Mask Works

What are Mask Works?

What rights are protected by the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act (SCPA)?

When do I need to register my Mask Work?

For what period of time will my rights extend?

How do I use a notice including the symbol?

What are Mask Works? Mask Works are defined as a series of related images, however fixed or encoded

(1) having or representing the predetermined three-dimensional pattern of metallic, insulating, or semiconductor material present or removed from the layers of a semiconductor chip product; and

(2) in which series the relation of the images to one another is that each image has the pattern of the surface of one form of the semiconductor chip product.

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What rights are protected by the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act (SCPA)? Even if the semiconductor chip is not patentable, owners of Mask Works and semiconductor chip products who properly register a Mask Work with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress can obtain protection under the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984 (the "SCPA"). The SCPA protects three-dimensional images or patterns fixed in the semiconductor product so long as the "topography" of the chip is not singularly dictated by the electronic function of the chip, nor one of only a small number of possible design choices. Protection does not extend to an idea or concept, process, or system behind the semiconductor product. In order to be protected, the Mask Work must be "original," that is, it must be the independent creation of an author who did not copy it.
It is important to understand that the SCPA does not provide as broad protection as the patent laws do. Certain activities by competitors are permitted, such as reverse engineering for the purposes of teaching, analyzing, or evaluating the concepts embodied in the mask work including the circuitry, logic flow, and organization of components. The results of legitimate reverse engineering may be incorporated into another original mask work and commercially exploited.

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When do I need to register my Mask Work? Mask works MUST be registered within 2 years of first commercial exploitation. The date of registration is the date on which a complete application, fee, and an appropriate deposit representing an acceptable filing are filed with the Copyright Office. If the Mask Work is not registered within this time period, protection under the SCPA will be lost.

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For what period of time will my rights extend? The SCPA provides protection of a Mask Work for a period of 10 years from the date of first commercial exploitation, or the date of registration with the Copyright Office, whichever occurs first.

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How do I affix a notice including the symbol? An appropriate notice on a semiconductor chip or product includes either the words "Mask Work," the symbol *M*, or the symbol , followed by the name of the owner or a recognizable abbreviation of the owner's name. Such notice is optional, but provides certain benefits to the owner with respect to enforcing rights. Seek legal advice regarding sufficiency of the content and location of the notice.

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